When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I remember sitting at a computer and refreshing the screen all day long. As the rain fell, the water rose and levies started to break, I watched with horror, dread, and heartbreak as homes, businesses, and entire towns were inundated. And as we know 15 years later, the hurricane’s landfall was only the first disaster. The flooding that devastated Louisiana and Mississippi went on for days and human losses piled up: 1,833 people lost their lives, 800,000 homes destroyed and damaged, and entire business, social service and economic systems were obliterated.
As the day has unfolded, I’ve watched with those same feeling welling up again as another hurricane pummels the Louisiana and Texas coasts. Hurricane Laura has already caused two dozen deaths in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, and the initial pictures coming out of Lake Charles, LA, show incredible destruction. As coastal residents, we have a close tie to those who are suffering today. We know both the beauty and the power of living on the edge of water. While the ocean offers us creation’s glory, recreation, and restoring powers, it also can wipe us away in the blink of an eye. Storms are a terrifying part of life on the coast.
In times like this, we ask, “What, God, did we do to deserve this? Why is this destruction happening? Where are you?” I want to say very clearly to you that I believe without equivocation that God does not send bad, harmful or evil things to us on purpose. God’s intent for creation or for our own lives is always good. We do, however, admit that when bad things occur in our lives or in our world that they are often the result or natural consequences of our human arrogance and failings. We see those results so clearly in the devastation hurricanes bring: global warming, building cities on the edge of the ocean, and the systemic failures of health care, emergency response, racism and chronic poverty magnify and multiply the suffering that storms bring.
So where, then, in times like this, do we find God? We find God present with us in the midst of our suffering. God hears our cries and the cries of our siblings who are suffering and is present with us, in ways that are sometimes too mysterious for us to comprehend. We talked about the mystery of God last week during our worship focused on the connections of science and faith. Even in the scientific pursuits, some principles just cannot be known; mystery is present in all parts of life.
Psalm 107:28-30 speaks powerfully to the mysterious presence of God in our suffering, using the image of sailors who were caught up in a storm:
“So they cried out to the Lord in their distress,Psalm 107:28-30
and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances.
God quieted the storm to a whisper;
the sea’s waves were hushed.
So they rejoiced because the waves had calmed down;
then God led them to the harbor they were hoping for.”
In their distress, God was with them and God heard their cries. Part of what we are leaning into during this season at Two Rivers is the reality that “You are not alone.” We are here as a community together, God is with us both individually and collectively, and we do not suffer in isolation but we walk as companions together in our journey. Even when times are hard or devastating or confusing, we are always in God’s presence and in the company of each other.
We want to show our friends in Louisiana and Texas that they are not alone and they God hears their cries for relief and recovery. This Sunday, 10 percent of our offerings will go to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the arm of The United Methodist Church that provides disaster relief and recovery all around the world. UMCOR is already on the ground assessing what response is needed and they make long-term commitments. Even 15 years after Hurricane Katrina, UMCOR is still present in Louisiana and Mississippi assisting residents in rebuilding. We have no doubt that commitment will remain in the face of this new storm.
100 percent of your gifts will go directly to storm recovery; there is not administrative overhead taken out. Our giving through UMCOR is a tangible sign of our solidarity with our siblings and friends because we have been where they are. We hear their cries to God. We are with them. They are not alone. Thanks be to God!