In pm's words
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October 12, 2015, 9:00 AM

the one where we breathe...


Sermon from October 11, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 10: 17-31

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer, amen!

I want everyone to take a deep breath right now. Go ahead – I mean it. Take a deep breath.

We’ve been through a lot this past week. We have been witness to images and stories that seem all too surreal. We’ve seen pictures of places that we know, we’ve heard from people that many of us can probably trace our relationships to either directly or through a few friends. We have seen the destructive power of nature in our midst. The images and stories we have seen and heard are those that we’d normally see in places ‘far from here.’ Not – 30 minutes away.

For me, the destruction of this storm hits very close to home – very close. When my family moved to South Carolina in 1996 we moved to Forest Acres. I went to Dent Middle School, I went to Richland Northeast High School. I lived on Bridgewood Road, just a corner away from a portion of Rockbridge Road – that I drove over, ran over, and biked over for 5 years – that no longer exists.

My home church has been the command center for the Forest Acres Police Department and will be for the foreseeable future. They are also housing the National Guard as well.

I have friends and family who have lost possessions, who have lost homes, who have lost lives. My nephew and niece’s home was underwater. A friend of my sister died in the flood. Too many of the homes that I ran past as I trained for cross country in high school have been severely damaged.

As I was helping to deliver donated supplies to help those in need, I had a chance to drive – as best and as safely as I could – through my old neighborhood. Everything looks normal enough, just slightly blurred enough to know that something major happened here. The puddles in the ground that made me wonder how high the waters were here, the branches in the road that made me question if there was a bigger part of that tree that was somewhere else – or did it thankfully hold strong? Then there were the more overt signs of devastation, the numerous blocked roads, the numerous cars lying in ditches or abandoned on the side of the road, and the gaping holes where a road used to be.

Seeing those images on TV of places that I am so familiar with has been difficult for me to process. In seminary one of my favorite professors would always ask the question – Where is God in all this?

Where is God in all this?

A few might say that God was in the storm, wreaking havoc upon a people and a time that have turned back from a particular way of moral living (that just so happens to align with their own views – funny how that works out that way). That’s not where I see God in this…

Many see God in the fact that the storms ended and the sun emerged. In fact, one of our local weathermen – distraught and in stress over the past few days of storms – was overcome with emotion on air because he saw the sun. Yeah, I can see God there.

But, more often than not. I can see and we are witness to God at work in the midst of these crises and the days after through the lives of those around us.

One of my favorite quotes is from a beloved TV show of many of us in our youth watched – Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. In an episode where he talked to children about bad things that happen in the world – violence or natural disaster he said this,

“When I was a young boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.’”

And, boy have we seen God at work through those many helpers in our world, in our state, in our lives this past week.

A friend of Erin and mine was pleading through social media for help to rescue her husband who was stuck in what turned out to be one of the hardest hit areas during the storm. She asked for help on Facebook and Twitter. I and others sent messages out to those within our circles of friends to find someone – anyone – who was willing and capable of helping her husband. In fact, out of all the people that sent a message to WIS – my message was read. A person heard my name, contacted me on Facebook, and we coordinated as her husband drove out to help my friend – he just happened to be a former Navy rescue diver. My friend was rescued by an avalanche of volunteers and trained personnel.

There were stories of those who took their small boats and glided down their streets to help neighbors and evacuate those stuck in their homes. Stories of those who saw stranded motorists in danger and helped bring them to safety. Stories of those first responders who stayed out in the storm and rain to rescue those in need. A story of a retired pastor who waded out in to waist high water to retrieve caskets that had been unearthed in the flood waters.

Then there are the stories of those people who have helped since the waters receded and the sun emerged from behind the clouds. The stories of those who have driven countless miles to help in clearing and securing roads. The stories of those who have collected supplies and money to give to those in need. The stories of those who have opened their homes to the many who have been displaced.

There are still more stories to emerge. There are more opportunities for God to work in the midst of this tragedy. More opportunities for us to live out our calls as followers of Christ to be with those in need. Those in need who are no longer people we don’t know or in places we’ve never been. But, who are people that we’ve met, in places that we’ve frequented. It gives us an opportunity for God to work through others so that we too might be helped.

As I read the Gospel for this morning, I wondered what in the world I was going to preach on in light of the tragic events of this past week. How I could hear the conversation between this man and our Lord in a way to see God at work in my life – in our lives – right now.

Where this man says confidently – Jesus what do I need to do? What else do I need to do? I haven’t killed anyone, I’m faithful to my wife, I love my parents, I don’t steal – what more can I do?

Out of love – Jesus tells him that he can give up all that he owns and follow him.

But, the man can’t do it because he’s got a lot of stuff. He turns away.

Stuff, things. Items.

As I hear this conversation my mind is drawn to the things that people lift up that aren’t really that important – the things that I lift up that aren’t really important. The things that get in the way of us loving one another, being in service to one another, being in relationship with God and our neighbors.

It is hard to let go. To give away those things that we love and cherish and feel that ‘identifies’ us fully. When Jesus asks us to stop looking towards those other ‘things’ that draw us way from God, it’s difficult for us to do so. We like our things. We like our stuff that we collect – the physical and the non-tangible. Those things that we ‘cling’ to that we feel makes us ‘us.’

One of my favorite news stories that brought some brevity to the floods in Columbia was the woman who made sure she had her Totinos and her doggie. She knew all she needed was some food and a loving relationship.

It is here in this place that we realize that all we need – is some food and a relationship of love – as we follow the one who calls to us through our baptisms. That in the craziness of our lives, in the midst of destruction and tragedy, we know we can come to this place and be fed and welcomed into the loving relationship of our Lord.

That food that nourishes us and that relationship that is lived out in the community in this place. Where we are loved, cared for, forgiven, and accepted. Why? Because we are God’s. Not because of the house we live in, the clothes we wear, the ‘stuff’ we have. Simply because we are God’s creation; God’s children. Claimed in our baptism, fed at the table, and sent into the world to proclaim that love to people and places who yearn to hear the same.

So yes, we breathe today, we take deep breaths. We remember that in spite of all that has happened this week. In spite of all the news of devastation and destruction that has happened in our state, we see God at work. Reminding us again and again of God’s presence, of God’s love, of God’s relationship.

That God is here with us always, those possessions – don’t worry about that stuff. Let it go. Follow him. Amen!

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