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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

This is Who I Am and This is What I Do

2017-09-03 Ro 12 09-21 This is Who I Am and This is What I Do. 

Psalm 69:1-3, 13-15, 30-36 

Romans 12:9-21 



One of my favorite movies of this year is Moana. Have you seen it? Run to the Redbox if you haven't. After church. It's beautiful. You could watch it with the sound off and go, "Wow." The visuals alone are miraculous. I'm guessing it took a team of 20 people about 3 years to make the ocean look so realistic. I guess they could have filmed real ocean. But this is Disney; it's better than real life. 


The movie follows Moana, a teenage girl, who someday will take over as chief of her Polynesian tribe and their perfect little island. And that's fine, except that Moana doesn't want to stay on her island. The sea calls to her. Literally. Again, it's Disney, so seas can do that. Crabs can sing. Seagulls can say, "Mine, Mine, Mine." (Different Disney, same concepts.) With animation, you can do that. You can draw spirits. In Moana, all of nature is alive. The sea, the wind, the sky, the rain – all creation has its own special voice. 


This past week, we've watched and worried and prayed as a storm named, Harvey, blew ashore. We give them the names of people. As if they are alive. As if they have a spirit. And so I wonder. If Harvey could speak. If the hurricane could talk, if it IS talking, what is it saying? What might Harvey be saying to Houston? What is this giant storm howling at our people, our nation, at us? 


In the movie, Moana defiantly talks back, shouts back, sings boldly back at the elements of nature that threaten to sink her little raft. She grabs the mast and sings: "I am Moana!"  


And I wonder. What are we saying back at Harvey? I wonder what do we speak, what do we shout, what do we howl back at our storms, at our disasters, be they natural or un-natural, bthey accidental or intentional? What do word do we speak or even sing back at them? 

Who do we declare that we are and what will we do?




Once upon a time, people would have seen a great storm, or a great flood and they would have said it must be the judgment of God. Perhaps it was something they had done as a nation. Or as a city. Perhaps it was something their leaders had done that had offended one of their gods. Maybe it was something one of them had done, maybe secretly, maybe simply wished for or prayed for, and it made God so angry that he demolished the entire city for lack of a quorum of good people. 


We know a lot more now about storms and floods. We can predict them. We can explain why they form. We can spy on them from miles above the earth. We know now that this isn't the judgment of God. It's just weather. We can't stop it. It can't even stop itself. It just is. Weather happens. Weather is big and dumb. Weather has no respect for anyone, or anything. Weather doesn't care. It has no empathy, no conscious thought. You can't reason with weather. Harvey is weather and Harvey is an imbecile. As Katy, TX firefighter and paramedic Kyle Fritsche said, "Everyone's mad at that stupid guy Harvey." 


You can be as mad as you want. You can yell and scream at him. Harvey doesn't care. 


And as big and powerful as Harvey is, Harvey does not speak for God. 


We read in the Bible how a long time ago, the prophet Elijah, fearing for his life, was told by God to go up to a mountaintop. 1 Kings 19. (11-13) 


...And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so.... 


If we want to hear the voice of God, we would do well to listen carefully. Listen not to lumbering behemoths like Harvey. Listen not to weather. Listen not to the storms. But listen for the still, small voice that calls us to see beyond the disasters our lives can become. We need to listen for that still, small voice, calling, "Help!" And then be – who we are. And then do – what we are called to do. 




Commander Toney Wade and his Cajun Coast Search and Rescue team, a volunteer group from Louisiana, made it to Dickinson, Tex., where they rescued 25 people, some of whom were stuck in a two-story hotel. 

Wade said that more than 10,000 people needed to be rescued in that area, which is halfway between Houston and Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico. 

"It was really something — just something to see — trucks and cars you can barely see under the water," he said in a telephone interview. 

He and 16 other men and women, some with military and many with firefighter and emergency medical technician experience packed up and left to help with five shallow draft boats, a high-water rescue boat and one air boat. 

"We train hard for this," he said. "It's what we do. And at first light tomorrow, we will back at it." 


That's just who they are. That's just what they do. 


Last Monday, writer Ben Shapiro assessed the situation in Houston. He said,  

Over the weekend, we saw the best of America: Americans helping Americans in Houston. Race, creed, color — none of it mattered. Americans were in need, and other Americans moved to help them.  

Human beings unify in the face of an existential threat. 

He said, 

In Houston, the existential threat is nature. And Americans who wouldn't share a meal are now sharing speedboats, attempting to help each other survive her wrath.  


In times of life and death, in times when the storms rage, when the earthquakes rumble, when the "stupid guy Harvey" or a disaster by any other name threatens to pull someone under, puny distinctions like race and color are muted out. What matters then is whether you reach out a hand toward that still, small voice that's crying out for help. Because you do have a brain. You do have a heart. You do have a soul. Because that's the way God made us.  


That's just who we are. That's just what we do.  


But we have to listen. Because sometimes those voices are awfully still, and awfully small. 


God is not in the wind. God is not in the hurricane. God is in the life that you save, the hand that you grasp, the person that you cling to when they cry, "Help!" 


But what if it's you? What if you're the one whose neck the waters have come up to? What if you're the one who needs help? If you're floating in a current, swept away, and if someone reaches out a hand to you, what would you do?  


Would you say, "First, tell me who you are? Are you a Christian? Or are you a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Wiccan?" Are you white or black or brown? Would you say, "Wait. Are you straight? Or are you gay, or trans? Which bathroom do you use? Do you recycle? Are you a vegetarian?" 


Of course not. If you're in mortal danger, sweeping downstream, you grab that hand. You grab that hand. You grab it as tight as you can and you say, "Thank you." Thank you. 


Because when big, dumb Harvey's knocking down your door, and someone comes to save you, you thank God for the salvation. You thank God for sending this angel to save your life. Race, creed, color – none of it matters. Even if it's someone you wouldn't have shared a meal with last week, you take that hand, you get in that speedboat, and you do your best to surviveAnd you learn that you would do your best, you learn that you will do your best, to help someone else survive. Because you have been saved. And now you know that's who you are. That's what you do. 




So, I sent a message to our resident meteorologist, Heather Haley Spain. I asked her because Heather knows weather. Heather watches weather, listens to weather, studies weather. She's kind of obsessed with weather. It's what she does. And I asked her, as a meteorologist AND as a church member, what do you think God might be saying through Harvey? 


And here's how she answered. And it's interesting, because she doesn't shout God all big and loud; but God's most definitely in her answer, in a still, small voice. Listen, for the word of God. She said: 


What speaks to me is how important it is to uplift each other ... not just in the face of disaster, but that seems to be what it takes to make some folks stop looking down on others. It didn't matter if your home was worth a million dollars or 30-thousand ... it doesn't matter if you were born in this country or not ... it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not ... that Hurricane destroyed the homes of thousands and took the lives of dozens. If we spend our time building each other up, instead of tearing each other down, then the world would be a happier place. 


Preach it, sister. 


Now. Jump from Heather to Paul. If you listened carefully to today's scripture, to the words of the Apostle Paul, you might have been surprised. Surprised because ordinarily, Paul is all about Jesus. Paul can't say two words without bringing up Jesus. Bringing up God. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. God, God, God. He's kind of obsessed with God. That's just who he is. That's what he does. 


Except, in this passage, Paul doesn't mention Jesus at all. He barely mentions God. In fact, if you were reading this passage about how to treat other people, you could apply it to anyone. You could respect these commandments, no matter what your faith or lack of it.   


Because it isn't about converting people; it's about saving - their - lives.  


Paul says, 


Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast (!) to what is good; 
Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 
Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 
Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 
Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 
Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 
Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 
No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 


If you do this. If you do these things. You will save a life. You will salvage a life. You will bring worth to a life. Maybe even your own. You will preach salvation. You will preach the good news of Jesus Christ, just by reaching out to the people floating by.

Sisters and brothers, this is who we are. This is who we are called by God to be. This is what we are commanded by Holy Scripture to do. This is who we are and this is what we do. So when the Harveys come beating on your door, summon your courage. Stand up tall. Grab the mast and shout at the wind, "This is who I am!"  


And then be, be, who God intends you to be.