Written just after the earthquake in Haiti
So, as everyone knows, there was an earthquake in Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead, thousands and thousands of people buried alive awaiting rescue, and nearly everyone else scrambling for basics”water, food, shelter. It was a tragic event. No one can deny the severity of such a tragedy.
In the midst of this horrific tragedy, there is one bright spot, one tiny glimmer of hope. The entire world appears to have rallied behind Haiti, and is doing all that it can to assist the survivors, so that they continue to survive. Because without the intervention of others, the unimaginable numbers of those who died in the actual earthquake would only be the beginning. The lack of necessities like food and water, medical treatment, shelter, sanitation, as well as the inability to deal with the dead lying around them, rotting and unleashing disease, would cause thousands and thousands of deaths in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.
It’s so strange to think that an event that only lasted less than a minute can have such a devastating effect on an entire population that can last for years, or even decades. One tiny event, brief, unexpected, capricious, and everything is turned upside down. In an instant, everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same again. And it’s hard to see how anyone involved will ever get over what has happened.
These events can be global, national, social, communal… or they can be personal. We have all had those moments in our lives. Something occurred, and our whole life changed. A piece of news, a death, a relationship ends, a job is lost, it doesn’t matter what it was, we have all faced the big events in our lives, the mental or emotional or the spiritual earthquake that shook us to our very foundations, making us realize that our lives, and ourselves, will never be the same. It is terrifying and tragic and so, so very sad. And if you haven’t had that experience yet, I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you, but you will. Sooner or later, your whole world will be shaken and the structures and patterns and routines that you depend on for normalcy will be leveled, and you will find yourself begging for something so basic, so ordinary, so mundane and trivial, learning in that moment that nothing, NOTHING is trivial, and that we should be grateful for such stupidly small and insignificant things, because in the end, it’s those small and insignificant things that make us who we are. Those things that are so important, and yet seem so trivial, that we don’t even notice them anymore. Those are what we miss in those moments.
In that moment, we learn the true essence of tragedy. We learn that the tragedy isn’t that something bad happened to us. The tragedy is that we had so much and never knew it, never acknowledged it, never appreciated it, and then we lost it, knowing we’ll never, ever, ever get it back. The tragedy is that we have to lose what we have before we appreciate it. The tragedy is that, under normal circumstances, we aren’t grateful for any part of our lives. We live out our day to day existence bitter and angry and miserable. We focus all our attention and concern on what our lives aren’t, instead of what our lives are. So we are always restless, irritable, and discontent, always searching for that magic fix, that silver bullet, that thing or idea or relationship or job or whatever that will make us happy. And when we find it, we discover it only makes us more miserable because we spent so much time and effort, and we have so much emotionally invested, and it turns out to be just one more disappointment. And that, is tragic! Because the answer to all our problems is not finding out what our lives are not and then trying to acquire it; it is the simple appreciation of what our lives are. That is the magic fix! That is the silver bullet! Being grateful for what you have, now, at this moment! Thanking God for all the stupid little things in your life, because it is those stupid little things that make your life bearable. Thank God for the nagging wife, the lazy husband, the smart-mouthed kids, the unpredictable friends, the drafty house, the piece of crap car, the paper that lands in the yard and not on the porch, barking dog, same old dinner, the same old place, the same old thing”because I guarantee you, a time will come when you will miss them all. And you will give anything to get it back when it’s gone, and gone forever”even the nagging and the back talk.
And there is something tragic about even the one bright spot that occurs in such horrific events. Yes, it is so wonderful that the whole world has come to the aid of poor little Haiti. The whole world is behind the people of Haiti, and that’s great. It’s super. But it is tragic, that it takes so much suffering, so much human misery, so much devastation, before we find the basic level of compassion to help another human being. It is just so very sad that people have to suffer so much before we find the basic humanity to care.
As tragic as it is that so many people died in something so random and pointless, and as tragic as it is that so many people are displaced without food or water or shelter, and as tragic as it is that the ground is literally littered with the bodies of the dead, and as tragic as it is that there are thousands of people buried alive, struggling, begging, to cling to life until they are found, THE MOST TRAGIC THING OF ALL IS THAT IT TAKES THESE THINGS BEFORE WE EVEN BEGIN TO CARE! That is tragic enough when it is true about people in general, but it is devastatingly tragic when it is true about Christians.
Yes, of course I am proud of the human response and the Christian response to such tragedy. But I am saddened that this is the exception and not the norm. I am saddened that among Christians, we aren’t doing this every day, for every one, earthquake or no earthquake, tsunami or no tsunami, tragic event or no tragic event! This, right now, what we are doing for Haiti, right now, is what Christians are called to do each and every day. And it is so tragic that we don’t.
If the world only behaved this way, everywhere, each and every day, this world would be so much closer to resembling the Kingdom of God. If Christians alone would behave this way, everywhere, each and every day, the world would be so much better, and what we preach would be so much more believable and relevant.
The tragedy is that Christians are not the tiny bit of yeast that leavens the whole batch of dough, making the whole batch of dough rise. The tragedy is that Christians, even while maintaining ourselves as something distinct from the world, serve the world. We are like walnuts in a brownie. We may be somewhat distinct from the brownie. We may even make the brownie taste a little better. But we have no effect on the brownie”the brownie would still be a brownie with or without us.
Time is running out, brothers and sisters! The Kingdom of God is at hand! It’s getting closer and closer all the time! God does not require us to only be Christian in rare circumstances in the midst of tragedy; God demands that this is our way of life!
Jesus said to his students, “If anyone wants to follow me, then he has to abandon his own wants! He has to pick up his cross and follow where I lead him! Anyone who wants to protect his life will lose it! Anyone who gives up his life for me will live again! What has a person gained if he takes over the world, but loses his soul in the process? What can he offer to buy back his soul once he loses it? The Son of Man is determined to come back with his Father’s grandeur, along with his angels. Then he will reward each person for what he did!”
If we aren’t willing to live this way, if we aren’t even willing to be willing to live this way, then we can call ourselves whatever we want (it’s our right) but we won’t be living and doing the will of the Father in heaven, and we have lost our souls to gain a world”a world that doesn’t even want us. And if that’s the case, we can call Jesus “Lord” all we want, it won’t do us a bit of good because
“Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants him to do. There will be a lot of people who’ll say to me on Judgement Day, ‘Lord, didn’t we preach in your name? Wasn’t it your name we invoked when we performed exorcisms? Didn’t we put on public spectacles in your honor?’
“And I’ll say to those people, ‘To be honest, I’m drawing a blank. I’ve absolutely no idea who any of you are. Leave me alone! It sounds to me like all of you just like to make a commotion!’”
I hadn’t intended to say any of that. I was planning on addressing the comments made this week by a certain Christian minister with a large television audience. The Gospel reading this morning was chosen as a response to his statement. He took it upon himself to blame the victims of Haiti for the tragedy they are experiencing. When faced with the news of such horrendous calamity, his response as a “Man of God” was to dust off some old urban legend about Haiti and blame the people for their problems.
It is an ancient solution to blame people for their misfortunes. The Book of Job is a long book that is essentially Job’s friends blaming him for the tragic events in his life. Job, who had it so good and who lost everything, must have done something wrong to cause his great reversal of fortune. That is the mind set. And that mind set is still alive and well as we have seen this week. And that is tragic.
Jesus addressed this issue twice in the Gospels. In John’s Gospel it says:
While Jesus was passing by, he saw a man who was blind from birth. The students asked him saying, “Rabbi, who did something wrong that caused him to be blind? Was it him or his parents?”
Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents did anything wrong. He was born blind so that what God is doing could be made known through him.”
And he addressed this in Luke’s Gospel, which is the Gospel reading this morning:
It was about that time that some people told Jesus about some Galileans that Pilate had executed while they were in the act of offering sacrifices in the Temple. Jesus replied to them, “Do all of you suppose that those people were worse off than the other people from Galilee because of what happened to them? Heck no! But I’m telling all of you that if you don’t change the way you think about the world, then all of you will be destroyed just as they were! Those eighteen people who died when a tower fell on them in Siloam, do all of you suppose that they were guiltier than anybody else who lived in Jerusalem at the time? Heck no! But I’m telling all of you that unless you change the way you think about the world, you’ll end up just like them!”
Jesus says clearly, twice, that bad things can happen to people without people having done something wrong. It is not for us, as humans or as Christians, to look for ways to blame people for their misfortunes. We aren’t to qualify our assistance, or justify their misfortune. If we justify the misfortunes that others experience, then we close ourselves off from the compassion that is required of us. We close ourselves off from the grace that we experience in such moments. We cut ourselves off from the grace that can be extended to others. And most importantly, we cut ourselves off from being God’s agents in the world. Because God works in this world through our hands, and if we tie them, then we restrain God’s activity in the world. And what God is doing in the world will not be known, because we, ourselves, have silenced it.
I keep hearing a certain type of Christian on television saying that there is a “war on Christianity” and a “war on Christmas” and whatever. But there is no war! The non-Christian world is merely looking at us, and seeing how we behave and talk and they are accommodating us. THERE CAN BE NO WAR WHEN WE HAVE ALREADY SURRENDERED! Don’t blame the rest of the world for not honoring Christianity; blame Christians for not living as Christians”and I’m not talking about homosexuality or marriage or abortion or liberal or conservative or anything else. When I say we are not living as Christians, I mean that we are not living with the gratitude to God that forces us to rush to the aid of another suffering human being, regardless of what form that suffering takes, whether it is poverty, sickness, homelessness, despair, depression, addiction, or just a simple little scraped knee. I don’t want to hear anything about homosexuality, or abortion, or anything else until we can at least do that much! Until we can at least be filled with that much love and compassion and live in a way where we make our own wants and needs secondary to those around us, until our wants and needs reflect the wants and needs of others. If we don’t at least do that much, then we don’t have the right, or the credibility, to talk about anything else! And we certainly don’t know the love of God; we only know the hate of the world.
“Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants him to do.”