Thursday, June 08, 2017

"How Does This End?" A Sermon for the First Anniversary of the Pulse Shooting

Old Testament Lesson                                                                  Psalm 37:1-20
Do not fret because of the wicked;
    do not be envious of wrongdoers,
for they will soon fade like the grass,
    and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.
He will make your vindication shine like the light,
    and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
    over those who carry out evil devices.
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
    Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land,
    and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
12 The wicked plot against the righteous,
    and gnash their teeth at them;
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
    for he sees that their day is coming.
14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
    to bring down the poor and needy,
    to kill those who walk uprightly;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
    and their bows shall be broken.
16 Better is a little that the righteous person has
    than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
    but the Lord upholds the righteous.
18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
    and their heritage will abide forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times,
    in the days of famine they have abundance.
20 But the wicked perish,
    and the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
    they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

New Testament Lesson                                                           Revelation 19:1-6

After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying,
Salvation and glory and power to our God,
    for his judgments are true and just;
he has judged the great whore
    who corrupted the earth with her fornication,
and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they said,
The smoke goes up from her forever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who is seated on the throne, saying,
“Amen. Hallelujah!”
And from the throne came a voice saying,
“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,[b]
and all who fear him,
    small and great.”
Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out,
For the Lord our God
    the Almighty reigns.

          Last year at this time, our community was hurting.  It seemed to be one major event after another.

Right across the street there was a young man who tried to break into several homes.  He finally was able to gain access to one home and murdered 67 year-old Linda Jones.  She lived a quiet life, working as a Sunday School teacher in one of our sister churches, and as a volunteer grief counselor at Arnold Palmer Hospital.  It was a senseless murder that shook many in this neighborhood.

Then a few days later Christine Grimmie performed at the Plaza Live, just a short drive from here.  After the performance she was greeting people and signing autographs, and a young man who had become obsessed with her shot and killed her.

The next day came the Pulse Nightclub shooting. 

That was on a Sunday morning and many of you were awakened by the sound of gunfire.  Some were unable to come to church because of closed roads.  Throughout the morning we kept learning and announcing details during our worship services. 

At about that same time, a family who came to our community to enjoy some time at Disney were enjoying a lake-front beach at the hotel and their two year old child was killed by an alligator. 

Last year at about this time we were just hit with one terrible tragedy after another.

It may leave you thinking about what a terrible time it is in which we live, leaving you asking,  How does all this end?  Do things just get worse and worse? 

Even now a year after the Pulse and all of those other terrible things, we continue to have terrible news.

A few days ago a disgruntled former employee went into a small business and killed a number of workers.  It was right here in Orlando.

In Manchester, England, on May 22nd, there was the bombing with 22 fatalities and 120 injuries.

On June 3rd, there was a van that rammed into groups of pedestrians, followed by stabbing attacks, leaving 7 dead.

There was quite a scare in Notre Dame in France earlier this week when someone with a hammer and some knives started to attack others, shooting out that “This is for Syria.”  He was stopped by police, but the fear that gripped the city was deep and real. 

How will all of this end?

Does it just keep going on and on without end?

          If you want to have an answer to the question, “how will this end,” you can go to no better place than the Book of Revelation.

Revelation is a confusing book.  We get bogged down in all of the strange parts of it.  We know there are important clues, but we don’t know how to interpret them.  666?  What’s that about?  All those earthquakes and fires and floods?  Meteors falling to earth?  How are we to understand all of that?

You can get bogged down in a lot of little issues in Revelation, but I’m going to give you the bottom line, big picture of how it all comes out in the end.

The answer to the most important question is not – what does 666 mean. 

The most important question is “how does all of this end?” 

Revelation was written at a very difficult time in history.

Now, we think we have it bad, but let’s be honest.  These are not the worst times of history.

Some of you lived through the depression – that was far worse than the Great Recession we went through in recent years.

Earlier this week we observed the anniversary of D-Day.  In 1944,

Allied forces stormed the beaches of Europe in World War 2.   In that war 72 million people died.

World War 1, 65 million dead.

The Black Plague, 25 million dead.

We are living in the safest time of history, and yet we feel unsafe, in part because the very nature of terrorism is designed to do just that.  It makes us feel the terror of the violence, even when we ourselves are not personally injured.

And so in these times when terrorism haunts us, we find ourselves asking, “how will all this end?”

And the answer that Revelation provides is simple:  You find it in verse 6 of our reading this morning.

“Our Lord God Almighty reigns.”

God rules!

God is in control.

God never stopped being in control.  God was never threatened.  God has always been on his throne. 

What does it mean to live in an evil world and to say, “God is in control?”

When the Book of Revelation was written, it was during a time of tremendous violence and evil.

Christians were being killed for their faith.  There was no religious freedom.  There were wars.  There were terrorists.  Crime was rampant.  The city of Rome had suffered a terrible city-wide fire.  Ethics were out and scandals were in.

It would have been easy for Christians to lose their faith.

It would have been easy for them to respond to violence with violence.  It would have been easy to have given up on ethical living, and to have lived like everyone else.

But when John told his church, “God is in control,”  it meant, “we know how the movie ends.  We’ve read the spoiler in the review.  We know what the last page of history says.” 

To know that God is in control is to be able to live justly, in unjust world.

To know that God is in control is to be able to love, when there so much hate in the world.

To know that God is in control is to be able to watch the television news with its stories of rape and violence and murder and not go crazy.

In 1770, an incident in Boston led to British soldiers firing upon civilians, killing five Americans.  You’ve read about that incident – the Boston Massacre.  The colonists were outraged and this incident contributed to a growing movement of American independency.  Many wanted to hang the British without trial, calling them enemy combatants.  John Adams, one of our greatest founding fathers, agreed to defend the British troops in a court of law.  He believed that even in the face of great evil, the rule of law and the right of trial must be held sacred.

But he and his wife faced threats of violence, and they were concerned for their lives and for the lives of their children.

In his diary, John Adams reflected on the encouragement he received from his wife, who had told him that, “she was very willing to share in all that was to come and place her trust that God was in control.”

To say that God is in control is not to understand God, but to trust God.

To say that God is in control is not to how these terrible things in the world will end, but it is to say that we know that they will end.

God is in control.

He was in control at the time of creation.

He was in control at the time John wrote Revelation.

He is in control today.

And someday, Christ will return and establish his rightful and righteous kingdom and there will be no longer any doubt that God is indeed in control.

That is the good news of Revelation.

I heard a story recently about a mother who was struggling with her strong-willed 3-year-old son, Thomas, who looked at him with a stern eye and asked a question that she thought would bring the child in line.

“Thomas, who is in charge here?”

She did not get the answer she expected or hoped for, which was that she, the mother, was in charge.

But she was not disappointed with the answer.

Apparently quoting what he had learned in Sunday School, Thomas answered without batting an eye, “Jesus is in charge.”[1]

We live in a time of violence, but it will not always be this way – for God is in control and Jesus is coming back soon.

We live in a time of illness and disease and terrible deaths, but it will not always be this way for God is in control and Jesus is coming back soon.

We live in a time of terrorists and crime and natural disasters, but it will not always be this way – for God is in control and Jesus is coming back soon.

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.


Leader:  Gracious and loving God, on this weekend our community cannot help but be aware of the significance of tomorrow’s anniversary of the Pulse shooting.  We pause to remember those who will lead, participate and gather at community activities to remember this sad event.  We pray that all such gatherings this week will be peaceful.
People:  Hear our prayers, dear Lord.
Leader:  We live in a world that is often stained by violence and evil.  Help us to also see good in our world, that we may promote love, peace and kindness.
People:  Hear us as we pray for the 49 innocent victims who died in last year’s shooting in our community.  Bring peace to their families and loved ones.
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  We live in a community.  We are bound together by the wonderful gifts of family, friends, coworkers and colleagues.  When one member of our community hurts, we share their pain. 
People:  Hear us as we pray for the survivors of last year’s shooting.  Help them continue to recover from the violence they witnessed.
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  You have called us to serve our community in different ways. 
People:  We pray for those called to work in law enforcement, as firefighters, or in emergency medical care. 
Leader: We thank you that you gave them strength for the day of crisis.
People:  We pray for all counselors, chaplains and pastors, social workers, teachers, community leaders and others who gave comfort to a hurting community.
Leader:  We thank you that you give strength to those who work to give courage to the weak and hurting.
People:  Continue to grant them healing for the spiritual wounds they may have suffered.
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  Gracious God, we know that many felt intense fear because of last year’s violent attack.  We pray for people who feel they are targeted because of sexual orientation, nationality, race or culture. 
People:  Help us to stand strong and united against hate and violence.
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  We give you thanks for opportunities you give this congregation to serve you and our community.  Through us and through our partners in ministry we provided a safe place for law enforcement and their spouses to seek counseling in the days and weeks following the Pulse shooting.  Elderly of the victims’ families found temporary care through our senior day care partners, Share the Care.  In many quiet ways known only to you, our members found opportunities to give comfort to those whom they personally knew who were related to victims.
People:  Continue to give us opportunities to make a difference in our community.
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  Last year we suffered the terrible news of the Pulse shooting.  But we also pause to remember other events of that same week.  We remember the tragic shooting of the singer, Christina Grimmie, which took place one day before the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub.
People:  We pray for Christina’s family and friends, that they would not feel forgotten by our community.
Leader:  Days before the shooting at the Pulse, a neighbor across the street from our church was killed in a home invasion.
People:  We pray for the family, friends and neighbors of Linda Jones, and we give thanks for her work as a member of her church, and for the people she touched as a grief counselor at Arnold Palmer Hospital.
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  We pray for those who have suffered violence in recent weeks and days.  We have seen tragic events take place in Manchester, England, at Notre Dame, France, and in so many other places.  We have seen violence once again in our own community at the hands of a disgruntled worker attacking others here in Orlando.
People:  We pray for all those who suffer violence in our community and across the globe. 
Leader:  Hear us as we pray in silence.

A bell is tolled 7 times.

Leader:  Loving God, you have created so much good in this world.  We give you thanks.  Teach us to be a people of peace and compassion.  Give us opportunities to minister to all who are suffering.  Teach us to forgive others.  Give us strength so that love may overcome hate, and faith may conquer fear.

Copyright 2017. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.

[1] – A Higher Order; Citation: Susan C. Kimber, Brea, CA. Today’s Christian Woman, "Heart to Heart."