Read Psalm 46
We live in a time of fast food and faster phones.
We pull up to the gas pump, grumble at the prices, and then fill up anyway, not even having to go inside to pay.
We record our favorite television shows and then fast forward through the commercials when we watch them.
Research means “Googling something.”
And most of us have Googled ourselves, sometimes wondering, “How did they get that information about me.”
The more time saving devices we own, the less time we seem to have.
Our world has been framed in such a way that so many things have to go just right for us to have peace.
It seems like just one thing goes awry and our day goes downhill from there.
The coffeepot stops working.
The gas tank is setting on empty.
Your cell phone is still on the charger at home.
What else could go wrong today?
Then disaster strikes.
In Oklahoma we know the cost of living in Tornado Alley all too well. In many ways, we have grown accustomed to the frequency and lethality of these storms. They are a part of life, but when we have loved ones who lose everything or we see the images of innocent lives lost; we hurt.
The pain becomes very real to us.
We cry out in anguish and ask, “Why?”
Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
The loss of life seems unbearable for many, but when it comes to the cost of such incidents, insurance companies and lawyers will dip into their bags of terms and come up with Force Majeure and An Act of God.
In the context of such tragedy, the little things that go wrong on any given day dissipate into insignificance.
In the context of time, our minds will again focus on the inconvenience of being slowed down by road construction and off of asking, “Why did God let this happen.”
But time and time again, we will return to the question of “why?”
In the 10th chapter of Luke, a teacher of the law comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by asking him what he thinks the law says.
He answered Jesus by saying, “ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus tells him that he answered correctly and that if he lived this way he would live. But the man wanted to justify the way he was living, so he asked a question.
“Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus tells a story that we now call the Parable of the Good Samaritan. No one would have called it by this name at the time Jesus told it for the Samaritans were a people despised by the Jews.
The story begins with tragedy. A man is beaten, robbed, and left for dead along the Jericho Road. It was a road known to be a dangerous place to travel. Yet the parable is not about traveling dangerous roads or traveling in large numbers for safety. The man traveled and was ambushed and left for dead.
You know the rest of the story. The priest passed by on the other side. The Levite passed by on the other side. Only the Samaritan came to the man’s aid. Only the despicable Samaritan came to his aid.
He treated his wounds, put him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn where he cared for him. When the Samaritan had to leave, he paid the innkeeper much more than he owed and gave instructions to care for the man. He said to the innkeeper, “If it costs more than I gave you, spend it, and I will reimburse you upon my return.”
Jesus turned to the teacher of the law and asked him, “Which of these 3 was a neighbor to the man left for dead on the road?”
The teacher cannot muster the word “Samaritan” but says, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
Jesus did not analyze why there are people who attack others.
He did not conclude with a lecture on safe travel.
He did not give a pitch for AAA route planning services.
He said, “Go and be a neighbor.”
The teacher asked, “Who is my neighbor.”
Jesus answered, “Be a neighbor.”
One of the hardest things to accept is that God permits sin to continue in the world at this time. God permits disaster and tragedy to continue in this time.
God will use everything for good for those who love him, but that “everything” often includes tragedy and disaster and breaks our heart.
One of the concomitants of life is that tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
Life is a gift to be cherished, but also something to be given to others.
We can dwell on the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” If we do, we become depressed and doubt that God is with us.
We look at devastation such as we have witnessed this week and ask, “How can this be an act of God?”
Was God punishing us?
Is God really in control?
Is God really for us?
But these questions are not answered in the recurring images of the newscasts that we have witnessed so frequently. They are answered at the core of our very being.
They are answered by being still.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Had the psalmist lived in Oklahoma, he probably would have said, and though the tornadoes rip capriciously through the land.
The Lord almighty is with us.
In this world we will have hurt and pain and sorrow and trials and tribulation. We do not grow indifferent to it, but respond to the mercy within us and be a neighbor.
We give generously.
We serve faithfully.
We love unconditionally.
We open our homes to those who are hurting.
We feed those who are hungry.
And even after doing all of this, we are still incomplete. Even after responding to the mercy within us and letting it rule over us to help those in need, we have an empty feeling.
For in the midst of tragedy, we are called to be still. This is more than being quiet. It is more than silence. It is to be in the presence of God. It is to know he is with us and is embracing us.
It is to experience assurance that goes beyond circumstances.
It is to experience more than peace that we don’t understand, but assurance that we can’t understand.
It is to be fearless in the storm not because the storm cannot take our life for it can but because we trust in the one who can give it back again.
It is to look the worst storm in the eye and see a mighty act of God. It is to see the mightiest act of God. It is to see our sin nailed to a cross and know that the physical death of these bodies is not the end for we bear our sin no more.
There will continue to be wars and rumors of war, earthquakes and storms, death, disease, and dying in this world, but we must take heart. Jesus has overcome the world.
Our faith and our hope and our joy are not in the circumstances of the day. They are in the Lord.
Whatever transpires in this world is within the providence of God, even those things which we cannot comprehend. Even those things that bring us to our knees with sorrow. Even those things that lead us to ask, “Why?”
Our response in time of tragedy is to be a neighbor.
It is to be God’s love in action.
It is to be God’s light in this world.
It is to be the salt of the earth so that in the middle of tragedy, others may taste the goodness of God.
It is to love one another.
And it is to be still in the midst of turmoil.
It is to know that God is God even through tragedy and hurt and pain.
It is to put all of our love into action and to bring our very soul into stillness.
It is to be poured out like a drink offering in helping others and to be filled with the very essence of God himself.
It is to empty ourselves in helping those who are hurting and to be filled by love greater than we can imagine.
Be a neighbor.
Obey the words of Jesus: Go and do likewise—be a neighbor.
Trust the words of God that we hear from the psalmist.
Be still and know that I am God.
For the mightiest act of God took place 2000 years ago at a place we call Calvary and all of human history, and all the wonders of the world, and all the great accomplishments of mankind, and all the disasters that fall upon this planet pale in significance to the love God has for us that we know through the cross.
God loves us.
God is with us.
God is for us.
Be still and know that God is God.
I have shared the story of Horatio Spafford who wrote the words to When Peace Like a River, perhaps better known as It is Well with My Soul. It is a story of tremendous faith in the face of very personal tragedy. What I have not previously shared is that Spafford wrote more than the verses that are in most hymnals.
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!
Blessèd hope, blessèd rest of my soul!
Let us hope in the Lord.
Let us rejoice in the Lord.
Let us be still and be in the presence of the Lord.