It Could Have Been Worse
Wednesday of Pentecost 6
19 July 2017
Some years ago, four teen-aged girls were killed in the Houston area when the stolen SUV they were driving collided with a train car at a level crossing. While there have been modifications to the safety features at the crossing since the deaths, still none of those features would have prevented this tragedy. Automobiles give opportunity for death and disaster, but it needn't be so. If operated properly cars are wonderful gifts from God. Many of the blessings of the world can be abused and cause great suffering. In the hands of humans what could be good is turned to evil purposes. Alfred Nobel, after inventing dynamite, was moved to deep remorse over his invention, because he realized that the high explosive power of his invention would be turned against the flesh of soldiers marching into the storms of shrapnel on the killing fields of Europe. His Peace Prize has done nothing to encourage peaceful resolution of human conflict. Yet dynamite when turned to useful tasks moves mountains, builds railroads, and drives safe interstate highways through mountain passes. Good gifts of God can be used for evil as well as good. We humans are capable of messing up God's gifts "beyond measure" (Rm 7:13).
Just as the good can be used for evil purposes, evil can also be turned to God's good purposes (Gn 50:20). Death is evil. It is a negating intrusion into the good creation of God. It breaks down the gates of paradise and wrecks the permanence of the fellowship which God, their Father, forged with Adam and Eve. The paradise of God must be sealed shut by the flaming angel standing astride the shattered gates of the garden blocking the way to man's desire for immoral immortality. The wickedness of humans gives entry to death where there ought only to have been life. Adam and Eve suffered their death in a millennium of inches. But it was a witness to the goodness of God, that the evil of death should be used so.
Death rescued from the immoral immortality that might have plagued Adam and Eve with an unending spiritual decrepitude. If they would have lived forever, they would have suffered an appalling life marked by continual spiritual death, caught in the limbo between life and death, alive in body, but dying in spirit, like being permanently on life support; heart pumping and soul dying. Some evils are worse than others. God uses the evil of death to rescue us from worse. When a driver asleep at the wheel killed my father, my mother in her simple way humbly accepted to the will of God by saying, "Your father would not have been a good patient if he had been sick. God has taken him from us for his good and ours." Nothing much more may be ventured about the mystery of death when it comes. Death is evil, but the alternative is far worse.
Our Lord Jesus Christ knew the evil of death. He became incarnate that He might embrace death and thereby break death's embrace of humanity. This is the ultimate turning of evil to good. He could have avoided it, but for us the alternative would have been far worse. We are not too good for death now that He has made it holy by undergoing it. His death once again battered down the doors of paradise and swept aside the blazing angel that we might enter paradise with Him whole in body and soul. It could have been worse.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo

"The apostle Paul, wishing to show how hurtful sin is, when grace does not aid us, has not hesitated to say that the strength of sin is that very law by which sin is prohibited. 'The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law' (1Co 15:56). Most certainly true. For prohibition increases the desire of illicit action, if righteousness is not so loved that the desire of sin is conquered by that love. Unless divine grace aids us, we cannot love nor delight in true righteousness. But lest the law should be thought to be an evil, since it is called the strength of sin, the apostle, when treating a similar question in another place, says, 'The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure' (Rm 7:12-13). 'Beyond measure,' he says, because the transgression is more heinous when through the increasing lust of sin the law itself also is despised. Why have we thought it worthwhile to mention this? For this reason, because, as the law is not an evil when it increases the lust of those who sin, so neither is death a good thing when it increases the glory of those who suffer it, since either the law is abandoned wickedly, and makes transgressors, or death is embraced, for the truth's sake, and makes martyrs. And thus the law is indeed good, because it is prohibition of sin, and death is evil because it is the wages of sin; but as wicked men make an evil use not only of evil, but also of good things, so the righteous make a good use not only of good, but also of evil things. Therefore, it happens that the wicked make an ill use of the law, though the law is good; and that the good die well, though death is an evil." 

Augustine, The City of God, 13.5
Psalm 98
Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. (ESV)
O God, the giver of all that is good, by Your holy inspiration grant that we may think those things that are right and by Your merciful guiding do them; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For the proper use of Christ's body and blood, that we might trust the promise of forgiveness
For all those who have been baptized in the holy faith of Christ, that their heavenly Father would send them every blessing through the sacrament of baptism
For Ian Pacey, that he would be upheld in the most holy faith
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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