I loved seeing all of the “We Remember” posts, yesterday on the 22nd anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. I remember the day after the tragedy hit to be a time to begin picking up the pieces and I will forever be so proud of the role our church played in these efforts. I’ve been reflecting on these events as I do each year on the anniversary. There was so much to be done, so many tears shed, prayers prayed. There was anger, fear, guilt and even grateful hearts. I feel like we have learned so much over the past 22 years and I want to share a few of those thoughts with you, today.
First of all, what we learned 22 years ago is that sometimes there is no answer to the question “Why?” Of all the things I heard in the earliest days after the bombing was simply why, why did this happen, why me? It’s so senseless, so unfair. What we discovered was, if you spend a lifetime asking “why me” then you become locked in that moment in time and become a victim. When something bad becomes a defining moment in your life, you never go forward to heal and to live. Some try to answer the question, “why” with “It is God’s will.” I had a friend in another state call and say, “Bob is God punishing Oklahoma City for something it did?” I said, NO! Are you kidding?! No! And no I don’t believe this is God’s will. What we sometimes forget is that we are created free, we’re all created as God’s children, His wonderful little children who are born and come, we are free to choose how we’re going to live, and in the end sometimes people choose to be evil. They choose to do things that are unspeakable. That’s not God’s will. That is people choosing to do hurtful things to innocent people. That’s life. Things happen.
Secondly we learned we can’t live in fear. The senselessness and suddenness of this incredible tragedy reminded us all how vulnerable we are. It made us all feel incredibly vulnerable realizing death can happen, bad things can happen…to me, to my family. You know that was the other thing I heard so often from people after this bombing was “Bob, I I’m just feeling afraid because this happened in Oklahoma City, in our own backyard.” It made us confront our own sense of mortality and made us realize we are vulnerable. You know, it’s because we live in the light of Easter that you and I understand that death is not the end, it is a doorway into new life in God’s Kingdom, and if you have the courage to confront death, if you’re not afraid to die then you’re not afraid to live. You’re not afraid to live if you’re not afraid to die, and we don’t have to be afraid to die because we know we die into the arms of God. You and I live in a world where we are so vulnerable and when we know that it’s easy to be afraid. We are not afraid, we are the people of Easter who know the presence of God and the promise of eternal life. We will not become victims to a tragedy, we will not live in fear.
We learned third, our response to evil is to love. Our response to evil is to serve. Evil did not break us. No, it made us turn to our faith which made us strong. People asked me, “Did you ever feel inadequate or like you couldn’t do it with the overwhelming needs that you were faced with?” And I thought about it for a moment and then I said…No! I never felt inadequate or as if I couldn’t do it. I knew that, as a family of faith, we would do whatever was necessary to rise up and face every person who had a need or grief, we would find places for people to stay or be fed, I never doubted that we, as a family of faith would rise up and do whatever was necessary. The evil did not break us. It forced us to look at our own faith where we found strength to pick up broken pieces and move forward, not trapped in that moment. In the face of evil, in the face of tragedy, whatever it might be, we will share God’s love and bring hope.
Finally, I just want to say thank you to everyone who was here 22 years ago and made a difference. St. Luke’s was an incredible friend to this community. The way you came and served, held people’s hands and prayed, cried and loved people, what a difference you made. If you were not here in 1995, you may not know that the St. Luke’s Downtown campus acted as a shelter for the Red Cross after the bombing. Families came to St. Luke’s looking for the list of names of their loved ones. At one time, there were more than 300 people staying in the Christian Life Center. These were people who lived in the area around the Murrah Building and lost everything. I don’t ever remember putting out a word asking people to come and help. What I remember is, you came, before anybody asked, you came, to stand at the doors, to direct people where to go, to greet them. I don’t remember ever asking you but so many of you came, you knew. And of course there were so many people who had lost everything. You helped to provide clothes. Sometimes all that was needed was to sit with someone, to hold their hand, cry and pray and you did this! I think about all of the meals during that time! There must have been 3-4,000 meals a day coming out of the kitchen, feeding the people who were now living here. We’d put it on carts to carry it downtown to the rescue workers, to firefighters, to police, people had been 8 hours, 12 hours, 14 hours…they needed to eat and have something to drink and we began taking food out to feed the people.
What we’ve learned 22 years later is that it is still our responsibility to take the initiative to share God’s love and bring hope in the world.