Sermon delivered on Holy Saturday Matins
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Last Saturday night at 11:30pm here in Charlotte, a 911 call went out from the Timber Creek apartment complex which is not too far from the Church. It was a 911 call like the many routine 911 calls that the police receive each night. Officers Sean Clark and Jeffrey Sheldon responded to the call which happened to be a domestic dispute.
However, this one proved to be different, because Demitrius Montgomery, a local street thug, who has been in and out of jail and in and out of trouble for years, approached the two officers from behind and shot them in the back of the head, execution style. The police didn't have time to pull their weapons. They were shot dead on the spot. Sean Clark left behind a wife and a 2 year old son and an unborn child. Sean was 34 years old. Jeffrey Sheldon left behind a wife and an extended family, he was 35 years old.Tonight, Demitrius Montgomery, 25 years old, sits in the Charlotte jail awaiting trial while Sean and Jeffrey's family mourns.
As we sit here in Church tonight, people are at home asking why, why did this happen? During the past week the media and the talk shows have been asking the same questions, why? What if the school system did a better job educating Demitrius maybe he wouldn't have turned to a life of crime. What if we had stronger gun control laws, maybe these officers wouldn't have been shot. What if Demitrius' parents were at home more often and showed more love, maybe he wouldn't have been so angry and turned to a life of street crime. The questions go on and on and on.
For two thousand years people have asked similar questions about the death of Jesus Christ. What if Judas didn't betray Jesus, maybe Jesus' wouldn't have been arrested. What if Peter and the other apostles were armed with swords and clubs and used force to protect Jesus, maybe Jesus' wouldn't have to be killed. What if Pontius Pilate was kinder and refused to hand Jesus over to the Jews?
For centuries people have asked these questions. But the fact remains. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was arrested, put on trial, and died a very public, shameful, and humiliating death on the cross outside of Jerusalem. How could this have happened, how could God have allowed this to happen? Why did Jesus have to die this way?
We might find an answer in the words of the prophet Isaiah from whom we have heard a lot during this past week, especially yesterday and today. In chapter 55 God says the following: "My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth so to are my thoughts not your thoughts, says the Lord." God does not think and act like we do. We cannot guess what is on his mind or what he is up to. God is totally other. God allowed his son only begotten son to be handed over to Herod and Pilate and to die a shameful death on the cross.
Who of us here tonight would allow our own children to go and play out on the highway in front of cars or play with a handgun or put our children in direct danger -- no one, right? But God the Father allowed his only-begotten Son to be bruised and humiliated. Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, the one who showed love, peace, love, mercy, forgiveness, was taken outside the city gates and hung on a cross as Isaiah's voice echoes, "My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts."
We sit here tonight and reflect on the meaning of the cross. The late French Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov said that through the cross God shows his absurd love to the world. The cross is indeed absurd, yet it is through the cross that God shows his love to the world. It is not the way that I would choose or most likely you would choose, but it is the way that God chose to do it, "my ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts." God goes against every bit of human logic and rational thinking in order to show us that he indeed loves us.
We live in an absurd world, a world where the hundreds if not thousands of Demtrius Montgomeries' grow up in poverty and learn a life of crime. A world in which hand-guns proliferate and find their way into the hands of teenagers. A world in which drugs, prostitution, crime, hatred, anger, and prejudice reign. A world in which young police officers, the very people who protect and care for us, are gunned down tragically in cold blood.
This world is absurd. Yet it is in this very imperfect and absurd world through which God shows his prefect love through the absurdity of the cross. And it is this message of the cross that we are called to follow. Tonight we are once again called to share the perfect love, peace, and humility of the cross in this very imperfect world in which we live.
Fr. William C. Mills, Ph.D., is the rector of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC, as well as an adjunct professor of religious studies at Queens University in Charlotte, NC. He is married to Taisia Mills and has two daugthers, Hannah and Emma.
Latest book by Fr. Mills:
A Light to the Gentiles is a collection of pastoral reflections on the Scripture readings from the gospel of Luke that are read in the Orthodox Church from mid-September until the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. The gospel of Luke is also read during the preparatory Sundays before Great Lent as well as at the feast of the Ascension and at the commemoration of various saints. The gospel also contains many familiar parables and teachings: the Good Samaritan, the Publican and the Pharisee, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and Zachaeus. Luke reminds us that the gospel is to be proclaimed to the entire world in order to bring the gospel to all peoples and nations. Thus, the gospel of Luke serves as a beacon of light that shines brightly in the world. A Light to the Gentiles is an invitation for everyone to read, accept, and obey the Word of God in their lives. This book is a resource for personal and group Bible study, adult education classes, and sermon preparation.
See more books by Fr. Mills