Posted by: dacalu | 17 December 2012

Not an Explanation, But a Response

This Sunday I had the honor and pleasure of worshiping with with the people of St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church in Tucson, AZ.  The sermon I gave was both commentary on the days readings (3rd Sunday in Advent) and a reflection on the mass shooting in Newtown, CT.  God bless and keep us


Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


Zephaniah 3:14-20 (Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!)

Isaiah 12:2-6 (Surely, it is God who saves me)

Philippians 4:4-7 (Rejoice in the Lord always)

Luke 3:7-18 (Bear fruits worthy of repentance.)


“Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense,
and he will be my Savior. “


If you come away today remembering just one thing, I hope it will be this:

Christianity is not an explanation, but a response.

We claim that God responds to suffering and sin

and we claim that we can respond to it as well,

in love and faith.


As most of you know, we experienced a tragedy on Friday.

A gunman walked into a school in Newtown, Connecticut,

shot and killed 27 people before killing himself.

It is a terribly tsad hing to contemplate and a hard thing to cope with,

but we try.  We try to find some appropriate response to the deaths

and to the act.

Before anything else, I would like to take a moment to

remember those who died.


Charlotte Bacon

Daniel Barden

Olivia Engel

Josephine Gay

Ana Marquez-Greene

Dylan Hockley

Madeleine Hsu

Catherine  Hubbard

Chase Kowalski

Jesse Lewis

James Mattioli

Grace McDonnell

Emilie Parker

Jack Pinto

Noah Pozner

Caroline Previdi

Jessica Rekos

Avielle Richman

Benjamin Wheeler

Allison Wyatt


Rachel Davino

Dawn Hochsprung

Anne Marie Murphy

Lauren Rousseau

Mary Sherlach

Victoria Soto


Nancy and Adam Lanza



It is my belief, and our faith,

that another life waits for them beyond this life,

and that God waits for them in and after death,

so that they may continue their journey.

We pray for all who have died.


Many people are asking why?

Why did this happen?

Why did God allow this?

What happened that makes this make sense?

And my first answer must be this:

I do not know.

I, like you, am shocked and horrified.

I, like you, turn to God and ask “Why?”

I am angry and confused, hurt and scared.

This is, I think, a common response.


The answer is, “I don’t know.”

And worse yet.  Christianity doesn’t say.

There are many tales about God that try to explain suffering.

We can appeal to free will or God’s mysterious plan or other

attempts to explain the unexplainable,

But those answers fail.

Christianity is not an explanation, but at response.



God looked at this mess that is our world,

and decided on love.

God sent Jesus into the mess, to be a part of it

and to be one of us, and one with us,

in a time of pain and suffering and confusion.

And we all desperately wanted, then as now,

for him to provide an explanation.

He didn’t.

Though we followed and questioned him,

though we badgered and beat him,

and though we eventually killed this man,

this God among us,

he never explained himself, or the world.


But an answer is not always an explanation.

I believe Jesus answered the question,

answered the doubt and the fear.

And I think Jesus was God’s answer.


God responded to our suffering by suffering with us

And Christianity stems from that Good News,

from Emmanuel, God with us.


Some have said this is not the time for theology,

and I agree, it is not the time for speculation about the mind of God,

it is not time for maundering about the meaning of the universe.

And yet it is a time for talking about God.

It is a time for making choices.

And that, at its heart, is why theology matters to me.

That’s why Christianity matters to me.

At times like these.

It helps me know which way to go.



It’s terribly easy to break things

but so much harder to put them together.

It’s terribly easy to destroy

and fearfully difficult to create.

The universe seems uneven in this way,

and it’s not simply a matter of faith or religion.

It turns out to be a perfectly straightforward rule in physics.

We call it entropy

and it means going from disorder to order takes work.

I don’t have time to talk about the science today,

but if you like, I’d be happy to say more later.

For now, know this,

it is easier to unmake a thing than to make it.


And this is a large part of the suffering for me,

that so much care went into these 28 lives,

so much love and work and giving,

and then we lost them so suddenly.

And we feel that loss keenly,

and dream of some magic response,

some sudden turning around of time,

that would bring them back.

But it doesn’t work that way.

And we think about blame and vengeance,

we seek some outlet for our anger,

that perhaps if we just tried hard enough,

a sudden response could meet the sudden tragedy.

But it doesn’t work that way either


I will propose a hard truth.

There is no such thing as an anti-bomb,

no grenade that reassembles the things it hits.

Creation will always be long and messy and difficult,

and so much more complicated than destruction.

Death will always seem easier than life –

at least in this lifetime.

It is right to grieve.

And it is right to mourn and rage and question.

The events warrant that kind of response.



But that is not all.

Christianity has more to say on the matter of creation and destruction.

The response to destruction is re-creation.

We remember that every Sunday.

We recall that Christ, come to us once on Christmas,

returned from death,

and will continue among us,

until he comes again when all things will be made new.

And still we wonder.

Why doesn’t he come now?

Why doesn’t God fix the world?

I do not know,

but I know that fixing things takes longer than breaking them,

and I have hope in that.

I have hope in God bent to the task of redeeming the world,

I have hope in our ability to turn around,

as Mark would have it, the baptism of repentance.


When you say the Nicene Creed today,

I’m going to ask you to say it differently,

not as an explanation of the world,

but as a tale of God’s love for and response to the world.

In Old English, believe means to “hold dear” or to “give your heart to.”

I give my heart to this story of God doing the hard work of making the worldd,

and continuing in the hard work of redeeming it.

I give my heart to the story of this very God,

in the form of Jesus, came to us, lived and died as one of us,

and continues in that work.

I give my heart to the work of this very God,

in the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life,

acting through the church, turning people around,

and bringing them into the life which transcends death.

I give my heart to this response to death,

even though I doubt I will ever understand the why,

I understand the what next.


Christianity is not an explanation, but a response.

That response is love:

God’s love for us and our love for one another.

There’s only so much time this morning,

so I can’t go into too much detail,

but I know John and Greg and Vicki,

and I know that every Sunday, from this very spot, they teach love,

and I know Virginia Kat and Raymond and Linda Dewey,

and countless others seated here week after week,

and I know that they radiate love.

There’s only so much time this morning,

but let me say this – the response is to love one another,

to care for one another.

To be honest and to listen,

to share your burden of anger and grief, doubt and fear,

so that others can bear them with you, even God.

To be open to turning around and learning new ways to be.

To love one another,

as Jesus loves us and gives himself for us

in Christmas,

at Easter,

and at this very table, week after week.


This work, this response is so much more important than anything else we can do.

It means a radical reorientation of life,

away from mastery and toward service.

It doesn’t mean giving up on explanations,

but it does mean recognizing that charity is so much more important.


It isn’t language I use often,

but I use it today.

We are at war.  There is a struggle going on,

and the battle runs through our hearts and through our souls.

Will we choose life?

Will we choose the difficult task of rebuilding, even when destruction looms?

Will we choose to create, though we know the path will be long and hard?

Will we look for love, deep within ourselves,

not against the fear and doubt, but through them and with them?

Will we turn, and continue turning?


I wish I could say it was easy.

It isn’t.

I wish I could tell you the details

why it is the way it is,

and exactly how it will all turn out.

I can’t.

I can tell you to question God.

I will.

I can tell you to be angry and sad and frustrated.

I am.

But through all of this,

pick up the pieces.


Respond to tragedy with honesty and love

Because God is doing that very thing right now,

and has been all along.

That is the response.

That is the meaning.



The Good News is not an explanation but it is a response.


Those committed to faith being something other than relationship,

those most committed to belief being something other

than giving your whole heart,

are those most committed to a response other than love.

It’s not good enough.


I invite you into the peace of Advent, the peace that is no peace.

I cannot give you an explanation, but I can give you a task.

I can invite you into God’s loving response

to the suffering we face.

To love one another fully, deeply, truly,

one moment and one act at a time.


“And the peace of God,

which surpasses all understanding,

will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”




  1. Thank you Dacalu…Well done, very.

  2. […] who may have been a out where I was. Priest Funston who takes grief and gun violence head on. Priest Lucas. I still can’t make it past his statement that Christianity isn’t an explanation but a […]

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