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A Sermon after the Boston Marathon bombing
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Gale Davis on Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4C ~ April 21, 2013
Christ Church Andover
Vacation Week ~ Patriot’s Day bombing week

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

I came to work late on Wednesday, as I knew I would be here well into the evening.  I swam as I have started doing, and then I took care of various appointments, doctors, dentists, hair.  It was mid-afternoon when I began my trek to Andover from Westford. It was a stunningly beautiful day -- warm. The sky was blue, the clouds fluffy white.  It was a bright day, a slight breeze, but a warm and gentle breeze. As the spring light danced on the cars, I drove north.  I discovered that the trees were beginning to bud.  My painter’s eye knew that if I put just a bit of alizarin crimson on the end of a dry brush, I could begin to duplicate that image of spring about to burst out.  And I tried to feel the incredible surge that comes with knowing winter might actually end and spring begin.

But instead of relishing these signs of life as usual, rejoicing in the turning of the page from winter to spring, it just didn't feel right to me. I wondered, almost out loud, how the earth could be so callous as to be going on as though nothing had happened?  Foul images are swirling instead.  I was haunted by thoughts of 8-year-old Martin Richard's family. Thoughts of his father flashed in my mind.  He had been waiting at the end of the race to see his friend finish the Marathon, there with his family, eating ice cream. That was on another “beautiful day”, one that ended with his son dead, his daughter maimed, his wife critically wounded.  

I wondered for him at the audacity of the earth to keep on pushing toward spring as though nothing had happened, when certainly, winter’s harsh bitter wind and dank cold would better suit. I didn’t know then the names of the other two who had been killed (Krystle Campbell and Lingzi Lu), or that the young officer, Sean Collier, would also be dead before the week’s end, and that his classmate, fellow officer and friend, Richard Donohue, would lie in the hospital, like so many others, critically injured. I didn’t know the names of the men who had done this awful thing. I did not know then that the haunting fierceness of the week, that feeling of “not quite right”, would intensify as the week went on.

When I arrived at church last Wednesday (which now feels like years ago, not just a few days ago), I read the lessons for today, as I do each day for the Sunday coming up, especially when it is my turn to preach. I read and reread these lessons, studied commentaries to prepare for today, trying to find answers to the questions swirling in my head.  Why?  Why more violence?  We know that random acts of kindness change the world, but what about random acts of violence?  What do they do?

The lessons gave me some solace actually on each succeeding day, even before we knew the names of the brothers who allegedly did this.  Before Boston was put on lockdown, before one of the brothers was killed and the other captured.  In those blurry moments, dragged into days of intensity -- not so much days of fear, but more like dread, unknowing.  Those of us who are far from the center of what was going on--our lives were only minorly disrupted by the chaos just a few miles to our south, but I turned again and again to the comforting words in these lessons and continued to find answers to my unspoken “why’s” to God.

Not surprisingly, it was the 23rd Psalm that quieted my fears and calmed my soul.  Like grilled cheese sandwiches and Campbell’s tomato soup, it enveloped me as “poetic comfort food”, speaking the hope and reassuring presence of God, needed in times like these.

I read the 23rd Psalm over and over again (admittedly not the version we read this morning, but the King James one I learned by heart as a child). You can find it on page 476 of the Book of Common Prayer.  And I thought about the Lord who is my shepherd and your shepherd, and the shepherd of those who were killed or injured or maimed, the shepherd of the responders and bystanders, the shepherd of the police and all related officers who came to our aid, the shepherd of those encased in their locked homes by police order.  I thought about the Lord who is the shepherd of those two brothers who did such an unspeakable thing.  And I thought about you, God’s beloved in this sheepfold, hoping you were safe, knowing that you were (trusting I would have heard otherwise).  But wondering if, like so many I spoke with this week, you were also feeling the incongruity of it all..... the at once lost and hopelessness of such things and also in awe of the incredible resilience, outrageous kindness and bravery and cooperativeness our larger community evidenced day after day, hour after hour.  Did you, too, find yourself in a swirl of conflicting emotions?  Pride and mourning at the same time?  Tears of joy and gratitude pooled with tears of fear and sadness?

These evil things happen, and they will and do and will again, because we do not yet live in the kingdom of God.  When they happen, we can remember that the Lord is our Shepherd; or we can live in fear, retaliation and vengeance our aim, which would be to go to a place of evil ourselves.  You see, we live in a broken, “not yet” place, a mortal place of free will that gets tainted by the constant presence of a beguiling, attractive, almost beautiful-looking evil that seduces us, and every human, to make choices and follow voices that at first sound right to us, voices so akin to the one we want to hear but are so far removed from the Shepherd’s, that we do what is completely and totally wrong. We often don’t figure it out until the wrong has been done, and evil thinks it has won our heart.  

But, even then, the Lord who is our Shepherd is with us, all of us, even the evil doers. The Lord wants us in green pastures and wants a table between us and our enemies -- a table laden with a life-sustaining meal to be shared by all -- until our cups truly are running over. Sometime we fail to accept God’s invitation. Sometimes other voices clamor above God’s, and in our self absorption we do not take the time to wait, to listen, to hear God’s voice.

Usually, most often in fact, such clamoring does not lead us to the kind of horror we have all witnessed this week, but it can lead to other failures, other betrayals, other acts of self-righteous, willfulness. We know the Lord’s voice, all of us. Sometimes we fail to hear it.  And sometimes, as we all witnessed this week, we do hear it – and that voice calls runners to run two extra miles after the marathon to give blood, or to families to stay locked in their houses with games and popcorn and movies so as not to scare children. That Shepherd’s voice called brave men and women to walk into danger so that others might be safe; that voice called together people of many faiths to ecumenical services so touching and beautiful, where Christians of every sort, Muslims and Jews prayed together. The Shepherd to whom we belong calls us to kindnesses so tender one weeps to observe them. 

Sometimes -- and I would suggest most times, or at least often -- we do hear God’s voice. The Shepherd speaks and we follow, though never blindly, as is the case when evil seduces. The Shepherd calls us each by name, comforts us, walks with us into danger and through it. The shepherd has many sheepfolds, all are meant to be sheltered by God’s grace no matter which fold they call home, all can hear the shepherd’s voice if they but listen.

Evil has happened. But Evil does not get to write the end of the story. The Good Shepherd does. If we are faithful to God’s voice, listening for it, harmonizing together when we hear it, Evil will not be able to get much of a toe hold. 

What do random acts of violence do? They sharpen our ears so that we can hear God’s voice. They propel us to care for one another, to shelter one another. They create a place for love to respond and expand and take over. 

As this week went on, I became more and more grateful that the sun set each night and the sun rose each morning, the world pushed toward spring, completely oblivious to what was being spewed from our TV sets. That alizarin crimson outburst of color has become more and more a promise of what is to come, and the bright green of spring has begun to hail us! The forsythia has bloomed its bright yellow greeting, and trees have begun to bloom white and blossoming full of the promise that the Shepherd is with us and will be, no matter what. All this is a “visual cue” that Love is bursting out and taking over.   Amen.

Last Published: April 24, 2013 3:35 PM