17 PENTECOST, PROPER 20
Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure.
Great words, really, that wash over us and we think it’s a great idea and we’re sure it’s not an issue for us -- we hold fast to heavenly things.
Until we and our neighbors are faced with a natural disaster that takes everything.
Each one of us is afflicted by the Valley Fire -- the sixth fire of a fire season to end all seasons. Either we or someone we know has been impacted by this natural disaster -- and it is a disaster. There is nothing else to call it.
I wanted first to deal with some bad theologies that often come up during disasters.
“Why did God do this?”
God didn’t do this. God is in the midst of our grief and trouble, giving us strength and grieving with us. God does not afflict the children of man.
“Why did God let this happen?”
Again, God did not do this nor did He let this happen. This was a natural disaster, the cause of which is yet to be determined. God does not afflict the children of man.
“They must be bad people for God to let this happen to them.”
This is as old as Job, which is the oldest book in the Bible. You must have done something wrong, therefore all you need to do is repent and good things will happen to you. This leads to a theology of good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, which in turn leads us to the “Gospel of Wealth” which says if you are good God will reward you here on earth with earthly things.
God does not punish the bad but rather calls them to repentance and amendment of life. The reward of the good is life with God, not some material something.
“God is testing me to see how strong my faith is.”
God does not afflict people to see how strong their faith is. Faith should be a comfort in times like these. Faith is there to be used and now is the time it’s needed.
To paraphrase Job, “I will bless God when I have everything and I will bless God when I have nothing.” Either way, God is with us.
The next thing I want to address is the guilt some of us are going to feel. It’s akin to survivor’s guilt. It’s the feeling that I survived and my friend didn’t and why. I still have all my stuff and someone else doesn’t. If this guilt prompts us to be generous then by all means, be generous. If it just makes us feel bad then get rid of it. Acknowledge it’s there, understand what it is, and get rid of it.
Which brings me to the question -- what do you say to someone who is struggling with the loss of things but feels that “they were just things, I shouldn’t feel so badly.” Assure people, yes, you get to feel badly. You get to mourn the loss of earthly things, even as you set your mind on heavenly things. You get to grieve at the tragedy of the loss that has happened. Grief is good and natural in this case.
It’s hard being a church up here all by yourself. It’s hard to have no priest here except me every other Sunday and others who can fill in. It’s hard having no one to do the pastoral care that is needed so desperately.
We’re missing Father Leo -- who was here and knew us and knew what to say. We miss Father Leo now more than ever. We really need him and his just being with us.
All of this adds up to a lot of stress. It is time for us to let our faith be a help, a support, a consolation in time of need. Even if we were not on the front lines of the fire we have been impacted. Our faith is there to be a comfort to us, to strengthen us to meet the days ahead.
God didn’t do this to us. We aren’t bad people because this happened. God is not testing our faith to see how good we are.
God is here with us carrying us through in our time of need.
Jesus promised to be with us even to the ends of the earth. Right now, this feels like the end of the earth. And Jesus is with us here. He is here in our tragedy and with us as we face one day at a time. He is in our hearts as we help one another and he walks with us as we console others and ourselves.
We are in deep distress but Christ is with us every step of the way. Our faith is our refuge in this time of need.
God be with us as we live through these days and be near us as we look towards the future.