August 4, 2016 – #PrayforEC Prayer Service and Vigil
Where is God?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
The members of Emory UMC know this, but I will share with our guests here this evening - that the very last time I stood up in this pulpit (July 24), I shared with the congregation then that I thought it was very important for us to find a way to have some sort of organized prayer activity (outside of the Sunday worship service) as a part of our normal church life. I asked the congregation to please, please pray for Divine Guidance as to how we might make this happen in the near future.
On Monday, as a couple of us were moving some soggy furniture around in our flood-damaged Education building - one of the “very helpful” (and very helpful is in quotation marks here) – one of the very helpful men there at that time pointed out that the horrific flood of Ellicott City presented us with a unique opportunity to act on the suggestion I just made recently of an “organized prayer activity” from the pulpit.
When I got finished glaring in his direction, I realized that he was absolutely correct – and so here we are – we are all gathered here this evening to try to come to grips with the sense of terrible loss the community is feeling and also trying to offer our solace and support – and most importantly - to reach out to God – as a church and as a community – and to ask for His help.
The families of Jessica Watsula and Joseph Blevins are dealing with the terribly tragic loss of young lives. Homes have been damaged – some beyond repair, I would imagine. Businesses and jobs have been lost – relationships have been altered – changed in ways we are uncomfortable with.
Many, many folks are shocked and grieving this evening.
And we are left to ask – where is God in all of this?
Here we have people that were trying their best day by day to keep their businesses running in a still shaky economy – or people doing their jobs – why did this have to happen to them? Were they doing something that offended God?
How about the homeowners? They have lost valuable property and possessions. What did they do to bring this on themselves?
Don’t we sometimes think like that? We read about earthquakes in Haiti. Could this be a form of Divine Retribution for the practice of voodoo? You can hear that said – you can. If you listen to the wrong people.
Me? I prefer to rely on the sentiments of the prayer in our Call to Worship from this evening – please dear Lord, “keep us from calling disaster your justice.”
I used to be a Sunday school teacher – teenage boys – I know, I know - believe me I know – some Sundays I felt like a lion tamer. I used to alternate months with another gentleman. One year this gentleman made the boys memorize Psalm 46 – and it has since become one of my favorites. It reads in part:
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
God is here to help us in our times of trouble – God is our refuge and strength. Fear not!
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge”
My family all knows my favorite Bible passage – it is from the First Book of Kings and it is the part where Elijah is told to go up on the mountain of Horeb and wait for God. I made the very same teenage boy Sunday school students memorize this section. The New King James version of 1 Kings 19:11 goes like this: “11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13 So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
And so we learn that God was not in the great and strong wind that tore the mountain to pieces, and God was not in the earthquake, and God was not in the fire.
I am pretty sure that God was not in the flood last Saturday evening either. I don’t believe that the God of Jacob - who gave his only begotten son’s life in atonement for our sins – not the corporate “sins of humanity” but rather your sins – and my sins – I don’t believe that God works in that way.
Well, where was God – you might ask? In the Old Testament tale of Elijah, God was present in the “still, small voice” that spoke to Elijah. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
I would ask you - what are you all doing here this evening? What are you looking for?
Last Saturday evening, I believe that God was present in Ellicott City. But I believe He was present in the heart of Jason – who we all watched rescue that lady from the rushing floodwaters. I believe the Holy Spirit of God was with those first responders who risked life and limb helping many other folks to safety that evening. I believe God was with our own Jean Reed as the water rose up to her knees as she sat in her stalled car as she and her husband Bobby tried to get to safety – and Jean told us that she wasn’t afraid. And she told us with a straight face.
I believe God is with the volunteers who are lined up and ready to start shoveling and cleaning up and then restoring when they get the go-ahead. When they hear it is safe to begin.
Where is God now in all of this?
Matthew 18:20 gives us some guidance: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” We have a couple more than two or three here this evening.
Where is God? God is with us. Jesus says so. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” God is here with us this evening to hear our prayers. In just a minute or two, you all will have the opportunity to ask (quite publicly) for God to intercede for your petitions – and we can be certain that God will hear us – He will listen to our prayers.
I have been the pastor here at Emory UMC for just a little over a year now, and I have learned one thing – the members of this little congregation have a tremendous love for this community. The free will offering this evening dedicated to the victims of the flood is an expression of that love. This church has been standing on top of that big rock on Main St. for almost 179 years now. I am here to share with you that this church is here for the community of Ellicott City for the long haul.
We share in your grief and we share in your loss – and we share in your commitment to restoring what the flood took away. The property – the businesses – the jobs – the relationships. There is obviously a long path to recovery. Emory UMC is here to share spiritual help to all who seek it here – for the long journey.
We are also thankfully not alone in wanting to share spiritual help. There are many members of the clergy here this evening willing to stay and pray with you all after this service. They are anxious to help this evening – and they are willing to help in the weeks and months ahead as Ellicott City digs its way out and starts to rebuild.
Where is God?
God is present in the folks willing to help. His Holy Spirit motivates us toward a greater good. Jesus promised not to leave us orphaned (John 14:18 – young Sam read that earlier if you recall). Jesus has left his Spirit and His peace with us. We just need to learn how to find it in the faces of those we meet – in the outreach and kindness of friends and strangers.
The Holy Spirit is with us tonight – and always - to teach us what we need to know. Learning to listen for His voice and learning to ask for His help – that part - is up to us. Amen.