Matthew 21:23-32

In Response to Hurricane Ike

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Matthew 21:23-32

In Response to Hurricane Ike

The Rev. John Bedingfield


In the name of the God of all creation, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

What are you afraid of? Are you scared of spiders, … snakes perhaps? Are you afraid that you’ll not do well on your next test, or on the next assignment from your boss, or that you won’t meet payroll this month? Maybe it’s a different kind of test you’re afraid of. Maybe you’ve gotten medical test results that frighten you. Or … perhaps we should go a little nearer in time and closer to home, are you afraid of storms (hurricanes i n particular) of what they can do to you – your house – your property? Most people are really afraid of one thing more than any other – and that thing is change.

We all want things to be the way they are. Even if things are not great right now, we know what we haveand we’ve learned how to deal with it. Change means things might get worse and we don’t want that.And change means having to deal with things that are different than what we’ve become accustomed to.

We’re really afraid of – and resentful toward – change that is thrust upon us, change that we didn’t ask for and don’t particularly like the thought of. Hurricane Ike was a great example of coming and unwanted change. Out in the Gulf, we didn’t know where Ike was going exactly. Its course was subject to change without our input. Silsbee, Lumberton, and Beaumont were spared much of Ike’s devastation because it didn’t change at the last minute and center on us. But some communities have been drastically and forever changed by being in Ike’s path. The winds, the rain, the storm surge all brought change to thousands of people; change they never sought and in many cases were completely unprepared to deal with.

An interesting thing about God is that change is always a part of the program and we typically don’t have any input at all as to what that change might look like. The chief priest and elders in today’s Gospel lesson weren’t bad people; it’s just that Jesus didn’t look like what they thought Messiah would be. To accept Jesus as he was would require them to change their very core beliefs, without any input or preparation, and that was change they definitely did not want. They wanted a messiah who would come in the mold of King David – strong, brave, resolute and following to the letter the Law of Moses. Instead, they got someone who threatened to change everything about their faith.

David, the boy-king had been the bravest of the brave. He killed lions and bears with his hands when he was just a boy, tending his father’s flocks (1 Sam 17:34-35). He never backed down from anything, including a giant, especially if he believed God was on his side – and David always believed God was on his side.

Jesus was not King David. He wasn’t interested in the glory given a king, nor in fighting with anyone, not even in the name of God. He healed people on the Sabbath (clearly against the teachings of Torah); He interacted with women the same as He did with men (David’s idea of interacting with women was a little different than that); He touched lepers (which never would’ve crossed David’s mind in a million years). And worst of all, whereas David was the epitome of the kings the rabbis read about in the scriptures, Jesus didn’t even teach from the Torah, He told stories and parables and talked about new commandments and covenants – He even said that the Kingdom of heaven was near (very unDavid-like). But nothing was as different from David as Jesus’ promise to die at the hands of the authorities and then rise from the dead again. Kings and messiahs cannot be killed by their enemies – at least in the minds of the Jewish leaders of the day; and rising from the dead was just ridiculous.

Jesus’ presence on earth brought change – change that the elders didn’t want, and change that we sometimes want just as little. But that is the one constant thing about God’s interaction with humanity, italways brings change.

This week, I went to the diocesan office to have lunch with the bishops and clergy from the hurricane affected areas outside Houston. Trinity Church, Galveston, the second oldest church i n the diocese, has water in the nave of the church, and among other things, their famous tiffany window has a four foot piece broken out. Along with those problems, their school and parish hall buildings were completely under water, including most of their parish records. St. John’s in LaPort doesn’t have any damage to the church building, but 40 families i n the parish have had their homes totally destroyed. I walked out of the meeting feeling like the man with no shoes who had just met the man with no feet.

But just because we did not lose our church buildings – just because most of the people in this parish avoided truly catastrophic losses to their homes (even though I’m sorry to say that everyone didn’t avoid house losses) – that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been faced with change as a result of this storm. We’ve had disruptions to our lives, many of which necessitate that we now do things differently. Many people here had stretched already tight budgets to fund an evacuation for Gustav. Now they’ve had to evacuate again – and the expenses keep mounting. Businesses have had interruptions, employees have lost paychecks, incomes (both business and personal) have been interrupted and that has a ripple effect that changes everything about the way business is done. Even if we were spared the loss of life and home that some others are suffering through, we have been changed by I ke. And it’s OK to resent that.

Being angry, or at least a little miffed, with God after an event like Ike is a perfectly natural thing. Just as natural as feeling guilty if we haven’t been catastrophically hit. Tell God that you’re mad, or you feel guilty. God’s a big boy, He can handle your displeasure. And God also knows something that we mayknow, but sometimes forget.

What comes out of change is newness. An acorn falls from a tree and it is changed. No longer is it fed by the nourishing limb on which it hung. But as it is covered with earth, it continues to change – from acorn to oak tree. That change though, cannot come without the acorn undergoing the painful process in which it cracks, splits open and ceases to be what it was before. Something new and wonderful grows out of an unpleasant event. The same thing can happen with we higher life forms.

In the last book of the Bible, the Revelation of St. John, the author speaks of seeing a new heaven and a New Jerusalem. He says that in the new heaven he sees a great throne and hears a voice speaking to hi m. Here’s what St. John tells us,

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children….” (Revelation 21:3-7 NRSV)

Contrary to what the “end times” churches would have you believe, the Book of Revelation is a book of hope. God knows that there is change. Change comes at us all the time, in ways expected and unexpected, pleasant and unpleasant. But out of every change comes something new – something we can grasp onto and explore to find out what God has put in our midst this time. And when we see the things around us passing away – ceasing to be what they’ve always been – God says, “See, I am making all things new.” God, the alpha and omega promises that through all the change and the coming of the newness, God will be our God and we will be God’s people, and the water of life will always be here for us.

I’d like to close this morning with a prayer I read this week by a man named Roger Lovett. Let us pray.

Lord of the old and the new, help us not to make the same mistakes as the scribes and Pharisees in every age have made. When you did not come in expected ways, when you did not speak in a predictable voice, when you did not fit into their well-managed categories they could not believe you were there.

We do not want to turn away as they did. But we find ourselves making the same miscalculations and thinking you will only come to us i n the familiar. Open our eyes this day to the wonders of a new heaven and a new earth. Open our hearts this Sunday to the fresh challenges you still have i n store for all your children. A nd when we are tempted to turn away i n unbelief, help us to see the graces not yet revealed that we might once again be lost in wonder, love and praise. Amen.

Copyright 2008, John Bedingfield. Used by permission.