Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30Preached by Ian Lasch
My mother has a plaque hanging in her kitchen right by the door that says, "I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much." It's attributed to Mother Teresa, and it’s a wonderful sentiment. The only problem is that, at least in my experience, it isn't entirely true. You see, we live in a world where bad things can and do happen, even to the best of us. We live in a world where the celebration of the end of a marathon in Boston can change in an instant to the horror of three deaths and nearly 200 injuries, dozens of which required amputation, or where a quiet night in a quiet town outside of Waco can turn into the tragedy of a dozen killed and two hundred injured out of a community of just 2,500. We live in a world where, all too often, we’re given more, sometimes much more, than we alone can handle. What comfort do we have in a world like this?
That is likely the same question that was being asked by the friends and family of Tabitha in our reading from Acts. Tabitha was a disciple of Christ, about whom we know only that "she was devoted to good works and acts of charity." In the midst of doing good things, still she was torn from them. Her friends are consumed with grief. They send for the apostle Peter, but when he gets there, they are still overwhelmed. Unable to understand or to cope, they simply weep. Bad things, it seems, can happen to good people. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul says that just as we were baptized into Christ's death, we are baptized into his resurrection, and we could have no clearer example than Tabitha. Our comfort is that she dies, and then she lives. The resurrection is hers, and it is ours.
What comfort do we have in a world like this? Well, John wrote us a prophecy that applies just as much in our time as it did in his. This portion of the Revelation is set in the midst of the opening of the seven seals, the part of the book so harrowing that it’s what gave the word apocalyptic its meaning. The four horsemen are unleashed with the first four seals. With the fifth, the souls of those slaughtered for the word of God have cried out for judgment and vengeance... and been told to wait. With the sixth, there is a great earthquake, the sun goes black, the full moon becomes like blood, stars fall to the earth, the sky vanishes, and mountains and islands are moved. Everyone on earth hides in caves, fearing the wrath of the Lord. As John is asked, "Who are these, robed in white?" the seventh seal awaits, which will give seven angels seven trumpets, which will unleash yet more horrors on the world. We know the answer must be important, because it's one of only two or three places in the entire book where the images shown to John are explained. But our answer doesn’t come from John himself; John can’t say. He’s witnessing horror and tragedy, image after image, not unlike the photos from Boston and from West that we’ve seen on TV for the past week. In the midst of all this awfulness and suffering, John gives up. He doesn't know who those robed in white are. In his misery he fails to recognize himself. Just as we, reading these words in the wake of tragedy millennia later, fail to recognize ourselves. You see, it’s us, all of us, who are robed in white. We are the faithful of God who have washed our robes white in the blood of the Lamb, both at the time of our baptism and every week, here, at His table. Our comfort is that this is not some future prophecy that may yet come to pass, but a promise to each and every one of us, for now and forever, that we will hunger and thirst no more. Sun and scorching heat and terror will not strike us. The Lamb will be our shepherd and he will guide us to the springs of the water of life.
What comfort do we have in a world like this? The comfort of Christ, our Good Shepherd, telling us today that we, his sheep, hear his voice. That he knows us, and not just as some acquaintance. He knows us so thoroughly that he feels, as intimately as we do, our pain and suffering – even in times like these, horrific beyond comprehension. He knows us so thoroughly that he even knows our doubt. We have a savior who understands what it means to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Knowing our pain and our doubt, he promises that no one and nothing will ever snatch us out of his hand.
Though we may sometimes be given more than we can handle alone, thanks be to God, we don’t have to. You see, our comfort is that we also live in a world where our Good Shepherd is always with us. We live in a world where, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need fear no evil. Because we live in a world where when we struggle, and when we suffer, and when we weep... God wipes away every tear from our eyes.