grieving, hooded man in in dark hooded jacket symbolising grief

Preaching in tragic times

It is hard to describe the sense of loss pervading London in 1997 following the death of Princess Diana, however, I had been invited to preach at a London church the following Sunday and it was clear that in the midst of such loss and confusion, people were looking for a clear word from God.

It was the same for every preacher, following the Strathfield massacre in 1991 or the September 11 World Trade Centre tragedy in 2001 or the Lindt coffee massacre in Sydney in 2014.

And now the Bondi Junction stabbings. Perhaps it was too late to change the text to be preached the Sunday immediately following those Saturday afternoon murders, but next Sunday people will be coming to church and expecting a clear word from God.

It is hard not to feel sorry for the secularist commentators trying to say something substantial and yet determinedly ignoring what God says.

God doesn’t leave us in the dark on such tragic occasions; He speaks a clear and substantial word and His is always a word of invitation.

In Luke 13, Jesus is asked to interpret two tragic events. The first is an act of political atrocity in which Pontus Pilate killed Galilean worshippers, ‘their blood mingled with their sacrifices’, verse 1. The second, a building accident in which 18 people were killed when the tower they were probably constructing, collapsed on them.

Jesus responds in verses 2 and 4 and shows how these events are not to be interpreted. This did not happen because these people especially deserved it. On such occasions, there is no equivalence between sin and disaster.

Rather he repeats his assessment in verses 3 and 5 that these events are to be seen as an encouragement for all to repent, for all to come back to God.

This then takes us back to the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis 3, following the rebellion of Adam and Eve when God expels humanity from His garden paradise into a world of pain, friction, frustration and ultimately death.

God clearly tells us that the world we live in, with all its beauty and times of happiness, is yet a fallen environment in which tragic events happen and these events are a reminder of our rebellion against God and that we need to repent and turn back to Him. We have deliberately turned our back on God, and our environment is a daily reminder of the folly of such a choice.

Context is important in understanding the Bible and never more so in reading Luke, who tells us he has written an ‘ordered’ account. Leading up to this section Jesus stresses the need to understand the times and uses two examples, reading the signs of the weather and the assessment of one’s legal chances in a court case. After this section there is the cursing of the fig tree for not bearing its fruit.

Read the times and bear the fruit of repentance, recognise the world in which we live is less than perfect, and it is this way because we have all turned our back on the Creator. The only way back is to repent and find our purpose, peace and meaning in following Christ.

And when things are going well, Romans 2:4 tells us that, ‘God’s kindness, forbearance  and patience is meant to lead you to repentance.’

The Lord Jesus really is Lord and he offers life in all its fullness to those who bow before him and confess him as their Lord.

Our environment broadcasts the same message every day. Some days, like last Saturday, the message in the midst of such tragedy is louder and clearer, as CS Lewis is quoted as saying, ‘…pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Why must it be pain? Why can’t he rouse us more gently, with violins or laughter? Because the dream from which we must be awakened, is the dream that all is well.’

David Cook