We Have Hope!
As I’m writing this, the news is still unfolding, but hopefully, when you are reading this, more details will be known. I’m talking about the tragic death of Pastor Al Henderson, the Senior Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Fort Dodge. He was killed on Wednesday night, October 2nd, outside his church in an alleged robbery.
It is senseless violence like this that we seem to be seeing more and more of throughout our country. Why him? Why this moment? Pastor Henderson was a nice guy. He was a well-known and well-loved member of his community. He’d served at St. Paul for twenty years and moved into that role shortly after another devastating tragedy struck the congregation when arson destroyed their church building. He served as a chaplain for the first responders around Fort Dodge. He had a family.
It leaves one shaking their head and wondering if a pastor isn’t safe at his own church, is there anywhere that we are truly safe. The answer to that question is probably no. We see violence in homes, schools, churches, malls, office buildings, and even out in the open at concerts and other events. There are no places that we are safe from violent people who want to carry out violent acts. As I was reading articles about Pastor Henderson I came across an article about a stabbing in the headquarters of the police station where four people were stabbed to death by an administrator in the police department. No place is safe.
I should be clear that the previous paragraph is not meant to sound alarmist or to even sound like Chicken Little declaring that the sky is falling. It simply is a recognition of the reality that we live in each day of our lives. No day is promised and there is no guarantee about tomorrow. We probably realize that if we think about it but it isn’t something that we want to think about very often.
We don’t like thinking about it because it is can seem pretty hopeless. It can seem pretty hopeless to think that with all of our best-laid plans, there isn’t a single one of us that can guarantee that we will still be here tomorrow. Our mortality is a reality because sin is a reality. Each of these violent acts that we experience or read about are sinful. They’re not the way that God intended us to live with the people around us.
The good news that we have to share with the world, however, is that there is hope! It is hope that comes from Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the savior of the world. I was reminded by Pastor Turner, former Trinity pastor, and current president of Iowa District West of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (our church body), that Pastor Henderson would always begin each worship service at his church with the greeting, “Christ is risen”. This is an ancient greeting in the Christian church that declares the hope that we have. The response to this greeting is always, “He is risen, indeed! Alleluia”.
Pastor Henderson knew that hope and wanted to be sure that the people he interacted with knew that hope too. It is a hope that I want you to know too. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead gives us the hope and confidence that one day we will rise from the dead too. This means that no matter what happens to us in this life – whether we live a nice, long life and die peacefully in old age, or if we’re senselessly killed in a violent robbery – none of it is the end of our story. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we have the confidence that we will rise again on the last day when Jesus returns.
The Apostle Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 15 where he first says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If Jesus was just a good moral teacher or a nice guy who taught us some good lessons like loving and taking care of one another then we have no hope. We just live in a terrible world where you can fear dying because that’s the end of your story.
BUT, and this is a huge but, if Jesus rises from the dead, which he did, then that changes everything! Paul goes on, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Death is not the end of the story. We have no need to fear what happens to us in this life because our story as Christians continues forever. One day soon Jesus will return and raise the dead and all who believe in him will spend eternity with Him but without violence, pain, suffering, and death. I can’t wait for that day to come because it will be awesome!