Sermon: The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18A (Proper transferred one week later due to storm), September 17, 2017, The Very Rev. Randall Hehr
Hurricane Irma came through the Caribbean as a category 5 storm leaving behind massive destruction. In news footage, we see buildings destroyed and boats and cars piled up on one another. I heard an interview with the owner of a restaurant in St. John’s in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was standing in front of what was left of the building, and he said, “The people here are resilient…we will rebuild.” I marveled at his words and tone; so confident and reassuring. I also recalled hearing the word resilient spoken by a man in the outer banks of North Carolina following a hurricane that traveled up the eastern seaboard.
“The people here are resilient…we will rebuild.” Resilience is a marvelous capacity to restore, to recover, and to bounce back after terrible devastation. I turned to Gregg Braden, author of the book, Resilience of the Heart, and he tells us that resilience is, “a way of thinking and living that gives us the flexibility to change and adapt to new conditions.” (p. 56) This capacity can be found in human beings, in communities, in systems and in organizations.
Think about the images you are carrying within you after Irma came up the coast of Florida. We have witnessed scenes of property damage, people without electricity, and debris piling in the streets. I have listened through the last week, hearing people talk about the destructive power of the storm. But they also talk about neighbors reaching out to neighbors, cleaning up their yards or bringing food and water. I hear resilience in these stories and images. I believe we can grow resilience by doing the work of the Gospel. Remember the rescuers in Texas and Louisiana who brought their boats and carried people to safety. Christ was there, reaching out to help and support and bring comfort. Here too, in the Keys, or on the mainland of Florida, Christ is there in the ways we extend ourselves or reach out to help someone after the storm. Paul speaks to us today through his letter to the Christians at Rome, saying that all the commandments can be summed up in this word: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I believe God gives us resilience when God draws us together in the community of faith. God gives us the capacity to deal with the storms of life when we band together and find strength in community. During the more intense hours of the storm here in Pinellas, when the winds were howling, I remembered Hurricane Donna. It came across the state of Florida in 1960 and brought strong winds to the Tampa Bay area. I was eight years old. I recalled my fear of the howling wind and its destructive power. My room was right next to the tall Australian pines that lined our property. But I recall another feeling that was stronger and deeper than the fear. It was the confidence and strength and assurance I felt being with my family. You see everyone came to our house: my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, and my cousins. We were all together during the storm. I can still feel that strong sense of community today.
In the coming weeks we will be thinking together at Holy Trinity about stewardship. Stewardship is living our lives in the belief that all we are and have is God’s, entrusted with us to share. Like the way we give to our neighbors by helping them through the storm. Like the way we give of our resources to help those whose lives have been severely damaged. Like the way we give of our time to help others in the world and in our local community. Our God is an abundant giver. God pours out love and hope and grace upon us all the time. God gives without measure. And our response to our loving God is to travel the journey to generosity. We are on a journey to learn more about giving and to explore in depth the God who gives to us so marvelously.
The storm teaches us in this journey. It teaches us about the strength we find together in the community of Christ. Holy Trinity is resilient. I think of the words of Greg Braden, and I believe we are engaged in a way “of thinking and living that gives us the flexibility to change and adapt to new conditions.”
There is a reason we use the word “pledge” when talking about giving. It means to make a commitment. Pledging ourselves to God and to the church is a transformative process. Thanks be to God for delivering us through the storm. Let us grow together in the work of the Gospel and as Christ’s resilient community.