Stay alert!

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, December 2, 2012.

READINGS: Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalm 25:1-10, Luke 21:25-36

A word about my attire for today: I normally wear a white alb and stole that matches the liturgical color of the day.  Today, my black robe is for those who are grieving after the tragic shooting death of two Culver community members.  My purple stole—while the appropriate liturgical color for Advent—is a way for me to stand in solidarity with the students of Culver Community High School who wore purple on Friday in memory of their friend, Stephen Suthard, one of the victims.

Today, I’m wearing black and purple as an outward sign of my inmost feelings.  My heart aches for those in our community who mourn this day.

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Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear, that together we might learn and be inspired to live your Word in the world.  Amen.

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It was 8:13am when I received the phone call from Mrs. Masters, the secretary in the guidance office at the High School.  She had obviously been crying.  “Pastor Jacob, we’re calling all of the area clergy.  A student was shot last night.  Can you come to the high school?”  My head reeling, I finished getting dressed, said a quick prayer, and headed to the school (two blocks away).

The halls were eerily quiet.  The bell rang.  Students began to flood the hallways as they headed to their first period classes.  Even with students everywhere, the halls were still relatively quiet.  Roughly 10 minutes after the start of the first class, the entire school was called to the auditorium where the principle announced that Stephen Suthard had passed away the night before.  He was careful not to confirm any rumors, but the students—having seen the news reports that morning—all knew that he’d been shot.  The sobs were immediate.  Nearly every clergy person in town, including myself, spent the better part of the day talking with students.  It was a sacred moment sitting with them, hearing stories about their deceased classmate, and helping them wrestle with death.

That evening, the area clergy planned a community prayer vigil.  It was held here.  This was a packed house of worship (standing room only on the main floor and in the balcony; people crammed, elbow-to-elbow, in the entryway).  The community, most of them students, gathered to pray, be encouraged, and support one another.  It was in that moment—in the middle of those young adults—that I saw God’s “kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”  I saw God, with the trembling hand of our youth, “wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4a, Common English Bible).  What I saw and experienced on Thursday evening, in the midst of great tragedy, was a sign, a glimpse of the good things God has in store as the redemptive love of Jesus Christ breaks into and transforms the world.

What happened on Thursday night was a glimpse of what Jeremiah prophesied about, the Psalmist prayed about, and Jesus talked about.  Jeremiah prophesied about a time when a “righteous Branch” will spring up and “execute justice.”  The Psalmist prayed that the people might walk in the way of “steadfast love and faithfulness.”  Jesus instructed his disciples to “stay alert” and stand firm in their faith, resisting the temptations of evil.

In the face of tragedy it is easy to express ourselves in unhealthy ways, but I saw students “resisting the temptations of evil,” walking in the “steadfast love and faithfulness” of God.  I saw the community, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “execute justice.”

The idea of justice, “mishpat” in Hebrew, is the key idea that links what I saw at the prayer vigil with each of our readings for today.

“Mishpat,” justice, has to do with such practical matters as…providing care and advocacy for widows, orphans, and the poor, and establishing authoritative processes for reconciliation and restoration when relationships are broken and damage is done. It’s about mending and sustaining the social fabric, the relationships between people.[1]

What I witnessed and experienced on Thursday night as the community gathered to support one another, what our scripture lessons for today remind us of is that we’re called to, in the words of Jeremiah, “execute justice:” mend and sustain loving relationships even in the face of evil.  We’re called to care for and provide for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of our community.

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This past week, our community experienced a great tragedy, but it also experienced justice.  In the face of evil, our community came together to support one another; and, in that moment, justice prevailed, God’s kingdom came.  In that moment, everyone was given hope of a new world where violence, fear, and death are no more: a world in which everyone is loved and supported.

Evil surely exists.  It is manifested in heinous acts of violence and other sinful acts that drive people away from each other and God.  As a community of faith we must heed Jesus’ command to “stay alert.”[2]  We mustn’t close our eyes to the evil that terrorizes us and those we love, for we are called to be a people that “overcomes evil with good.”[3]  We’re called to walk in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.  We’re called to be a community that stands up to evil by drawing people closer to each other and closer to God.

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Today, I’m wearing a black robe and a purple stole as a symbol of solidarity for those who are mourning the shooting death of two of our neighbors.  And, it’s my hope that, together, we might stay alert! and draw this community together so that when evil strikes, no one is left alone.

Let us pray:

Help us stay alert, O God!
When tragedy strikes
When evil rears its ugly head
Give us the strength we need
To keep our eyes open.

Do not let us shrink behind closed eye lids.

Help us, merciful God, to stay alert!
In the midst of tragedy
In the face of evil
So that we might reach out with your love and offer hope.

Help us, merciful God, to stay alert!
In the midst of hatred
In the face of violence
So that we might reach out with your love and offer peace.

Help us, merciful God, to stay alert!
In the midst of grief
In the face of despair
So that we might reach out with your love and offer joy.

Help us, merciful God, to stay alert!
That as we reach out with your love
We might see your kingdom come.
May it be so.  Amen.


[1] “Planning, First Sunday of Advent, Year C (December 2, 2012).”  Copyright General Board of Discipleship. www.GBOD.org Used by permission.  Accessed December 1, 2012.

[2] Luke 21:36a, New Revised Standard Version.

[3] Romans 12:21, New Revised Standard Version.

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