Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Other Such Things
Check out these helpful resources
Hurricanes, Tornadoes, and Other Such Things
Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Heads up. I’ve chosen to deviate from the scripture lesson this morning to speak to the news of the day.
I don’t do this often. The last time was September 16, 2001 – the Sunday after 9/11. But in the wake of the second hurricane to hit the coast this month, and with all the misinformation being bantered around in the name of God, I think it’s fair that I say a word from the perspective of the Reformed Faith.
The text I’ve chosen is from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. We’ll get to it in just a moment. First, I’d like to ask you to think back to where you were a month ago.
I was here in church on Sunday morning, of course. That night, I moderated the Session meeting. As I offered the closing prayer, someone added, “And, Lord, have mercy on the folks in New Orleans.” That seems like ages ago, what, with all the news coverage since then.
Hurricane Katrina hit in the wee hours of Monday morning. The devastation was far worse than we could’ve imagined. The death count is still rising.
Then came Rita this week. By Thursday it was a category five hurricane bearing down on Galveston. Images of 1900 came to mind, when another hurricane reduced the city to rubble and killed over 6,000 people.
We were told to brace for the worst. Millions heeded the warning only to create one of the biggest gridlocks in history. By Friday morning, all the emergency shelters around here were full, and people were being diverted elsewhere.
Thankfully, by the time it reached the coast, the storm lost its fury, and, from all reports, the damage is less than we feared. As for us, we didn’t even get a drop of rain.
Two hurricanes in a row. And, who knows? There may be more to come.
So, what’s going on here? In a word, nothing unusual. As a reporter on The Weather Channel explained – and I’m not making this up, “Well, you see, you have these polar caps on each end of the earth and the Equator in the middle, and, somehow, all this cold air at the top and warm air in the middle have to find a way to balance things out.”
Admittedly, it’s a simple explanation, but it’s the truth: Weather – even violent weather in rapid succession – is part of the equation. Without it we wouldn’t have rainfall and seasons and sunny days to be thankful for.
To say that storms and the destruction they cause are somehow related to God’s will and, more importantly, to God’s wrath, is simply not fair. In primitive days, yes. God was blamed for everything. It was a way of holding to the faith that God is sovereign over all creation, and that nothing happens unless it’s God’s will.
In this archaic way of thinking, we’ve heard people all month saying things like, “The people of New Orleans had it coming.” Or, “It was God’s way of stopping the gay rights parade.” The most ridiculous statement I’ve heard came in a newspaper article in which the writer said the radar image of Hurricane Katrina looked just like the sonogram of a fetus in the womb. So, guess what? It was all a way of God’s telling us that abortion is wrong.
Please, give me a break. This is not how we understand the nature of God. We believe God is on our side, and that God would never, ever do anything to harm us. Yes, New Orleans has its share of evil, but so do we. God didn’t single them out. As my friend, Matt Idom, said, “Do you think if God took aim at the French Quarter, he’d miss?”
Storms are a part of life. So are things like accidents and disease. And if they happen to come your way, you’re apt to suffer the consequences. Just because we trust God to watch over us doesn’t mean we’re immune. We live in a world fraught with danger of every sort.
So, where is God in all this? God is with us. What’s important is not that storms arise, but that we respond in faith and we work together to pick up the pieces.
And that’s the part that impresses me the most in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and now, already, for Hurricane Rita: People opening their hearts and their homes and their pocketbooks to help those who are displaced and distraught.
Sunday morning, September 4, when we first met our storm family from New Orleans, I acted on impulse and invited them to lunch at C.J.’s. I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it, but I felt sure God would provide. And he did. As I greeted those of you who go out the Narthex door, many of you discreetly placed money in my hand. Then an individual came up and said, “I’ll take care of lunch.” “But, I have money,” I said. “I’ve got it,” he said. So, that afternoon, Elaine Tjoelker and I visited the family at the motel where they were staying and gave them the money for incidentals. It was over $350.
And this is just a pixel in the big picture of it all. Money, food, water, clothing, household furnishings, help of every sort…this is how people of faith respond to a crisis – not by blaming God, but by trusting God to order and provide. I could not be more impressed and grateful for your generosity.
But it’s not all peaches and cream. I got an email this week with a devotional by Max Lucado, well-known writer and pastor of the Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio. He said that disasters like Katrina bring out the best and the worst in people. He writes:
“We see the most incredible servants and stories of selflessness and sacrifice. We see people of the projects rescuing their neighbors, we see civil servants risking their lives for people they’ve never seen…
“(We also see) looting and fighting (and hear) stories of rapes and robberies. Someone said, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God but the streets declare the sinfulness of man. The video footage in New Orleans has confirmed the truthfulness of that quote.
“We are people of both dignity and depravity. The hurricane blew back more than roofs; it blew the mask off the nature of humankind.
“The main problem in the world is not Mother Nature, but human nature…And when the Katrinas of life blow in, our true nature is revealed.”
Catastrophes bring out the best and the worst in us. The Good News is we have a choice: We can act selfishly and look out for Number One, or we can turn to God and let God use us as instruments of his peace and love.
The storms of life also remind us of what’s most important. Again, Max Lucado says,
“As you’ve listened to evacuees and survivors, have you noticed their words? No one laments a lost plasma television set or a submerged SUV. No one runs through the streets yelling, ‘My cordless drill is missing,’ or ‘My golf clubs have washed away.’ If they mourn, it is for people lost. If they rejoice, it is for people found.
“Could Jesus be reminding us that people matter more than possessions? In a land where we have more malls than high schools, more debt than credit, more clothes than we can wear, could Christ be saying: ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundances of his possessions’? (Luke 12:15)
“Raging hurricanes and broken levees have a way of prying our fingers off the stuff we love. What was once most precious now means little; what we once ignored is now of eternal significance.
“A friend and I attended a worship service at Antioch Baptist Church last Sunday night. Several African American Church leaders had organized an assembly to pray for the evacuees that ended up in San Antonio. Many of them sat on the front rows dressed in all the clothing they owned: T-shirts and jeans. Their faces were weary from the week. But when the music started and the worship began, they came to their feet and sang with tears in their eyes.
“They were rich. Are you that rich? If all your possessions were washed away, could you still worship? Would you still worship? If not, you are holding things too tightly. (Paul says to Timothy,)
“Charge those who are rich in this present world that they not be haughty,
nor have their hope set on the uncertainty of riches,
but on the living God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy;
that they do good, that they be rich in good works,
that they be ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come,
that they may lay hold of eternal life.”
(1 Timothy 6:17)
“Through Katrina, Christ tells us: Stuff doesn’t matter; people do.”
Two final thoughts before we close. One, I was on my prayer walk around the neighborhood early Thursday morning. There wasn’t a hint of a breeze. “The calm before the storm,” I thought to myself. It was surreal: Even with all the warnings on TV, radio and in the newspaper that a category five hurricane was coming our way, I still found it hard to believe. “But it’s so nice today!”
I suppose that’s human nature. We’re all Missourians at heart – like Thomas: “Show me. I won’t believe it until I see for myself.” The problem is, too often by the time the storm gets here, it’s too late.
Whether we believe it or not, we need to heed the warning: Be prepared. The Day of Judgment comes as a thief in the night. Live today so that, if this happens to be your last day, you’ll be prepared for the journey, and you won’t have any regrets.
And a final thought: Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Whatever happens, God is with us. God’s grace is sufficient for all of our needs.
I was visiting with a woman Thursday morning. She said she didn’t know what to do. She lived in a mobile home, and she was afraid if the wind got too high it was going to blow her away. I agreed. That would be a distinct possibility. She wanted to leave and seek shelter, but she didn’t know what to do with all of her dogs and cats. Clearly, she was stressed out.
So were a lot of other people, not all of them living in mobile homes. You may have been one of them. One of my neighbors left at six o’clock in the morning to beat the lines at the filling station. She came back with a full tank of gas. I asked her if she was planning to take a trip. She said, “No, it’s just that, with all the hype, I felt like I needed to do something.”
Granted, when storms come up, there are lots of things to think about and lots of things to do to be prepared. But there’s no sense worrying about it. In the end, worrying won’t change a thing, except give you high blood pressure and ulcers and more gray hair. Jesus said, and this is the text for today:
“Don’t be anxious for your life….
Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow,
neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.
Your heavenly Father feeds them.
Aren’t you of much more value than they?
Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan?…
Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’
or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’
For the Gentiles seek after all these things;
for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness;
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Well, Hurricane Rita has come and gone. It wasn’t the first storm to come our way. Nor will it be the last. Next time a storm approaches, let’s be among those who encourage others to look to God…
• For courage to weather the storm,
• For grace to work together to repair the damage.
• And for hope to know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2008, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.