Sunday, January 17, 2010

Where is God in the rubble of Haiti? Where are we?

Today's sermon is based on John 2:1-11.

The job of the preacher, at its most basic, is to present you with good news. But this week it is hard to get into this pulpit and present you with anything that sounds like good news, and it seems especially hard to preach about a joyous wedding feast in Cana long ago.

The terrible tragedy in Haiti is mind numbing. What little infrastructure in this already desperately poor country collapsed in this terrible earthquake.

There is something about the wedding feast in Cana that may speak to how we respond, but it may take me a little while to get there.

This disaster especially strikes at the heart of our Episcopal church. There are 100,000 Episcopalians living in Haiti; it is the largest diocese in membership in the Episcopal Church. The cathedral in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, as were churches, schools and convents.

As you know, the United States is responding generously with aid and logistical support.
Many charities are mobilizing including our own Episcopal Relief and Development, which has been in Haiti for a very long time, and has a large network in the country that will be put to great use.

We will be there long after others leave, so I hope you will give generously to ERD.

I should not have to waste any time this morning on something else, but I will. Pat Robertson said this past week that the reason Haiti suffered in the earthquake is that Haitians made a “pact with the devil” to free themselves from French colonial rule 200 years ago.

I’ve debated whether to dignify his comment by mentioning it. Forgive me if you think I should have let it go, you are perhaps right.

But Brother Robertson presumes to speak as a man of Jesus, and therefore I think his comment should not be left to stand without challenge from those of us who have the privilege of speaking from a pulpit in Christ’s Church.

So I will put it squarely: Pat Robertson is just flat out wrong. God is not sending punishment upon Haiti.

If I know anything at all about Jesus, and I think I do, it is this: Those who died in the earthquake are victims, and Jesus weeps with them in this terrible tragedy, and Jesus shakes his head when some like Pat Robertson blames the victims, and especially when someone blames the victims in His name.

There are religious people who believe that everything bad that happens in this world is punishment for something, or that it is simply “God’s plan.”

Nothing could be more wrong. Calling it "God's plan" is fatalism, not faith. That is not what Jesus preached and not how he lived. He saw suffering and chastised those who blamed the victims. He brought healing, and then he went to the Cross, not to appease a bloodthirsty God, but to share in our human suffering, and to show us that there really is something more beyond the pain and hurt in this life.

Yet this terrible disaster still leaves many of us wondering how it is that people die so tragically, so unfairly, in a place like Haiti.

I do not pretend this morning to have a complete answer, and maybe not even a very satisfying answer.

We live in an imperfect world, in a universe that is not yet finished. Our natural world has hurricanes and tsunamis and earthquakes. The human world is dominated by human error and greed, where powerful people have not used their God-given talents to bring people out of poverty, or to construct the buildings that can withstand disasters in the poorest parts of the world.

Call it sin or call it human folly, we live in a world where we have enough wealth to end poverty, to build safe buildings, to care for the sick. But it hasn’t happened.

This earthquake has torn open for all to see the terrible neglect of Haiti from the developed world, the world we live in.

In the words of the old prayer book, we have “left undone those things which we ought to have done.”

My intention in saying this is not have you leave here feeling guilty. Rather, I hope we might recommit ourselves to doing all that we can so that places like Haiti have a chance to overcome poverty and calamity.

In a way, this does connect to a joyful wedding feast at Cana a long time ago.

In the story we hear today, Jesus is at a wedding party, and the guests have consumed all the wine. Mary asks him to do something, so Jesus converts six large stone jars of water into wine.
Biblical scholars will tell you this story from the Gospel of John has overtones pointing to the Eucharistic meal, and so it does.

But I want to point out two simple elements to the story:

First, it is a story about hospitality, about how God’s grace extends beyond the limits of our imagination.

It is a story of how God can feed us and sustain us even in it looks we are running out. God is with the people of Haiti, and God is with us.

Second, Jesus gives the guests the good wine. God is not stingy. God opens the best, not the worst. God gives not the leftovers, but the first fruits.

And the guests notice, and they are startled. They expect the cheap wine, but at this party, they get the finest. They expect stinginess, and they get a feast.

Here in Charlottesville, many of us enjoy a very high standard of living. We have schools and roads and health care. Many of us have enough money to take vacations and enjoy the best that life has to offer. We have all that we need and more. We have a feast.

But with the feast comes the call to share the feast, to be hospitable to those around us, and hospitable to those who are far away, because all are God’s children, and all are invited to God’s feast.

We are called to share our first fruits, our finest feast, by sharing the best of our talents, as God gives us those talents, to make this world a better place.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and there is no better way to honor Dr. King than by starting in our own homes and workplaces, and then we can look beyond our city and state and to the neglected islands and hamlets of this earth.

We can surround everyone we meet with prayer, and give them the best of who we are, get to work making our prayers real: “thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.” AMEN

Please give generously to Episcopal Relief and Development. You can make a contribution to the Haiti relief fund by clicking HERE.

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