A Sermon on the Occasion of a Tragedy
My dear colleague and friend, Rev. Ed Engelbrecht, preached today at our Concordia Publishing House chapel service on the occasion of the LCMS pastor who lost his wife and two children in a tragic car accident. This is the best sermon I’ve ever been privileged to hear directly addressing these horrible situations in life.
From Salina Journal, Monday, January 30th: “ ‘I saw a red car coming at us, and it was over,’ [a witness] said. According to the Kansas Highway Patrol, Steven Moore, 62, was driving a Dodge Challenger east on I-70, just west of Topeka, when he crossed the median into oncoming traffic [perhaps because of a medical condition], striking the Geske’s Ford Windstar van head-on.”
“The Rev. Jeffrey Geske and his 3-year-old son Jacob [were] hospitalized, and killed [were] Geske’s wife Laura, their daughter Joy, 3, and son Joshua, 8.”
This news story came to me with special prayer requests for our chapel service. I had planned to preach on the Gospel reading from Sunday but thought it would be better to talk a bit about this tragedy. This is the sort of story that shakes us hard, causes us to question the ways of God. We naturally wonder why these things happen and find ourselves picking through the wreckage looking for an answer. [Read Job 1:13–21; emphasis on v. 21.]
How often we hear miracle stories when there is an accident, where death is averted at the last moment. We hear these stories and say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21). But in this case, there is less for us to celebrate and we find ourselves wondering why God allowed this to happen.
Poets say that we were born to die; philosophers agree that death is a natural part of life. But the Bible fights against these thoughts. It tells us that God created us for life, that death is unnatural, an intruder, the enemy of the children of God. When an older person dies, we don’t think too hard about it. It seems normal to us. The tragic events, like this one, cause us to question when death takes the young and the good, even those blessed and hallowed for God’s service. God calls us to grow less comfortable with death. If we mourn less when grandma dies than when a child dies, we should check our thoughts and consider whether we have grown too comfortable with death.
Our reason does a poor job at grasping tragedy. It is too heavy for our weak minds to hold. In such events, faith teaches us to expect a miracle; we naturally look for the miraculous in tragic events and hope to make sense of them. As I looked through the news reports about this accident, I did not find a miracle story. This is one of those times when the miracle comes after the event, perhaps long after. The miracle comes in seeing that God works in, with, and under tragedy, that He somehow accomplishes His good and gracious will not by averting tragedy but by working through it. Job responded in faith when everything was taken away from him, beginning with mourning and ending with praise for the One whose ways are beyond us. [Read 1:20–21.]
Today, we are like Mary and John at the foot of the cross, looking up with tear filled eyes and wondering, “Why?” And to us the Lord says as He did on the day of His crucifixion, “Behold, your son. . . . Behold, your mother” (John 19:26–27). In other words, “I am not coming down from this cross. It makes no sense and only causes you grief now. Take care of one another. Love one another until I turn this cross and this suffering into resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost for you.” Sisters, behold this morning your brothers in Christ. Brothers, this morning behold your sisters in Christ and care for them. This, too, is the way and the work of God who took away our sins by His Son’s cross and sustains us week by week in the Sacrament of His cross where in, with, and under the tragedy of death He brings to us the miracle of life and hope and peace. And so we say in faith, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” our only Savior. Amen.
We pray today for the Geske family as they mourn the loss of Laura, Joy, and Joshua. We ask that you would grant healing to Pastor Geske and to his son, Jacob. May they behold one another with your love and care as Christ taught us from the cross. We pray likewise for Pastor Geske that you would strengthen and sustain him as he cares for his Salina congregation, to which You recently called him. Help pastor and congregation to support one another through this tragedy. Look with mercy also upon Steven Moore, whose health condition led to this accident. Comfort him, O Lord, under the burden of this event and grant him your peace, which only Christ can give. O Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers. Amen.