Making Sense of the Senseless

I think we’re all trying, today, to make to make some sense of yesterday. I’m unsure, myself, what to say. So I thought I’d share a sermon I wrote earlier this year – after another senseless tragedy, the theater shootings in Colorado earlier this year.

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The tragic shooting this last week in Aurora CO has gripped me the last few days. I struggled to write the message I had originally intended on this morning – so please forgive me a brief foray into talking about an aspect or two of the events of this last Thursday night.

For those who missed the news item I am referring to…It happened this last Thursday night…Thursday late night – or Friday early morning, for those of you with different preferences on overnight references.

There was a Midnight showing of the new Batman movie. Side note – anyone seen it yet? I’m going shortly…as soon as I figure out where the movie theater is. (Most of you know I just moved here)

It was a midnight showing of the latest summer blockbuster when – very early on in the movie – a man dressed in full body armor entered a theater in Aurora, CO. He threw tear gas canisters around and began open-firing on the crowd. All matters of chaos broke loose as it was immediately apparent the gunman was intent on as much death and mayhem as possible. In a dimly lit theater – with tear gas and bullets filling the air – people clamored to the exits…or to hide…

How would you have responded in that situation? I’m not sure any of us really know how we would – until we’re faced with it.

In the following minutes…12 people were killed…and nearly 6o people were injured.

It’s a tragedy of epic proportions. It’s tragic that the gunman, who later told the police that he was the Joker – planned this out for at least six months prior – and no one reached out to him or saw the warning signs.
It’s tragic that politicians on all levels would use this event to leverage their existing beliefs.
It’s tragic that the media would rather cover news about the gunman than they would about the victims.
It’s tragic that so many people needlessly died.
And it’s tragic, as well, that so many hundreds of people will be left with emotional wounds – to go along with the nearly 70 people left with physical ones.

I want to read for you something that someone who was there wrote. Jessica Redfield was in that theater that night. I’d like to read for you portions of a blog she uploaded recently:

I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling just seconds before someone opened fire… An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.

I was in the theater In Aurora, Colorado that day when suddenly, I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air.

I remember looking at my cellphone when I left. I went outside approximately three minutes before the gunmen entered the theater. I saw a map of the shooting later. He started firing right where I was sitting. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

….She continues from there to describe the outflowing of patrons from the theater and the sequence of events that took place outside. Police showing up and pushing people back away from the building. Whispers about what happened amongst the displaced patrons now outside. And eventually….people being carried out on stretchers, bleeding everywhere. She continues at the end of her blog:

I was shown how fragile life was Thursday night. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a crowded theater just after midnight while Batman played on a screen.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. I understand and know better than ever – how blessed I am for each second I am given.

Almost randomly or more likely, divinely she finds herself running out of a theater a mere seconds before a lone gunman enters it. She may feel like she has a new lease on life…but that feeling aside – it’s a tragic event that served to remind her about the preciousness of life.

Tragic events have a way of doing that in our lives…but why do we wait for tragedy to strike to cherish what we have every day?

I can’t answer that – but I can tell you that life – every day – even the ones that don’t seem like it – is a gift…is precious…And we spend most of it worrying and over-analyzing.

Our brains spend most of its energy trying to relive past events in our lives. True story.

So to live in the moment – to live in the now…to be thankful now – We’re literally fighting biology.

It’s not easy to cherish life and to be thankful for each moment and each person…but like many things in our lives that aren’t easy – it’s worth fighting for and doing, anyways.

Let’s read that Matthew passage again, but this time in the Message:
“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.
Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

What a beautiful passage. Yet – also funny to me. Funny – because if you are a literalist, you can walk away from this passage with some funny thoughts…So for the sake of clarity, let me just say that it’s okay to be fashionable…and it’s okay to be a conscious or even picky about what food you put in your mouth…But the important thing is not to WORRY about those things. You will eat. You will look good. Relax. Remember perspective.

I think there is great joy in living in the now.

I have an example for you about ‘living in the now’ that I like to think about in my own life… What were you thinking about as you brushed your teeth this morning?

…and somewhere out there – someone is trying to remember if they did or not….

While we brush our teeth in the morning – so many of us are already worrying about what comes next. What’s on the agenda for the day? What am I going to do when I’m done with this?

What would be so wrong with just being happy that we’re brushing our teeth?

Live in the now. Cherish each moment.

Brushing your teeth. This is kind of an ongoing joke I’ve carried in my own life for years and years now. I remind myself from time to time to enjoy each moment – including brushing your teeth. What’s wrong with, while you’re practicing good hygene, just going….Yay brushing my teeth…gonna be a good day gonna be a good day…happy to be doing what I’m doing now…happy to be happy right now…

What’s wrong with that? The problem is that we brush our teeth worrying about the next thing our list or schedule…and then we get in our car and continue to worry about the agenda or schedule of what comes next… but what’s wrong with enjoying the drive?

There could be some good tunes on the radio! Good company on the way over. You guys have this beautiful green stuff here. Maybe you all are used to that but it blows me away! I’m used to asphalt and strip malls…so this is all amazing and gorgeous to me.

Even just this morning –I have another great example. I was in the process of cutting the bulletin inserts you have in front of you. I’m still figuring out my way around these office supplies – so I put too many papers in the paper cutter to cut at once. There was a point – about halfway through – that I could have turned back gently, removed some paper and salvaged the effort. Instead, I plowed ahead. Got frustrated when it didn’t work and began hammering the paper cutter down – completely shredding the papers along with any hope I had of still using those as inserts.
Even after having prepared this message, I still – in a moment of frustration – lost my peace and joy…
It’s so easy to do in the course of a day, but is it ever worth it?

I want to get back to that blog I read for you earlier. Jessica Redfield left that theater moments before the gunmen open fired. Except that she didn’t. Jessica Redfield died that night, in that theater.

Those words were hers…but they were written about a month and a half prior – about an entirely separate and equally random and tragic circumstance involving another lone gunman entering a food court in Ontario. Jessica was in that food court in early June, just a few weeks ago. When, just like I read for you earlier – I only rewrote enough to change the location – she did feel panicky…she did run out of the food court. She probably missed the gunman by less than a minute. She was sitting exactly where he began firing. She did write that blog…describing her thoughts and feelings over such a tragic event.

And a mere six weeks later… Rather than being in a food court in Ontario where one person died and seven more were injured…She found herself in a crowded theater…when a troubled person claimed the lives of 12 people and injured 70 more.

Jessica was one of those twelve people that died that night. She was an aspiring sports blogger…and if you visit her blog today – you will see, right there at the top, the last thing she posted – the blog I read for you earlier… the entry about cherishing life – cherishing each and every second…because they are all gifts…and one of the last sentences she wrote: Because you never know when it’s going to end.

It could end many years out into the future yet…so why not enjoy life and be happy along the way?

It could end when you walk out of Church this morning or go about your day later…So why not enjoy life and be happy along the way?

After narrowily escaping a mad gunman once in her life…I doubt she thought she’d be a victim of another one not even two months later. And that’s the funny thing about life – you never know.

You never know.

Jessica’s Mom has taken to the news media as well as her daughter’s beloved outlet: social media…to make a simple request of people: Focus on the victims…not the shooter. I’ve been so gripped by this, that I wanted to do just that this morning
…but in her own way – I think her Mom reminds us of one of the great secrets of life. What you focus on is important.

In our own lives – if you focus on the worries…if you focus on the problems…if you focus on the concerns…if you focus on your needs… Those will be the things you see. Those will be things that appear real. Those things will become your reality. Those things will seem to grow – or at least to always be present.

However…we can use this power to our advantage too. If we focus on the good…If we focus on the love we have…If we focus on our blessings…If we focus on our God in Heaven who loves us immensely…If we focus on fellow Brethren in faith…If we focus on community…If we focus on what we have – rather than what we don’t… Those things will perceptually grow in our lives.

Those things may actually grow in our lives. Those things will seem more real.
…and suddenly the drives and commutes…the down times…the busy times…the times while you brush your teeth…can all become times of pleasure and joy.

After all, the birds don’t worry about crashing…They just fly.
…and flowers don’t worry about how they’ll look or if they’ll grow…they just are beautiful…and do grow.

I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. I understand and know better than ever – how blessed I am for each second I am given.

And may we embrace that same feeling.

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We played this song in Church two weeks ago, when we talked about how the Christmas season reminds us to have, embrace and experience hope. That hope never seems more needed than on days like today.

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One Response to Making Sense of the Senseless

  1. Roberta Simpson Jones says:

    I appreciated reading this well-written, and relevant, sermon. My cousin, Doug Simpson, sent me the link. Thanks! Roberta Simpson Jones

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