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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Saints and Hurricanes

Like so many of you, I have been, at turns, shocked and horrified as well as inspired and delighted by the stories of the devastation and recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy.

Yesterday, I spoke with a friend who lives in Northern NJ but owns a beautiful home in Seaside Heights. I tried using Google maps to locate her home, to see if it was still standing. It looked like it was, but I didn't want to assume anything so I called her.

She said, as far as she knew, her home was still standing but she knew there would be great damage and was preparing to face it. "I don't know when that will be," she said. "The Mantoloking Bridge is wiped out so I don't know how I will get to my house to repair it until after they repair the bridge."

Mantoloking Bridge after Hurricane Sandy
"How are you holding up?" I asked.

"Oh, she said, "you know, people have been wonderful. My family and friends have been calling and everyone has offered to go with me, when I can finally travel there, so I won't have to face it alone. And, you know, whatever has happened to my house, it can be repaired. It's not like my life was in jeopardy or any of my neighbors were hurt. We'll be okay. My faith is strong. We'll rebuild. We'll help each other. We'll be fine as long as we stick together."

Some people call that attitude "Jersey Strong". That maybe so, but it sounds way too independent to my ears. My friend's strength comes from her family and friends and her faith.

I don't know about you, but I'm inspired by the acts of 'everyday heroes' who collect water from fire hydrants and schlepp plastic containers up 12, 16, 20 flights of stairs to elderly people, or who deliver hot meals to them, or provide flashlights and blankets and sweaters, or have food collections at parish halls or community centers and coordinate volunteers to deliver food to families in their apartments.

I expect churches to open their doors, providing warmth and companionship and food and an opportunity to recharge cell phones and lap tops to people. That's a given. That's the very least I expect from churches - to be the 'sanctuary' they claim to be. No one gets any 'brownie' points from me for doing the basic minimum requirements of what you claim to be all about in the first place.

And, I keep waiting to hear stories or see pictures of bishops, sleeves rolled up, handing out diapers or juice to inner city women who are stranded in their dark apartments or water and a hot meal to fragile elderly who are also cold and alone.

Nothing yet. I hope I'm not too terribly disappointed, but if bishops want their dioceses to be 'missional', I think they are going to have to be 'missional' bishops. Otherwise, there's just no integrity and what's the point of that?

What inspires me is when I hear about church people and clergy going out into neighborhoods and tend to people where they are.

At one church in Morristown, NJ, word of mouth has spread that the church has opened its doors to the community. Before anyone knew it, members of the church were coming to the church from their warm, safe homes, bringing food and blankets, some staying to cook and serve meals or occupy children with art projects, or just talk with those who are lonely or apprehensive.

One priest I know gathered up warm blankets and distributed them to parishioners and their neighbors, but then, she spent the night with one parishioner who was afraid and alone.

I can't imagine anything colder than being in a home or apartment without heat or electricity and being afraid and alone. Apparently, neither could this priest, so she did for her parishioner what she could only hope someone would do for her.

That, I think, is part of what it looks like to live into the words of Jesus in the Gospel lesson appointed for tomorrow (Mark 12:28-34):
One of the scribes came near and heard the Saducees disputing with one another, and seeing that Jesus answered them well, he asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Then the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that 'he is one, and besides him there is no other'; and 'to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,' and 'to love one's neighbor as oneself,'--this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." After that no one dared to ask him any question.
I don't think we are, any of us, far from the Realm of God when we meet people where they are and love them as we love ourselves.

Tomorrow is All Saints Sunday. Part of the focus of our worship together will be on the saints who have gone before us into heaven. That is a right and a good thing so to do. I plan to spend at least part of my worship time in community raising up and celebrating how the "saints of old" inspire and encourage the "saints of today".

The saints who have gone on to glory are with Jesus. They are dwelling, even now, in the Realm of God. Those saints who go forth and meet people where they are - just as Jesus did, and who love their neighbors as themselves - are not far from the Realm of God.

The lectionary also gives us a little snippet of the story from the Book of Ruth (1:1-18) which lays the foundation for thinking beyond blood ties and conventional definitions of family. Because of this story of love and compassion, we do not have to travel far to move from the exchange between Orpah and Ruth to understand Jesus' definition of 'neighbor'.

This is much more important to understand than anything else in scripture. Loving your neighbor means seeing everyone as your neighbor in Christ. You can only do that if you believe in the Incarnation - seeking and finding the Jesus in yourself so that you might seek and find Jesus in others.

And, when you believe in the Incarnation and be Jesus for the Jesus you see in others, then comes the possibility of Resurrection - new life, new birth, new hope, new faith - in simple acts of corporal works of mercy. Like a warm blanket. Or a hot plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Or a plastic bottle filled with water from a fire hydrant that someone has schlepped up 20 flights of stairs, just for you. Because they knew you couldn't do it for yourself. Because they know what it is to thirst.

When our youngest daughter was very young, one of her favorite hymns was one she called the "One, two song". It was "Saints of God" (Hymn 293).
They lived not only in ages past,
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea
in church or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me
And I mean to be one too.
Whenever the saints of God - just simple, ordinary folk like you and me - care for their neighbors as themselves, without limitations of geography, age, race, sexual orientation, gender, class status, income level, schooling, or any other demographic, the Realm of God comes very close.

Families, friend, faith and neighbors you never knew you had, everyone working outside their comfort zone to bring comfort to those in need.

That's an unbeatable combination that can overcome any crisis.

Even the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

The Rit. Rev'd Andy Dietsch
This is the Rt. Rev'd Andrew M. L. ("Andy") Dietsch, bishop of the Diocese of NY, who biked from his office in mid-town Manhattan all the way down to St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery to help with the food collection and distribution.

Let it not be said that there are no 'missional bishops' in The Episcopal Church.

The interesting thing about Andy Dietsch is that he knows from catastrophe and crisis.

He was first appointed Canon Pastor by his predecessor, Mark Sisk, right after 9/11.

If anyone knows the importance of being present where people are in times of crisis, it's this guy.

I take off my Canterbury cap to yer, sir!


Genette said...

Oh! Yes, the undocumented saints - these too must be included in whatever celebration and thanksgiving and remembrance there may be ... the ones silently doing, being, helping (reliquary optional, obviously) ... these make me smile.

J. Michael Povey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J. Michael Povey said...

I knew Andy in Western Mass. He is a faithful priest - the last one who I'd peg as a Bishop.

That's probably why he will be a super Bishop. He has no ambition. He has the heart of a servant Pastor.

Yeah Andy!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I love the story of the little boy who was looking at a stained glass window of the saints. When asked by one of the adults what he thought of these saints, he responded that he thought they were wonderful because they let the light into the church in different, beautiful colors. That, as we say in my business, will preach.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Michael, Andy seems to be doing a fine job. God bless him!