This is not how today was meant to go. When Frank and I planned this Sunday a few months back, we decided that today I would talk with you all about our annual pledges to the church. But with what has happened in our world, stewardship is not what I will be speaking about today.
This is not how today was meant to go. That is probably a thought that went through the minds of the parents and friends of Nohemi Gonzales, the 23 year old Cal State Long Beach student among the victims in Paris. Their world has been thrown down.
This is not how today was meant to go. How many times does life throw that utter curve ball at us that leaves us stunned to the point we cannot even think much less speak? Accidents that take the life of a loved one. Or a diagnosis of cancer for the one person who makes our world, our lives, worth living. Or, when senseless violence reaches the inner most parts of our soul and leaves us feeling so run down, so violated.
You don’t plan for those days.
Friends, it is an honor and a privilege to be a priest; to be your priest. But on days like today, when we—all of us—feel broken I am afraid I may not be the best of priests. You will note that I am uncharacteristically reading my sermon today. And this is actually my fourth attempt at words for you today. It is my attempt to makes some sense of this world that is falling around us. But please keep in mind that it is from a man who is hurt and who feels broken and scared.
As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!" Then Jesus asked him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
To be clear, the temple to which the disciple was referring was a HUGE place. It was meant to be human kind’s response to God. It offered a glorious palace to hold the Ark of the Covenant for all of humanity. It was meant to hold the holiest of holies. So perhaps imagine the biggest most secure building you could imagine and then make it even bigger and more majestic. That was the temple.
The disciple had ample reason to be proud.
And yet Jesus tells him that it will be destroyed. This, the most secure and holy of buildings will come to an end. This huge construction that took so long and so many lives and so much of who we are, it will come down. To the point where “not one stone will be left here upon another.” And it will be shocking and it will be as though the actual end of the world was here.
We have all been there, have we not? Where our world seems to come to an end? Or at least when we wish it would.
So, let’s name the question we’ve heard or thought or cried since Friday: where, Lord, huh? Where were you when this happened?
I don’t know the answer to that for certain. But I’d like to think that God was the little voice in the head of the terrorists that was screaming “No, don’t do this!” Or the inner calmness that those poor and innocent victims felt as they died and God received them.
Make no mistake about what happened on Friday. It was evil. It was the personification of the devil in our world. It is tragic and horrible and the worst that human beings can be. And here two days later we don’t yet know how to respond. But maybe, us gathered here today seeking some answers…well maybe we do know.
Author Nadia Bolz Weber wrote about a bishop who taught her that “the greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up.”
And so here we are on a Sunday morning. Emotional. Raw. Confused. Scared because we have come in contact with evil once more. Because “these great buildings have all been thrown down.” But we have shown up.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if they could borrow this cathedral space for rehearsals of a new choir he’s starting. It’s a choir of volunteer actors and singers who will perform a concert to bring awareness to the homeless situation in Los Angeles. They won’t get paid, of course, and they want people to come to the concert for free and bring blankets and toiletries for the homeless. With Fr. Frank’s approval I was able to say that yes, they could borrow our space.
As I sit pondering these words to you the choir has gathered and they are singing some of the most beautiful arrangements of Christmas music I have ever heard.
Yes, there is evil in the world. It is awful and scary and I don’t know how to defeat it. But that volunteer choir who is gathering despite their own fears and problems, who just showed up, if you will, they remind us that, as Bolz Weber said, remind us that despite violence and fear, it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people. And always, always it is worth it to sing alleluia in defiance of the devil who surely hates the sound of it...singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples.”
Make no mistake about it. We need to not give in to our fear. We cannot let our anger or our heartache lead us to a broken place of vengeance. Let the horrific attack lead us to the real place we belong: into God’s caring arms. Let us ask God for the courage and the strength we need to follow even though we are so massively hurt.
This is not how today was meant to go, and yet here we are. Let us hold on to what is good and to each other and to the knowledge that while we don’t know how, or where, or when, good will triumph. God did not mean, nor want for this to happen. But God can make good from this.
Ours is a God of love. So much love that it defeated even death. So let us mourn and let us hold up the victims and, yes, even the perpetrators. Let us raise them to God who is love and who can make all things new again.
This is not how today was meant to go, but dear God take us from here and remind us of your love.