I hadn't slept well for the last couple of nights. I remember rushing to breakfast in a hurry to get to the church building because I had lots to do. It was Wednesday and Wednesday is always a big, long day. I remember being so distracted that I didn't even notice if the warning signals for the train tracks were lit or not when I crossed on Midwest Boulevard. I remember thinking "if there was a train coming, he would've hit me because I didn't have a clue if that light was on or not." I just didn't even see it and I just drove right through there because I was on my way to work and I was in a hurry.
I first saw the smoke billowing up in the sky. As I turned onto Choctaw road from 63rd and a moment later, a frantic young woman burst on the radio. I was listening to a news report KTOK some politician in Washington talking about taxes or something and all of a sudden this young woman frantically comes on the air and says a massive explosion has taken place in downtown Oklahoma. And it's terrible. And she is distraught. And I remember thinking how dramatic these news people are always taking a little something and blowing it out of proportion just to get some attention. Probably some nut, didn't get his social security check through a stick of dynamite in the closet or something and they're trying to make this into a big to-do.
I even thought that maybe I should have my gas heater checked. Because if there was an explosion, probably a gas thing and you know, gas is tricky. Should have my furnace checked, wouldn't want to blow up my garage. This describes where I was and what I was thinking when the greatest tragedy, the greatest crime in Oklahoma history, if not US history took place.
On that Wednesday evening during our class here at the church building, a lot of people shared similar, if not more frightening stories, some said they were downtown athe courthouse when it happened. Others said they'd just left. Others said, well, I was supposed to be in that very place and my plans changed at the last minute and I didn't go. Or I was supposed to be there, but on the Thursday morning. Although the details are different. The experience is a common experience for all people and it seems to follow similar stages.
First of all, people are saddened and they're sick and they're hurt by the images of blood and death and broken and bleeding children. Stories of people losing loved ones and innocent people lost under tons of debris. Then there comes a feeling of fear. I mean, after all this is Oklahoma city, this is mid-America. This is not Ireland or Beirut or Bosnia. We're friendly folks. You know, the commercial says, we'll treat you right, Oklahoma. Someone walked in and tried to kill us, You and me. Because it could have been any one of us down there that morning being about our business.
Then as the days go by that feeling of fear slowly gives away to anger and rage. You know, regardless of what you think of President Clinton, you cannot deny the fact that he was visibly angry at his press conference and Janet Reno, the attorney general practically spit out the words, "we will seek the death penalty" when she talked about the perpetrators of this crime.
But you know, this too will pass because it is something anger and rage requires too much emotion to keep up for very long. And I think it will be replaced by a general feeling of sadness. A feeling of weariness caused by so much pain and so much emotion.
At a time like this I think it is best to get back to basics and I brought up this dollar bill here to remind us of basic things. Because this American dollar bill represents some pretty fundamental things to people all around the world.
First of all, it's of course the basic standard of currency. No matter what the Yen is doing, it's still being compared to what it's doing against the American dollar. And those of you who have not lived abroad or traveled abroad very much, don't realize this, but in every other country, everybody speaks this language right here. You pull out an American dollar. Everybody speaks your language all of a sudden because the American dollar represents freedom. It represents stability. It represents prosperity. It represents integrity throughout the world.
And on the back of this bill on the back of this note, four little words upon which everything we hold dear rests "In God we trust." Do you realize what an evangelistic piece of paper this is?
In the light of what has taken place this week and in the weeks to come, I think we need to remember what is stamped on the basic currency of the United States of America and that is "In God we Trust." If we're going to trust, then we need to trust in God.
1. Trust in God for justice
The normal human impulse at this moment is to find and to put a hurt on those who hurt the ones we love and those who terrorized us. You know, I heard a couple of old boys talking to man, if we ever found these guys before the FBI did all we need is a rope and a tree. And I heard Christian men saying, boy, I'd tell you if I'm in my pickup. And I got my shotgun in my pickup and I found those characters. They wouldn't make it to the courthouse. These from Christian men. If Christian men are thinking like this, you can imagine what the rest of the world is thinking to do.
That's the first impulse. This anger and this thirst for revenge, however, can trigger all kinds of problems. We become mistrustful of each other, especially those who are different than we are. I remember when the first reports came out saying that maybe the people who did this may have been foreigners. I was ready to put out all the foreigners in the country, except I remembered are one. But this mindless hatred and revenge can also lead to foolish and dangerous reprisals that turn into civil unrest that destroy even more lives that have already been lost. Terrible wars and terrible civil wars have been begun by a lot less provocation than this.
The president said that we need to take the time to mourn the dead and comfort the injured and the survivors and then we need to get busy doing our work and seeing that justice is done. I think he spoke very well and very fittingly at that time. What we need is justice, not foolish revenge because you see justice deals with the criminals, but it deals with them at a level that we choose, not the level that they choose. And justice also demonstrates to the world that this attack has taken lives and has damaged property, but it has not broken the spirit of the American people. And I tell you something, the reason that this thing was done was not to destroy lives and not to destroy people. This thing was done to destroy the spirit of a nation. That's what it was done for that's what's that issue here.
I will never be the president of the United States. You have had preachers who have tried to be the president of the United States. Of course, being a Canadian citizen does not allow me to do that. Of course, I have a son who could be, if he'd sit up right now, thank you. Who could become the president of the United States because he is an American citizen. And that is the great dream of every person that lives in this country. That their child, their daughter or their son could one day aspire to be the president of this country. Well, I may never be the precedent, but if I were, and if that was me talking Wednesday night, I would have reminded the citizens to also trust in God for justice because his justice will be complete.
We may capture the main perpetrators, but I'll tell you something. We will never get all of the masterminds. We'll never capture all of the accomplices and the money man and the helpers and the people who instigated this thing will never be able to capture all of them. But God will. He will.
Paul says in Romans chapter 12:19, "Revenge is mine. I will repay say if the Lord." So let us continue to trust in God, who has promised us that our imperfect justice will one day be completed by his perfect justice, where those who have done good will be rewarded and those who have done evil will no longer be able to boast or to hide but will be revealed and judged and punished. Let us trust in the justice that God will do eventually.
2. Trust in God for protection
If this thing teaches us something, it teaches us how vulnerable we are. You know, if people can drive a ton of explosives to a federal building in daylight and blow up, then anything can happen. The notion that our guns in our homes and all the target practice that we do and our security systems on our doors and windows or our government in some way can protect us from physical or economic or environmental or emotional harm is an illusion. Ask the people who have been through a tornado, just how much government can protect them, how much their guns can protect them. They say, "well I was just standing there and my house was there a minute ago and now it's gone."
If somebody wants to get you, they'll get you and that's the bottom line. If somebody wants to do you harm, boy, they'll do it. Especially if they don't care about themselves. That's what's so scary about this thing. When the words "In God we Trust" were originally printed, it was done so by people that sincerely believed that the safety of the nation was ultimately in God's hands. I mean, they put it on the money because they really believed that men could go to war to defend this country with the hope that God would provide safety and victory. And people believed that they could recover from anything because they trusted in God.
Today, it's not God that we trust, it's the money upon which the words are printed that we trust. Isn't that an unusual thing that has taken place in the last couple of centuries. Money to buy influence, money to buy economic and military power, money to provide the luxury that will insulate us from the rest of the world. If I can make a zone of comfort and create the illusion of safety with my gadgets and my cars, then I'm safe from what's going on in the rest of the world. The Psalmist writes:
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
- Psalm 127:1
Now I'm not saying that we need to become pacifists. No army, no security forces, no civil protection in any way, God will just protect. I'm not saying that. I'm not foolish. No, what I'm saying is that if we trust in God for our safety, if it's God that we trust for our support, then the army that we do have and the systems that we do have and the money that we do have, these will be sufficient to take care of our needs. If our trust is in God, rather than in things, then the things that we have, we'll work to take care of us. But if our trust is in the number of things that we have, then we'll never have enough things to keep us safe.
3. Trust in God for renewal
We're down now, people are down, how can you not be the drizzle, the rain, the cold, the wind, every day, you turn on the radio, you turn on the TV, all the stations, that's all they talk about and they should, people want to know. The body count keeps going up. People are just pouring out this horrible pain that they are experiencing.
There are tears and there's sadness and mourning, and you know what? The worst does not happen yet. Oh, no. We can expect a real circus when they capture all of the ones that did this and they begin putting them on trial, then the circus is really going to start.
There may be rallies and there may be telethons to raise money for victims and this is all good. But in the end, these things will not completely satisfy. Those who lost loved ones will be left with aching hearts and loneliness, no matter how much money they get to help bury their dead. And the scars left on the survivors will never really go away. And the images of carnage and suffering will haunt the rescue workers for many, many nights to come.
No amount of money, no amount of get-well cards or ribbons, no matter how sincerely they're meant can replace what was shattered last Wednesday. But out of the ashes of this tragedy, there can come renewal. You can't replace what was lost but the ones who have survived can be renewed if they trust in God.
People in the Old Testament that we read about, suffered much in the way of defeat and destruction. I mean, you talk about the destruction of that building and you get an idea of what the writers are talking about in the Old Testamentw hen they came in and they destroyed the temple. And their children were murdered in front of their very eyes and they were taken away to captivity and we read that like, it's a Bible story and we don't get the full impact of the horror of seeing your family destroyed and your mother raped and your sister's taken off into slavery in front of your very eyes. And only the handicapped and only the old left behind, and time and time again, this took place in Jewish history. And yet they understood that God had the power to renew them.
1Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
3Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
4Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
5Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
- Psalm 103:1-5
27Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the Lord,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God"?
28Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
- Isaiah 40:27-31
The buildings will be rebuilt and the injured we'll return to some normalcy of life and somehow some justice will come. But for peace to come, for the heart to learn andto smile confidently again, for hope to rise up in a man and a woman's soul, these things need the trust in God in order to be accomplished.
The topic of conversation regarding this event in the weeks, even in the years to come we'll probably be, where were you in the bomb went off. What were you doing? What were you thinking when the blast occurred? And people will tell their children that they live through this historic event, like people talk about the Vietnam war, talk about World War II or Pearl Harbor. People talk about living through these things, our generation, our people who live through this thing will tell their children about this terrible moment. And they will ask that question. But a much more important question is this:
where would you be now if you were in that building when the bomb went off? Where would you be right now? If on Wednesday morning at nine o'clock, you were in the federal building, bringing your child to daycare. If that's where you were, then where would you be now?
Would you now be in the presence of Jesus Christ, joyfully coming home, never to experience sin or suffering or death again, is that where you'd be? Or would you find yourself suddenly thrust into the darkness of hell, away from the grace and the light of God and those you love, forever? Because you see, the lesson of this event is that life is over that quickly. Snap. That's how quickly life is over and we need to be very sure and be very careful that our soul is safe when that moment comes.
So I end my lesson first of all, by encouraging you to trust in God, for justice and for renewal and all the things that you need to get through this moment. But I also encourage you to remember, if you are not safe now, I plead with you to come to Christ in repentance and baptism in order to be safe. And if you have gone away from God and you're far away from Him and you need to be right with Him, then I also encourage you to come forward and to make things right with God. Now, as we stand and as we sing our song of invitation.