August 22, 2012
The Rev. Janice Ford, Rector
The Church of the Reconciliation (Episcopal)
This is heartbreaking. There are simply no other words for what we are experiencing here today. Parents do not expect to outlive their child. Friends do not think about having to go on living without their buddy, their colleague, their comrade in arms. It’s just unnatural, and unfair, and seemingly senseless.
No matter the circumstances, whenever a life is lost unexpectedly and/or too soon, the typical response is to ask “Why?” We look for a reason—a way to make some sense of it all. We find ourselves drowning in a sea of “what-if’s” or “if-only’s.” And, more often than not, we look for someone to blame. Much of the time, consciously or unconsciously, we blame God.
Now, because God is God, there is no need for little mortal me to become God’s defender—to try and convince everyone that God had nothing to do with what happened to Kevin. But precisely because God is God, I am compelled to share what I believe about God’s role in our lives—both the good and the bad.
We have to start by knowing that God loves us. That’s it. God created us because God loves us. And because God loves us, we were given free will in this life. God wants us to use that free will to demonstrate our love for God in return. That’s all God wants—just our love in return—and to love one another. The tough part is that no matter how much we love God and one another, and strive to live a good life, we are human beings, and as such we are subject to all kinds of frailties—some of those frailties can lead us to sin, but others are frailties of our physical bodies that lead to disease, injury, aging, and ultimately death. Our lives are full of risks, and we can fall prey to any of them at any time, knowingly or unknowingly. That is the simple reality of our human lives.
The circumstances that led to Kevin’s accident were not caused by God. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when God saw the reaction of Kevin’s family and friends when they learned of his death, God wept, too. Just the way Jesus wept when Lazarus died.
I am often asked, “Well, if God is so powerful and loves us so much, why does God allow these things to happen? Where was God when Kevin’s car was out of control? Why didn’t God save him? Why didn’t God simply step in and prevent the accident all together?” Could God have done so? Absolutely! But God chooses not to intervene in this way because God is not the master puppeteer pulling the strings of our lives. God gives us this mortal life knowing that we will, no doubt, suffer all sorts of tragedies, as well as its many joys along the way. We are human, after all, not immortal. It reminds me of parents watching their children grow up. The parents know that once their children are away from them, they may encounter things or people that can do them harm. Yet every good parent also knows he or she must let their children go so that they can experience all that life has to offer—the good and the bad. To do otherwise would be to rob them of life completely.
We also use the free will God gave us to make choices every day—small ones and big ones; choices that can change our lives on a dime. And though most of us try to make the choices that are best for ourselves and those we love, we cannot account for the choices others make that may not be so good. Our lives intersect with the lives of others every day, and so our lives can be irrevocably changed in a heartbeat by someone who makes a really bad choice on any given day. Our prisons and graveyards are filled with both. Indeed, when God created us, we were not promised a “rose garden”—at least not in this life.
The “rose garden” is yet to come. That’s where Kevin is now. Those who cry for Kevin do so because they loved him, and they miss him. They expected to have so many more years with him. And so our tears are really tears for ourselves—for our loss, for our sadness. The pain is deep and unrelenting. But, Kevin is in paradise. If he could, he would tell us not to cry for him. He does not need our tears. Kevin is in paradise.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he did so not because Lazarus had been his friend, and he simply decided to use his power as the Son of God to bring him back. Rather, Jesus raised Lazarus because he wanted the people around him to see that he truly was the Son of God. Jesus performed that miracle because he wanted the people to believe in him—and, as we heard in the Gospel reading, many did.
God wants us to believe also, but it is so much harder to believe when Jesus is not here in person performing miracles, isn’t it? But, I suggest that maybe we’re looking for the wrong kind of miracle. Though we cannot have Kevin back with us, perhaps, because we have lost him, we will see miracles of new life in one another. Perhaps we will come to treasure one another more dearly. Perhaps we will pay more attention to the needs of others and put those needs ahead of our own. Perhaps we will be more patient with one another because we know how fleeting and temporary this life really is. Perhaps we will allow God to work in us in a way we never expected. All of those possibilities and more would be real miracles for us.
When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead he made something good come from something bad. But, it wasn’t about just having Lazarus back. It was about people coming to believe that God loved them enough to send his only Son to die and be raised for their eternal salvation.
Kevin is the beneficiary of God’s sacrifice of his own son. So, indeed, Kevin HAS been raised from the dead. He lives eternally with God. That is the most important miracle of all. It is the ONLY thing that can help us make any sense out of this senseless tragedy.
The pain of losing Kevin is deep and intractable, but we must remember that Kevin’s life was one filled with great meaning and purpose. Kevin was a father who adored his little son, Garrett. He was a son who treasured his parents. He was a Marine who loved his mission, his country, and his fellow Marines. He was a good man who lived a short life, but a life of which we can all be proud. And now he continues his life in paradise. Amen.