The Las Vegas Massacre


In 2001, I was preparing for my day at Focus on the Family—I was a senior Fellow then—when out-of-the-blue my brother called from Chicago: “Michael (he gasped), a plane has just hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City.”

That was, of course, the beginning of a story that is reverberating across the nation and around the world to this very day.

Then came my time to go to work and teach after just witnessing the second plane do the same thing….

Immediately I thought, how could I (as a priest) remain silent or disconnected from such a terrible event?

And so, I left my suit and tie behind me (my academic regalia at the time), and instead came to work at the Institute in my “blacks”, complete with clerical collar.

Yess, up until then, I had only been known as “Dr. O’Donnell”, but now—and from then on—I would simply be addressed as “Father”.

You see, the people of God gather at such times expecting that they will hear an anointed word from God.

To miss this cruel moment is to overlook an immense opportunity to herald the power of the gospel amidst the crucible of life.

And so, today, (likewise) after witnessing what the press is calling—the Las Vegas Massacre—some of you have come hoping to hear something from another world, a kind of declaration from eternity.

Yes, these moments, too, demand a pulpit response.

Haddon Robinson, a noted educator and homilist, has coined the phrase, “Preaching through the pain.”

Pain and preaching often go hand in hand, both in the experience of the preacher and in the hearts of those who listen to him.

Someone once asked: “Where is Jesus most fully encountered?”

Well, could it be that when you find the pain you find Jesus?

Or, to put it a different way, is it pain that often pries open the heart to hear the still, small voice of our Heavenly Father?

If this is true, what an opportunity crisis can provide.

You see, this is when people listen best.

What I said from the lectern to my students during 9/11 is no longer in my memory.

But I do know that I used that day to speak to the hurts, fears, and uncertainties that all my students felt — long-since graduated, they still carry a deep sense of responsibility and concern for the terrible events that occurred in New York City that day.

But these moments—like this past Sunday night—demands a pulpit response that goes far beyond the crises imposed on the church by evil, external forces; they also include the agony of Christian disunity,

…the pain of doctrinal and political discord,

…the grief of corrupt leadership,

…the shattering effect of sinful conduct,

…and even the constant pressure of financial woes.

Yes, these too are moments that demand a pulpit response.

And so, for those who have come this morning seeking answers, let m briefly present my list of the possible whys:

  • Each of us is part of a fallen race. Thus, none are immune from its consequences.
  • We can never fully understand God’s ways. His ways are far above our own.
  • God uses, what He does not cause, so that we can learn to trust Him. We call this, “God’s Permissible Will”.
  • Because our attachment here should remain tentative. The life of God’s perfect design awaits us in eternity.

Here, also, is my list of cautions about the possible whys:

  • People in pain need a loving presence. To stand by the side of people in pain is more powerful than words: show up and shut up.
  • Accept the fact there are no easy answers. God, being God, has not chosen to explain all that He allows to be done.
  • Trust is always the coveted response to crisis. Having done all, simply stand.
  • Keep an eye on the eternal.

By contemplating the shortness of this life when compared to eternity to come …

Hear what the Psalmist says in chapter 46, beginning with verse one:

1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 8 Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields[b] with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Yes, there are moments that demand a response from the pulpit — a word that resonates with a deep sense of God’s love and grace.

And these moments of crisis become invitations to proclaim the Word in such a way that it will bring …

peace where there has been strife,

understanding where there has been confusion,

hope where there has been despair,

comfort where there has been sorrow, and life where there has been death.

Yes, these are the moments that demand a pulpit response.


~ by revdrmichael on October 7, 2017.

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