Sunday thoughts. Click here for the Readings
The readings this week seem difficult in light of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and on this anniversary of September 11 destruction of the Trade Towers and the Pentagon. The reading from the Hebrew scriptures is the drowning of the Egyptians so that the Israelite people can be free. The Epistle is on judgment and religious laws and the Gospel is on forgiveness.
There are several ways to approach the Exodus story. One is that we are both the Egyptians and the Israelites. Our care for the poor as a country, in health care, education, and steady employment has been shown in this tragedy to be far short of the standard of the prophets and Jesus. They have been trapped in this event by the lack of choices available. Without funds, transportation, a place to go, and/or a plan for keeping up the levees or for disaster, people were doomed. A 2004 article in National Geographic sketches a scenario of a hurricane hitting New Orleans that is eerily similar to what happened. Like the Israelites asked to make bricks without straw - the Gulf Coast was asked to protect itself without funds.
Another idea that comes to mind is that all journeys begin with birth. The crossing of water is symbolic of new life. We have to leave the womb that protects and feeds us to enter into the wilderness that is our life. With family and community gathered around us - we can launch into life and make the journey. Death of the old and birth of the new are a part of each other. If we can take the disaster that has occurred and turn it to a new life and a new spirit for our country we can in some small way redeem a terrible event.
When Jesus talks about forgiving he shares a story of the one who owes so much and is forgiven but when it comes to others he is hard hearted. This not a story of letting people off from abusing others or forgiving and forgetting. It is one that calls for accountability.
This is the point Paul is making in his letter to the Romans. He is discussing religious laws on diet and worship and our judgments about who is acceptable in the community and who is not. Paul says that we are all brothers and sisters and need to work for one another instead of against each other. Accountability but also compassion for our human failures and our human abilities.
I have heard that "we should just stop talking about who is at fault and get on with the work" after Hurricane Katrina. But it is in the learning and accountability that true forgiveness can happen. Mistakes in judgment, greed, things done and not done are all apart of what happened and we need to bring these things into the light. It is only then that true repentance can occur. This does not mean we get so bogged down that we don't act. Mother Jones said "Pray for the dead and work like hell for the living." I hope for us there is a quality of "working like heaven" - working as Jesus would have us care for our neighbor as we would care for ourselves.
The Psalmist sings of earthquakes and floods - natural disasters. They are the reality of our life on earth. There are many things that can be done to mitigate the effect on life but they will occur. We are God's hands and heart here in this time and this place, we are called to share our gifts and talents in whatever way we can. Some are working on the front lines, some are offering homes to those displaced, some are sending money through relief agencies. Episcopalians are giving through Episcopal Relief and Development where you can be assured that most of your gift goes to help and not for overhead. We have the structures in place to make it happen.
At the end of the day, though, it is only in God that we really "move and live and have our being," who will be with us through fire and flood, bearing us up on eagle's wings when the journey is too difficult. We need only ask for that strength and peace that passes understanding.