Thirteen states in the storm’s direct path, more impacted by the outlying parts of the Hurricane Sandy:
· 7.5 million without power;
· an estimated $30 billion in property damage with another $20 billion in economic losses;
· possibly the most damaging hurricane ever[i] ;
· The latest report I heard said 110 dead[ii] .
I mourned with the mother whose two- and four-year olds were swept from her arms after their car was caught in the rising waters. [iii]
We can’t hear about this kind of devastation, the gut-wrenching loss without asking “why?”
Why does God allow things like hurricanes and tornados and tsunamis and earthquakes?
Why does God let all these bad things happen in our world today, like war and hate, poverty and hunger?
Why is there so much unrest in the world? May God help us all!
Why is there sickness in the world?
Why do children have to die so young?
Why do children get cancer? Why does anyone get cancer?
Why does God allow innocent children to suffer at the hands of abusive parents and allow belittling in communities?
Why does God allow such horrible suffering for good people and the evil ones seem to go on unharmed?
Why is there pain and suffering in the people that have faith in God?
(Dramatic pause as we turn to the gospel)
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Back when I asked you to write down your questions about God and faith I said that there would be some questions we wouldn’t be able to answer. Questions that theologians had wrestled with for centuries.
This is the question I had in mind.
Why is there suffering in the world? And if there has to be suffering, why do the innocent suffer? Why do people of faith suffer?
The same morning I heard that those two young boys’ bodies had been found, I heard an answer given by a couple of pastors - this awful storm was a punishment from God on America.
That's one way to answer the 'why.'
Maybe thinking that God is responsible makes it easier to think about suffering – it’s punishment for sin, we’ve displeased God somehow. God is testing us. God is teaching us a lesson. It’s all part of God’s plan.
Those may all answer ‘why.’ But I believe it’s not a very biblical answer.
Because that’s not the God we find standing at Lazarus’ graveside.
Those are perhaps the two most startling words of the Bible.
Jesus – God with us - wept.
If God is love – and we believe that God is Love – then love cannot remain unmoved. Love has compassion. Love has empathy. Love weeps.
God does not sit up in heaven unmoved by our pain and our suffering.
No, God comes down to us. God is with us in those times of suffering.
God is standing at the graveside, weeping with us, holding us, greatly moved.
God makes sure death and suffering never have the last word.
The last word belongs to God.
God speaks, “Come out.”
Come out of the stench of death. Come out of the grave. Come out of the place of suffering. Be unbound from the winding cloth and be free.
God speaks words of resurrection and re-creation. God speaks words of healing to our hearts.
I heard a story this week[iv]. A woman had suffered a great loss. In the midst of her grief, she turns to the church. As she tells her story, she says that she came to the church for the wrong reason. She wanted to escape the pain. But church didn’t help her escape the pain.
It held her through the pain. She discovered that faith is not about avoiding pain and suffering. Faith is about the God who understands pain and suffering, who loves us enough to come down and experience that pain and suffering first hand, who holds on to us until we can move through the suffering.
As Lutherans, we like to say that God’s power is revealed in weakness and God is most fully present at the cross. That’s maybe a fancy way to say that in our own times of suffering, God is with us.
This woman discovered that faith was also about being the community that is the Body of Christ, about being with each other and holding each other through the hard times of life. About showing God’s presence to a world that is blinded by pain.
I may have shared this story before. After my mother died, a couple of co-workers spent a lot of lunch hours listening to me cry. They’d ask how I was doing. They would listen to my stories. They sat beside me as I cried out my broken heart - week after week, until finally the worst of the pain had passed.
My clearest memories of that job are those lunches. I remember them because that’s where God met me, where God sat with me while I cried and God wept.
I’ve been on the other side of the table. When I was doing my clinical pastoral education, I had the opportunity to meet with a woman every day during her mother’s last week on this earth. I walked with her through the first code blue, a second code blue, the realization that her mother was not going to get any better, her grief as she came to realize that her mother was dying. I listened to her as she remembered her mother’s love of life, mourned her upcoming death, debated what her mother would done medically, and finally signed the DNR order. I held her hand as she cried after the final code blue.
I don’t remember a lot of what happened those weeks that I served as a hospital chaplain. But I remember her. And her mother. And how God’s presence changed a dying woman’s hospital room into a holy place.
I don’t know.
All I know is we live in a world of brokenness - a world that God is in the process of re-creating. Until that day when the new heaven and the new earth come down, there will be sickness and pain and suffering and death.
And all I know is that until that day, God is in the process of wiping the tears from our eyes, comforting our grief, of sitting with us, holding us.
All I know is that when it's time for us to move from that place of grief, God calls us to come out of the brokenness and stench of death and take a deep breath life.
[i] Statistics from The Examiner; http://www.examiner.com/article/hurricane-sandy-likely-to-be-the-most-damaging-ever-recorded-us-history-why
[iii] I heard about this on The Today Show, November 1, 2012
[iv] From a video called ‘Jesus Wept’, theworkofthepeople.com