Sermon for Sunday February 2, 2020
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
It is said that you never forget your first love or your first kiss. You will always remember your first success and your first failure. Rich or poor, one of the most impactful aspects of our life is that we share is experiences. And I say rich or poor because life’s experiences are not found in the items we have or don’t have, but rather in the challenges, the achievements, highs and lows, etc. that we live despite what we physically have. Everyone has experienced in some way, shape or form love, anger, bitterness, fear. We all know what it means to lose or feel lost; We all know what it means to search and be filled. If there is one unifying component of life, it is our shared experiences of life’s highs and lows.
Exactly 1 week ago today, the world shared in a low experience when we read or heard of the horrific tragedy of the helicopter crash in California, that claimed the lives of 9, including the world famous basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi. Regardless if you followed basketball or not, whether you knew the names of the other victims or knew their families, everyone together shared that pain in the knowledge of loss of life. And who knows of what other tragedies took place 1 week ago today and throughout last week. How many shootings took place in Chicago, LA or New York. Yesterday, as I was checking our mailbox, right outside our Church a fight broke out with some kids and within minutes police quickly showed up to settle the fight, which left a number of these kids bloody and bruised. What if one of those kids had a gun and shot someone? I was checking the mailbox in that moment, what if something happened? What about overseas, in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, China, etc.? This entire week we heard of the Coronavirus now having claimed almost 200 lives. This morning I woke up to the story of a family of 7 having been killed in Australia because of a drunk driver. Yes, we all share experiences and in this sinful world we share pain and loss more than any other.
We have all I’m sure heard the saying “hope for the best but plan for the worse.” But as Christian’s this statement is not compatible with our faith. Despite the reality of suffering, loss and pain in our lives, which the Church and which God fully acknowledges, hope and fear cannot be in the same place. For this reason, Christ in today’s Gospel speaks out to his disciples who were in the midst of a storm and says, “It is I, do not be afraid.” (v.20) The contrast between fear and faith is one we don’t think about often but if we examine scripture we see that fear is not just the opposite of hope but rather fear is the opposite of faith itself. For this reason St. Paul (1Thesselonians 4), when speaking about mourning, says, “we do not mourn like those we have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” We do not fear, we do not suffer, we do not mourn in hopelessness because we believe, because we have faith in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, to say we hope for the best is to say we believe in the power of God and His all-powerful will and love. So therefore, what does it mean but we prepare for the worst? We prepare just in case God fails? No, my dears, we believe and so we become prepared in that belief. And belief and hope does not mean we do not suffer, we do not feel loss or pain. Hope in suffering, belief in God in pain and even in joy is knowledge that in that moment, through the darkness we are not alone.” Fr. Vasken Kouzouian from our diocese in his reflection on the death of Kobe Bryant beautiful stated, “As a father…I can imagine Kobe holding his daughter in his arms, loving her and comforting her in those final moments.” When we have faith, when we are not afraid because of our hope, when we are prepared through our belief we know that we are also in the embrace of God our heavenly Father, holding us and saying, as Christ said to his disciples in the Gospel, “do not be afraid” for he is with us.
And we are comforted with these words my dears not just for our own pain but in order for us therefore, to likewise comfort others. Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife and the mother of Gigi in her first public statement said, “we are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately. There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now.” My dears, all too often when we are in pain, and we pray to feel God’s presence in our lives, we may lose hope because we do not see him immediately. Yet, as I began today’s message I spoke about how we all share one in thing in life and that is experiences. God uses each one of us, to be present and to be a comfort for others through our experiences. When we say we are not alone, it is because we are called to be with each other, to bring healing, love, hope, forgiveness and care to each other. It is for this reason that Christ took on a physical body, God became flesh to teach us that, we are also called to be physically present with each other and to share our joys, our laughs, our tears and our hopes and sorrows. God wants us to be His presence in this world because we have shared and know what life is.
That is why St. Paul in 2nd Corinthians says, “Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble.” (1:3-4) We all share in what it means to lose and to gain, to celebrate and to mourn intimately. And as ones who believe in the joyful resurrection of Christ Jesus, who has given us life, even through death, how much more are we called to be that hope, that faith and that resurrection to the rest of this world, who seems to be more and more isolated and hopeless.
My dears, God is present in our lives. He is our hope, He is our life and our light. And we are also called to be that life, that hope and that light, we are called to be God’s presence to each other in this world. Not to avoid the darkness but to overcome it with His love. For as we have been given life, we must also give life. For as we have been raised from the dead, we must also raise others. For as we have hope, we must bring hope to others. Only then, will we continually be in the knowledge and wisdom that we are not alone. Only then will we truly understand that fear has no place in our heart where God is always present. Only then will we truly hope for the best and be prepared to be hope for those who are in their worst. “Do not be afraid” – Amen!