What is your only comfort?

Urban God-talk for the church-o-phobic.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Wrestling with God for a sermon about Katrina

Is anyone else having a hard time putting together a sermon for tomorrow? I've spent the better part of this week reflecting on what to say with regard to the hurricane, not to mention that it's only a week away from the anniversary of September 11th. Within my small congregation we have one person who survived both WTC terrorist attacks and another person who is from New Orleans. I know that for many of us, this past week brought back the feelings of shock and disbelief of four years ago.

In reading what others have to say about preaching in a time of national tragedy, I see over and over again people who point to the 23rd Psalm and say "God is with us even in times of hopelessness." But that isn't cutting it for me right now. And if it isn't cutting it for me, it certainly isn't going to cut it for the folks in the pews.

Having worked in the World Trade Center, I can testify to the power of God in using horrible events to inspire us. If it hadn't been for September 11th, I no doubt would have continued along in a career based upon a personal desire to make lots of money on Wall Street. But the "God uses tough times to inspire greater faith" sermon leaves me cold as well.

Part of what is making it so tough for me to preach tomorrow are the stories told of poor people who lacked transposition begging others to help them evacuate only to be turned away. One woman told of having guests at the Hyatt pack their SUVs full of personal belongings, then speed by refusing to take those who had no way out of the city. It's like the story of the good Samaritan without the Samaritan ever showing up.

Added to this is the reminder of a pledge I took in junior high school. All of the kids in our small congregation took it together - we promised not to tell racist jokes and to speak out about racism. There are lots of people speaking out about how those left behind were primarily poor or African-American or both. It's not like another voice added to the cacophony is going to do anything to stop the damage, but I feel compelled because of that promise years ago to say something. I'm angry about the fact that it's the most marginalized of our country who were left in the eye of the story. I'm angry that we've grown so accustomed to celebrating Martin Luther King Day that we think all the work to fight racism is over and done. It isn't. Our country is one of haves and have nots - and the have nots are overwhelmingly black. I'm tired of our churches acting as if this is the way it should be and not speaking out against it.

Mostly, I feel as though I need to hear a sermon tomorrow that tells of hope, and I'm not going to be able to because I have to be the one to preach it. I feel powerless to do anything to help the situation (aside from contribute money and offer our home to anyone interested in resettling to Brooklyn). Yet, I know that as Christians we're called to be a light in the world that seems so dark.

I know that by the time church rolls around tomorrow a sermon will have formed. But until that time, I'm really struggling with this. I'm angry with God and with our federal government, and I know that there are a lot of people who feel similarly. At the same time, I really want to do a good job, to help make meaning of such a desperate situation, and to encourage hope when things seem to be so out of control.

It seems as though tomorrow morning's worship helps make sense of why I'm not a stock broker any more. I could have stayed on the Street closing deals and have Sunday mornings free to sit in the pew. But that would leave me with nothing to contribute in times of tragedy. No one in their right mind would want to be a pastor on a morning like tomorrow - just like no one had wanted to be a pastor on the Sunday following 9/11. But it's for moments like this that we're called to preach the good news of our Lord. I know we're called to preach on the regular Sundays, too. But it's on these Sundays when we have an opportunity to help make God real - for our congregations as well as for ourselves.


At 1:28 PM, Blogger Songbird said...

Ann, in the end I wrote a sermon, but I put it down other than to find a quote from a survivor I particularly wanted to read in his words. Somehow this was better, following the thread from the chaos of the week and its injustices to our questions about where God is to our certainty that Jesus is with those who are suffering and calls us to be there, too.
I hope you were able to find your hope.

At 5:09 PM, Blogger RogueMonk said...

Yes, it was a challenge for me. In the end, I rewrote my whole sermon early Sunday morning. I agree...it was "on this Sundays when we have an opportunity to help make God real - for our congregations as well as for ourselves." :)


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