I have sometimes been called on to do the last sermon of the year, which is what the Video below shows: a sermon I delivered on the last Sunday of 2021, which might go down as one of the strangest years in our history. It began with the Capitol Riot on January 6th and concluded with one of the largest surges ever in our Covid Pandemic, just as we thought it might actually be coming to an end. Think again. It wasn’t done with us, nor were we done with the Capitol Riot, which may hang on as long as the pandemic itself.
Before the sermon I sing! So a big thank you to my co-conspirators: Wayne Fetters (guitar) and Leonard Jones (bass). It’s John Prine’s “Everything Is Cool.” This sermon, then, follows up on a previous post: “Everything is Cool, Everything’s OK.” There I reflect on a sad anniversary: this Christmas was the 15th we experienced without my youngest son Bryan Emmanuel, who died on December 9, 2006, just days after his 21st birthday. I tell more about this below.
Even in the midst of this tragedy I felt God’s grace, not only as I stayed with his body in the hospital, but in the days and years following, especially when his oldest brother Rick and wife Desiree established first Bryan House, then Emmanuel House, which in 2018 merged with the Joseph Corporation to become The Neighbor Project. These started as living memorials to Bryan and have touched thousands of lives. Readers of this site now a lot about these organizations and what they do. If you don’t know, there are links everywhere on this site, like “Emmanuel House in Top 100”—an article celebrating Emmanuel House being named one of the Top 100 Most Innovative social change organizations in the world.
I know, and I acknowledge, that not everyone gets this much grace in the midst of tragedy, and I share a story about someone who read C.S. Lewis’ book trying to explain suffering (The Problem of Pain) and wasn’t convinced, not by a long shot.
The scripture comes from the First Samuel, focusing on the story of Hannah giving her first-born, Samuel, to God’s service. Think of the heartbreak of giving up your child just after he is weaned. But God “repays” Hannah, and the phrase I come back to again and again is, “And God was gracious to Hannah.”
No matter what happens, can we believe that God wants to be gracious to us? In many churches we affirm every Sunday that “God is good. All the time, Good is good.” How truly do we believe this? This was the major question at the center of the movie (and book) The Shack, which was one of Netflix’s #1 Movies in the Country in 2021. I turn to it as I explore the possibilities of us recognizing grace even in the midst of heartbreak. Would I be able to recognize God’s grace if yet another tragedy hit my family, for Bryan’s wasn’t the last? Could I still believe in a grace, and goodness, that always, always abides? I hope so, but often with fear and trembling. The sermon presents both a hope, and a question about that hope, to end a strange year with and take into the new.