Preached in response to Hurricane Katrina
The Rev. Justine Guernsey
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are moments in our lives that define us…moments of such clarity and purpose that it is obvious to ourselves and to others who we truly are. Perhaps it was when a newborn was placed in our arms, and we were defined as “mother” or “father”. Perhaps it was a public declaration of love and commitment, a ring being placed upon our finger, and we were defined as “husband” or “wife”. Perhaps it was when we were sealed as one of Christ’s own in baptism, and we were defined as a “Christian”.
A birth, a death, a graduation, a wedding …all defining moments and perhaps times of great joy and celebration. Even in death, we celebrate the life shared with us. And it is through these events, these moments that we often recognize our connectedness to God. We feel His presence in our lives.
But who we are and who God calls us to be is always a process, a time of transformation. We are not truly a mother/father until we have lived into that relationship with our children…until we have changed a few diapers, paced the floor with a colicky baby, or waited up in the wee hours of the morning for our teenager to arrive home. We are not truly husband/wife until we have lived with the other and begun a life together, sharing hopes and dreams, sorrows and successes. And we are not truly Christian unless we live out that personal relationship with Jesus/that connectedness to God. Until we begin to we love others as He loves us.
We may identify ourselves as mother, child, husband, Christian, priest, even deacon. We may be able to produce certificates and other forms of ID proving who we are. But the true definition of who we are…is found in how we embody these roles, how we continue to live out our lives.
I bring this up is because we are at a defining moment in our history. Six days ago Hurricane Katrina began its assault on our country and on our lives. I have found myself glued to the television watching the pain and suffering of so many. I’ve watched, as I’m sure many of you have the horror, the destruction, the hopelessness, the anger.
As the week unfolded, every morning at breakfast I would ask my husband, “How many are dead?” On Tuesday it was reported that perhaps 50 or 60 people had lost their lives. By Wednesday and Thursday, there were no numbers being given out. And I found myself getting agitated and upset. I needed something to hold on to. I wanted a tally; I needed numbers. I needed to know someone was in charge; that someone was keeping track. Yesterday we were informed by the media that the number of dead is “incalculable”. Incalculable. We live in a day and age when we pride ourselves on being precise and in control. And I found myself shuddering when I heard “incalculable” loss of life.
The images continued and my heart ached when I saw the frail, the elderly, the dying and the dead but I couldn’t tear myself away. My frustration grew when I saw listless babies in their mother’s arms. I heard the voices, the cries of despair….one woman tore at my soul when she cried out, “Lord, Jesus, don’t let me die like this.” And I sat, watching and silently praying.
Then Hardy Jackson appeared on my TV screen. Hardy Jackson is a middle-aged black man who clung to a tree and his wife during the flooding. As they were battered by 20 foot waves, his wife of 27 years began to lose her grip and she told Hardy that he could no longer hold onto her. Her final words were, “Take care of the kids and the grandkids.” And then she was swept away.
My mind flashed back to another time when I heard similar words. It was September 11. The messages left by those facing certain death, the messages left for their loved ones, “Have a good life. Know that I love you. Take care of the children. ”
And then again my mind races and I’m reminded of my Savior, my God saying, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
And I guess the question that looms before me, that looms before us is: will we? Will we take care of the kids and the grandkids? Will we love one another as our God loves us?
In today’s epistle we hear the following words Paul gives to the Romans: “Let love be genuine; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit. Serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21 – selected verses)
How do we as Christians live this out? How do we love one another as Jesus loved us? How do we care for the thousands and thousands of suffering people in need? How do we show Christ’s love and presence in this world? How do we overcome evil with good?
As I ponder these questions, I’m at a loss. I realize I don’t have perfect answers. I come up short and I feel small and helpless…not able to do much in the face of this horrible disaster. But what I do know is this…what I can do, I will do.
And so for the time being, I’ll continue to pray. I’ll make monetary donations. I won’t point fingers and I won’t blame others for the suffering. I’ll forgive those who inflict pain and misery on others during these tragic times. I’ll welcome the stranger. And I’ll continue to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. I will serve my Lord. My love will be real.
As I stated earlier, we all have defining moments. But defining moments are not always easy moments. I know the ultimate defining moment for me will be when I stand before my God and Maker.
I am certain He won’t ask me if I watched the hungry and saw the homeless.
I am certain He won’t ask me if I noticed the thirsty or thought about the poor. The questions will be direct:
Did you feed the hungry?
Give drink to the thirsty?
Did you care for the poor and the homeless?
Did you love them the way I love you?
May our good God give me the strength and courage to do His work and continue to serve Him.
And may God give us all the strength and courage to love one another as He loves us. Amen.
Copyright 2008, Justine Guernsey. Used by permission.