You know how they say that God laughs at the plans we make? I don’t think that is true, but since God is the supreme improviser, able to make good out of anything we throw at God, being able to sense the need for flexibility in our own lives is a gift of the Spirit.
So it was this week. I was all set to bring a word to you all about Paul’s graciousness in allowing Christians of different flavors to worship and think as they will, according to their own culture and understandings, out of Romans 14.
Then it wouldn’t stop raining. And then the waters began to rise. Then my thought about Sept. 11, 2001 became a little more focused, and I realized that something needed to be said, more than the pro-forma observance I had planned. I currently have a house full of M. Div Degrees, with my friend Alison staying with us, and her friends Elizabeth and Ray getting stopped here on their way to Owego. Elizabeth is due to be ordained in the Presbyterian church today, but with the flooding it will not be at her home church, it is now in Ithaca. I had planned on a wonderful round table discussion about how to acknowledge such a confluence of difficult moments, both current and in memory.
Then my stomach started hurting.
So, laying in bed, my stomach rumbly and sharp, thinking about my pain and the pain of all the people who had been flooded, an the remembered pain of that day ten years ago, I began to ask God what the answer was. I have many friends who were evacuated out of the Valley, as we all did. Tunkhannock, Meshoppen, Noxen and other areas along the river and the feeder creeks were also very hard hit, and the roads are in some case, still impassible. Andrew had to come home from Dickson City by way of Pittsburgh, it seemed.
What word is there to give to the people of God as we pass through these simultaneous misfortunes? What could I possibly say with the voice of the God of love?
The same things that have been said to the people of God in every time in place since they were written, three thousand years ago. The Psalms.
Specifically, Psalm 77. It has a word for us today. Yes, now is the time for us to gather our resources, of food and excess clothing and send them into the fray of recovery. Yes, now is the time to take up work gloves, hammers and bottles of bleach, and renew, fix, and wash the houses and property of our neighbors. Opportunity will be plentiful soon. But first we must think about how to cure ourselves of our own paralysis in the face of such large problems.
First we must place ourselves, dip ourselves, throw ourselves into the healing stream of memory, and remember that we’ve seen this before, we’ve dealt with this before, and God most certainly does know that we know how to do it!
The author of the psalm lays on his bed, also remembering the bad things, the times when it seemed God was far away. But then the author remembers that the times when that feeling was strong, it was always temporary. The author remembers those times when God did appear, and then wonders were worked, God’s power was shown, and the situation was put into its proper perspective, as well as our place in it.
And when the time came to be led by God, it was not God who led, but the people who could hear God the best, who led the way forward, who were God’s feet, hands, mind and heart. It was not God’s footprints in the floor of the Red sea, it was Moses and Aaron’s.
September 11 was ten years ago. It is fitting to be reminded of the events, but it is also fitting to be reminded of the mistakes we made, the prejudice against Arab-Americans that was not justified and caused even more pain where it was not needed, and perhaps most of us have realized that even the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. It is also good of us to remember the responsibility we now have to help Afghanistan toward a peaceful co-existence, cleaning up the mess we started there. And in God we can find our footsteps deep in the mud of a red sea of our own, bringing peace where we had brought war.
This has now been called the worst flood on record. The gauges that were broken by the waters hid that face from us for a while, but now we know. And what is the response of the people of God? What then will we do? How will we put our feet into the fresh mud of that river so recently receding, and have those footprints be God’s?
Opportunities will be offered over the next few weeks. For now, I ask that everyone go home today and go through their closets, and pull out all of the clothes that are in good repair, and that you don’t wear much. Business suits, women’s work suits, as well as the clothes your kids have outgrown. Wash them, and bring them down to the church this week, I’ll make sure that they get to the proper hands.
Also, I am sending around a list, and if you are willing to work on a cleaning crew, put your name, home phone number, and if you have one, an e-mail and a cell phone number, and also let me know if you text. Doesn’t matter when you are free, just if you are willing.
Let us put our feet in the mud of this receding river, and have those footprints, like Moses and Aaron in the Red Sea, have those footprints be those of God.