The news was devastating.
A young man who appeared to have a lot going for him, who appeared to have a bright future, got himself into such trouble that he could not see a way out. He chose to end his life.
We see things like this in the news from time to time. We shake our heads and wonder how such things happen. Maybe we make judgments about the situation or the people involved. Maybe we comment about what a waste of life, or how awful it must be for the parents, and then move on with our lives.
I can’t do that with this one, because we know the family. The incredible heartache is not an abstraction that exists somewhere out there in the ether. I know the names and faces and stories of those in shock and grief, who will carry the weight of this tragedy for the rest of their lives. I wonder if there is anything we can do to ease the pain of those who have been harmed and those who are suffering.
It reminds me of the desperate importance of what we do in the church.
I’m not suggesting that we, or anyone, examine the situation to see what could or should have done to make a difference in this case. It is not the place of God’s servants to pick apart the past to assign blame or guilt. Such actions only serve to increase the burden and the pain that is already drowning the landscape. As I understand the book of Job, the church’s inclination is to rush in to fix and to heal and thereby make things worse. Whereas the only faithful action in this tragedy is to contribute compassion and presence and pray for whatever healing is possible.
What I am suggesting is that we as preachers recognize the life-and-death urgency of what we do. We proclaim that Jesus came to bring life, new life, abundant life. This is no abstract theological concept. All around us, people are dying.
Again, I am not speaking only of a medical condition. There are so many people in need of new life, in desperate need of new life. As wonderful as this creation is, it is so easy to lose our way in it. Death surrounds us in so many ways. Despair, tragedy, and heartache are never far from our door.
They are not metaphorical concepts; they are real.
Nor is new life a metaphorical concept. It is something real that the church has to offer.
Our job is to let the new life that Jesus brings flow through us to people who are lost, in pain, and to those in whom life is being squeezed out of their existence. When we proclaim hope to people in our congregations or outside our congregations, we are proclaiming it to people who have names, faces, and stories. On any given Sunday what is conveyed in worship, in the sermon, and in the faces and words of the congregation may well be the lifeline that maintains a life.
We don’t necessarily know who is struggling, who is losing their grip on life. All we know is that they are there, that God wants to reach everyone in pain, to bring new life, and to make the deserts bloom.
This is the mission to which we are called.