Sunday, 17 January 2010

Pray,Listen,Respond in love

Here is my offering for this Sunday, still based on the lectionary gospel but very different from what I'd imagined earlier in the week before disaster struck:

Reading: John 2 v 1-11

Sunday 17th January 2010

Readings: John 2 v 1-11

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I’m sure you’ve all been extremely moved by the daily news coverage of the earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this week and the resultant aftermath of death and destruction.
It’s hard to imagine how Haiti, already one of the poorest countries in the world, can ever survive such a catastrophic event.
Everything, there, it seems is caught up in grief and confusion.
It’s hard to get any firm idea of the number of casualties involved and the numbers that are being reported are simply mind boggling and, it seems that though governments and citizens all over the world are pitching in offers of help, actually getting aid in situ is proving extremely difficult.
In the face of such devastation and impotence to make a difference, how do we, people of faith, respond?
The prescribed gospel for today was the one we read in John – the miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee.
In some ways, it seems such a frivolous text, especially when set against the perspective of such world disaster.
Jesus changing water into wine.
Although running out of wine at a wedding in a culture so grounded in hospitality must have seemed like a disaster, we might well wonder how such comparative trivia might speak into the awful reality of world events today.
Jesus response to the diminishing wine problem was one of out of proportion extravagance.
Surely, today that seems almost obscene.
And yet, in this gospel today, there is much that speaks of possibility, of potential, of abundance and of grace.
In this, the first miracle or sign recorded by John, Jesus looks around him and uses ordinary people to transform ordinary things into wonderful gifts.
His miracle was achieved quietly, without fuss.
Many who were present were unaware of what had happened.
But those who saw, believed.
Amidst all that is emerging from Haiti at present are miracles and wonders, signs of incredible grace and extravagant giving.
Hilary Clinton referred to the disaster as one of biblical proportions.
A disaster on that scale needs a response to match.
The Disasters emergency committee appeal has so far commanded a response of 12 million pounds.
People are responding practically and prayerfully.
But that doesn’t stop us asking why?
Events like this always raise so many questions.
But, perhaps instead of asking Why? We might ask instead: what can we do?
We will never be in a position to prevent natural disaster.
Earthquake, famine, flood are forces that even we, with all our skill cannot keep at bay.
But what we can do is respond with compassion and with love.
And not just in times of disaster.
Countries like Haiti have such poor infrastructures to begin with, they are at the bottom of the heap in economic terms, so disadvantaged when there is more than enough to go round.
It is to those situations that we must respond before crisis hits.
We believe that Christ came to bring life in abundance.
For all of God’s people.
Yet here we se God’s people crying out, not for fine wine but for the extravagant simplicity of clean water.

Yesterday, I came across a report form Matthew Price, one of the BBC’s reporters in Port-au-Prince:
I was crouching by some rubble, talking to Jeanne-Charles, a pretty woman, composed and kind. She wasn't sure she could speak to me. "I'm very shaky," she explained. Still we did chat, and it all came out.
The night before, one of her colleagues at the Good Samaritan Mission of International Nursing, where Jeanne-Charles works, had received a text message.
It was from one of her staff members, who when they sent it, was lying somewhere beneath the flattened mass of concrete that until last Tuesday was a five-storey building housing the mission.
The text message read: "There are 25 of us alive in here, we are hungry and hot."
In all, Jeanne-Charles told me, there were more than 200 people who had died in that building. That for days they'd been trying to get to the others who are trapped inside. A few had been brought out. But without equipment they could do little more.
As she struggled to keep her tears back, she gave me a list of everything they need - and they need everything. Bulldozers, diggers, medicine, doctors, food, water, shelter, money.
And then she asked me a simple question. "What can you do?"
It wasn't the first time in these gruelling days that I'd been asked such a question. There was the smart, polite, elderly man, for instance, who waited until I'd finished talking to someone else and then gently tapped me on the shoulder and told me his wife had died. "What will you do?" he asked.
Or the woman sitting with hundreds of others all huddled in a makeshift camp, who'd lost her family, her home, her possessions, her job, and yet who still managed to smile. "Do you have an umbrella," she wondered, "to keep the sun off?"

What will you do?
Although we can see the scale of the rescue effort being mounted and of the pledges of aid and monetary support, to the people on the ground it often seems as though no one is helping. Their expectations are being fulfilled.
For so long they have know themselves of such little value that they have no reason to hope that things will be any different but only a hundred times worse in the face of disaster.
Abandoned in life and in death.
It will take a miracle to penetrate such hopelessness.
But isn’t that what grace does?
Grace brings abundance into poverty.
Creates miracles out of the ordinary.
Shows up signs of potential and possibility.
Transforms lives and communities and nations.
Dare we hope for such miracles today?
Are we prepared to play our part in bringing about such abundant grace?
What will you do?

Here is another account – From a mother who, with her husband was working, and continues to work in Leogane, even nearer the epicentre of the earthquake than those in Port au Prince.

At night we sleep in the yard behind the hospital where thebandstand was. It has fallen, as has the Episcopal school. Three are 200-300 people who sleep in that field at night. They sing hymns until almost midnight, and we wake up to a church service, with hymns, and morning prayer, and the apostle’s creed.The evening sky is glorious.
In the field there is a real sense of community.Of course, we are the only blancs there.A group from FondWa arrived in Leogane today and will sleep theretonight.
Janine the head cook brought John and me spaghetti from her home in Darbonne 8 miles away.
We shared with the group from FondWa.
They have some money so they went out and bought rice, etc, and we will eat tonight.People have shared with us and we are getting a chance to feel how theHaitians really live.
I have never understood joy in the midst of suffering, butnow I do.
The caring I have seen, the help we have received from the Haitians, the evening songs and prayers. Are wonderful. The people will survive, though many will die. Please pray for us.

What will you do?
I love the part in the story of Jesus turning water into wine that his mother Mary plays.
She tells Jesus of the problem, is seemingly given the brush off, but says to the servants anyway: do whatever he tells you to.
She doesn’t take no for an answer but prepares the ground for the miraculous to happen.
Sometimes in all our efforts and in our prayers, it seems that we achieve so little.
And yet change happens.
And grace abounds.
But we have to be ready, when we persist in asking God to act, that God might well demand of us, becoming instruments by which our own prayers are answered.
As well as asking, we must be ready to respond and not just in crisis.

And so today, our gospel of an extravagant response to a problem of oversight speaks profoundly into a world overwhelmed by the forces of nature.
God nudges us as we nudge God:
The words of Mary echo throughout the world:
Do as Jesus tells you.
In that, will we find healing for our broken world.

Let me share with you this video: Pray, Listen, Respond with Love.
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Margaret said...

Liz, this is good work. The BBC piece is hard to take and I wonder if all of it is necessary. Most of us can only offer prayers and financial resources. Hearing that the resources aren't getting there adds a level of frustration to an already frustrating situation. To counter the BBC report, how about using Nutella's mom's paragraph about living in the field amidst hymns and prayer?
It is so hard to know how much to say and when we have said enough, isn't it? I was overwhelmed by reports on Wednesday and I hadn't even turned on the TV. So I'm sure I probably hit my folks too hard. I'm trying not to do that tomorrow, too.
Do what Jesus tells you.

liz said...

Margaret, thanks. That's very helpful.