Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Preaching in a time of tragedy

When Carrie and I lived in Ft Worth during our seminary years, we joined Wedgwood Baptist Church. The pastor there, Al Meredith, was a former history professor from Michigan who preached such challenging, inspiring and biblical messages that I still listen to him to this day. He was the last pastor I ever had before I went into the business of preparing and delivering messages myself.

A few years after we left, a deeply disturbed man named Larry Ashbrook entered the sanctuary of Wedgwood on a Wednesday night, armed with guns and a pipe bomb. It had been See You At The Pole day, and the church was hosting hundreds of youth for a post-event worship rally. No one knows why Ashbrook did it, but he stepped into the middle of that rally with his guns blazing. He shot fourteen people, including himself, killing seven. In the days to come, as sad as I was about this tragic event, I said to myself, "I am glad it's brother Al who will be comforting that church, speaking to the media and visiting with heads of state in this time of grief." I knew I was not up to such a task, nor were most ministers. But I was confident that Dr. Meredith was the right man. And he was indeed. He brought hope and healing to his people, and presented a powerful witness to a watching world. Incredible fruit resulted from that tragedy, and Wedgwood is a stronger church today.

The week after Fred Winters was shot to death in the pulpit of First Baptist Church, Maryville Illinois, the church asked Dr. Meredith to come speak to them. In my opinion, they couldn't have made a better choice. If you'd like to hear Bro. Al's words to this grief-stricken congregation, you can find them at this link: Here Just scroll down until you see the sermon titled "There Is Hope."

Al said something in that message that resonated with me, especially in light of Easter and our current series on Heaven: "You haven't lost something if you know where it is. " He said, "we didn't lose those young people ten years ago, and you haven't lost pastor Fred. We know where they are." That is the confident proclamation of the Church. The grave has no victory. Death has no sting.


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