This month in worship we have looked at Difficult Words of our Faith: Atonement—breaking the chain between sin and punishment, Redemption—(re)purchasing something that has been lost, Justice—equalizing power, Righteousness—being vindicated or being found in the right, and Sacrifice—making something holy. Each of these deals with loss: loss of relationship through sin, loss of property (including freedom in the case of slavery), loss of power, loss of validation and respect, loss of something of value for an altruistic purpose. Each of these ideas of our faith seeks a theological answer to the main question, “What is God’s best intention for our broken world?” and the answer is always, “Healing.”
There is much loss in the world around us: Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have soaked places that were already wet, and the Northern California and Pacific Northwest wildfires have scorched earth that has been too dry for too long. The losses are immense, tragic, devastating—jobs, homes, lives, normalcy—and the healing is just beginning for many.
We are nearest to the wine country fires, so they are on many of our minds, and yet it has barely been a few months since Harvey destroyed the east coast of Texas, Irma devastated south Florida and the Caribbean, and Maria gave a second blow to the Caribbean. I am hearing of lots of ways to help our nearby neighbors; in fact, Darrell and I are planning on attending a Fire Relief fund-raising concert tonight. And let us not forget Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico.
In each of these natural disasters, I wonder what Atonement would look like. (First, we need to identify the sin in the situation—the sin in Puerto Rico appears to be delayed decisions on restoring power and water, and the punishment is death). What would Redemption look like? (What property that has been lost—how many people will lose property because of being under-insured and not having the money from job loss to keep up the mortgage payments?) What about Justice? (Who has lost power, who had little power to begin with—undocumented workers are afraid to apply for assistance from FEMA because their information is potentially shared with ICE). Righteousness? (Who will God vindicate or validate in these situations—Jesus suggests it is the meek, the poor, the poor in spirit, the faithful, and those who love their neighbor as themselves). Sacrifice? (What of value could we offer that would become holy in its giving—this week my spiritual director, rather than lighting candle to start our session, had a water altar and she offered that I pour some holy water into a bowl to remember the salvific, healing power of water where there is fire.)
These last few months, I have been moved by connections across the devastated areas. A seminary friend of mine who pastors in Naples, Florida, which sustained much damage from Irma, has reached out to me to see how we are doing. I in turn asked what he needs, now a few months later, and his reply was very specific: $460 to complete a goal of $3000 to supply 150 families with Christmas baskets of food. (My friend tells me that since Irma and Maria their food pantry has seen an increase in family size as those who lost homes in the storms move in with other family members). Perhaps we could raise that $460 and connect ourselves with some of the destruction that is all the way across our country.
As well, Puerto Rico has been deeply on my mind because my 50th birthday is coming up in February, and I have wanted to celebrate on the island where I celebrated my 5th birthday. My family lived there for a year when I was that age, and I have wanted to return as an adult. The destruction of the island has brought lots of discussion in our house about where else we might go. And I keep coming back to what I know deep within me; I still want to go there, and now I intend on bring supplies with for their recovery, as well as maybe offering a day or two of work. If that truly happens, the best gift I could imagine from Arlington Community Church would be to donate supplies that we could take along.
There is much to do. We have much to offer. I pray we can offer what we have not just in our region but wherever the world needs healing. If you want to reach out in these ways, please let me know.