St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-08-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-08-2017

Why Did God Let This Happen

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33-46

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

The age-old question was raised once again a few weeks ago in our confirmation class: Why does God allow bad things to happen? That question is a little easier to deal with than its sister: Why does God cause bad things to happen; but neither of them have simple answers.

In the confirmation class, the question was inspired by the destruction caused by the hurricane that recently hit the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. To this, being honest and consistent with my beliefs, I took the blame off of God explaining that God created nature with many awe-inspiring, powerful forces including wind, rain, earthquakes, and volcanoes that are, at times, destructive but also make the world what it is today rather than a perfect sphere covered in its entirety with water about 2 miles deep.

I further explained that humans choose to build cities close to rivers and low-lying land near the sea that flood easily, thus, God is only to blame for allowing bad things to happen so far as God created nature; but humanity is to blame for the poor choice of placing themselves in the way of known natural forces.

Finally I spoke of some evangelical preachers who did blame hurricane Harvey on God’s wrath for Austin electing a lesbian mayor just as some blamed Katrina on New Orleans granting   permission for a Gay Pride parade in that city in 2005.

My concluding statement to the class: Can God cause disasters? Yes, I believe so. Are all disasters the work of God? NO. And I won’t be the one to declare which is which and I certainly won’t be the one to declare why!

As terrible as natural disasters are, I can at least see the logic of it all. Nature is powerful, sometimes we’re in the path of natures power, it’s not nice when that happens but the best we can do is to put more effort into responding with aid for the afflicted and doing a better job of staying out of the way in the future than the effort we put into placing blame!

I think that answer to the question of “Why do natural disasters happen” is simple yet accurate. But how on earth do we deal with man-made disasters?!

Since last Monday morning, when I woke up to the news about the shooting in Las Vegas that, to date, has left (at last check) 59 people dead and 527 injured, I have been wrestling with the question, “Why”. And the question is not “how” but “why”.

To speak now about gun control isn’t the issue I’m addressing today; a man armed with multiple automatic weapons is a part of the problem, but addressing that is addressing “how” it happened and is understandable, comprehensible! But what is not understandable nor comprehensible is why someone would use such weapons to kill or injure nearly 600 people who were not members of any specific group to be opposed, not threatening to himself or anyone else, and doing nothing to interfere with the rule of law of the community or the nation.


Pat Robertson was quick to place the blame on the disrespect shown to our President and the American flag. I cannot argue against the “disrespect” part, it’s all but obvious that the shooter lacked respect for his fellow humanity. I do, however, have a problem with Mr. Robertson’s call for respect to be given a man who has little respect for the common people and no exhibited respect for those who disagree with his demeanor and his policies. And, as far as disrespect for the flag, we must also consider what that flag represents to the oppressed and the marginalized living as citizens of the nation that flag symbolizes.

So, then, Mr. Robertson isn’t wrong about the lack of respect as, at least a part of, the problem, he just seems to have put the blame all on one side when it is both sides that bear the blame.

We may never know for sure why the shooting in Las Vegas happened or the shooter’s motives. Certainly there will be some connection made to mental illness as his actions define such a condition. But as I’ve struggled to understand the whole situation including why even mental illness would be displayed in such a horrible way, I am settling into a conclusion of the underlying effects of a severe lack of respect within our society. To that point I can agree with Pat Robertson, who is otherwise not one of my heroes.

Lack of respect, like every other evil, is contagious. Once it has started, it spreads with no less rigor and no less damage to society than the flu virus. In our society, I cannot tell you where it started but I will suggest that it has been spreading for many years and is now at an epidemic level.


I look at our national leadership and see the disrespectful rhetoric bouncing back and forth between our political parties; I look in our streets and see the disrespect of neighbors and fellow citizens; I look at our financial structures and see disrespect between the rich and the poor, and I even find disrespect between denominations of Christ’s Church which is, in itself, disrespect for Christ and God.

To his credit, Mr. Robertson included a lack of respect for the Word of God in his statement; only degraded by his habit of interpreting the Word of God on his terms and not respecting anyone else’s.

Then I look at the Word of God. Not by coincidence, I suppose, I look at today’s lectionary reading from Exodus.

The 10 Commandments address this exact situation; for what do they call for but respect?

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me”. God, not only deserves respect, God earned respect.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”. Again, respect God.

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name”. A third time, respect God.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy Six days you shall labor and do all your work”. A forth time, respect God and respect yourself.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you”. Respect your elders.

“You shall not murder”. Respect life.

“You shall not commit adultery”. Respect your spouse and another’s spouse.

“You shall not steal”. Respect the property of others.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. Respect truth, honesty, and the law.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”. Respect your neighbor’s possessions and respect yourself.

Notice, here, that only the first one-third of the commandments focus on God; the remaining two-thirds focus on living respectfully, peacefully as a community of human beings. These are our guidelines for building and maintaining a society of unity that lifts all people to fullness of life and to counter the evil that is so quickly infecting our world. Just as evil is contagious; so is righteousness. A smile begets a smile; courtesy begets courtesy, love begets love; respect begets respect as effectively, infectiously as hate begets hate and division begets division.

We are called by God and Christ to spread goodness into the world. It is up to us to spread goodness so that love and respect will be the default reaction to stress and anger rather than hatred and senseless acts of harm and death.

Love and respect God above all else, love and respect your neighbor as yourself. On these two hang all the Law and the Prophets; on these two hang all our hope for a better tomorrow.



Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
20:1 Then God spoke all these words:
20:2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
20:3 you shall have no other gods before me.
20:4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
20:7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
20:8 Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
20:9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
20:12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
20:13 You shall not murder.
20:14 You shall not commit adultery.
20:15 You shall not steal.
20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
20:17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
20:18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,
20:19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”
20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”


Philippians 3:4b-14
3:4b If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more:
3:5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
3:6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
3:7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.
3:8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
3:9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.
3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death,
3:11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
3:12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
3:13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
3:14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ


Matthew 21:33-46
21:33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.
21:34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce.
21:35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
21:36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way.
21:37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
21:38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’
21:39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
21:40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
21:41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”
21:42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’?
21:43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.
21:44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”
21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them.
21:46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.