Hurricane Harvey and the Gospel

Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost – September 3, 2017 – A

Exodus 3: 1-15;  Romans 12:9-21;  Matthew 16: 21-28

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  These are the words you just heard but you have seen this lived out all week.  The reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans was perfect for today.  “Let love be genuine.  Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.” 

I could just end right there.  So many of us jumped into action in one way or another to save lives, rescue people and help show hospitality to strangers.  My sister got married when I was 10 years old on Saturday, June 29, 1957, two days after Hurricane Audrey hit.  It was supposed to be a garden wedding.  I took a bath in Prien Lake sitting on a plastic float before the wedding with a bar of Ivory soap because it floated.  We were thankful that everyone in our family survived.  We had no power or water.  That was my first experience with a massive hurricane.  Since then, I have been through many other storms – some weather related, others life-related.  I have weathered them because of my steadfast faith.  That faith was bolstered by the great role models along the way to show me how not to “lag in zeal, to be ardent in spirit, and serve our Lord.”  I think when we have a crisis the magnitude of the one we have faced this week and which will continue to go on as people try to get their homes dried out, it gives us the opportunity to put everything aside and be the hands and feet of Christ to others.  We are setting our minds, not on our own needs, but those of others.

When I went to the Civic Center to pray and volunteer I saw so many people responding.  The cases of water were stacked about 20 feet high.  There was a hot meal prepared by volunteers, served by volunteers.  There were hot dogs and hamburgers with chicken gumbo coming a bit later in the evening.  The children’s tables had books, coloring books, toys, and stuffed animals.  Volunteers were to keep the donations sorted so that a family in need could go right to the specific area to get what they needed.  A volunteer would be there to help them.  The first two people I stopped to talk with were from Iowa.  That really brought it home to me as two of my sons, daughters in laws and all of my grandchildren live in Iowa.  Neighbors helping neighbors.

You saw people with nothing, not even a little bag.  They were just sitting or lying down on a cot which had a blanket and pillow.  Most had no emotion, their faces told it all.  They were too tired to get over to the tables to get a book to read to their children; too tired to eat; too old to move.  I had let myself forget and put away the memories of working with the evacuees during Katrina.  When that happens the hands and feet of Christ must step up to fill the gap.  Reassuring hugs and prayers helped.  Holding a baby for a half hour or so, to give that mother a break she so desperately needed was so important.

Then I was able to help in the rescue efforts with my boat.  Thursday, before the storm, I knew I had to get my boat out of the water as I live on a bayou.  My very old trailer, which I only use before a storm, had rusted almost through.  I probably could have used it one more time, but something inside said, “Just go ahead and buy a new trailer.” I listened to what I now realize was the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Ten minutes before the store closed as the storm came in, I was able to buy a trailer and with the help of Lewis, my 4-year-old grandson and two of my sons, we took the boat around to the park in the rain to get it out of harm’s way.  Don took it to his home in Iowa.  When we started hearing about the people in Port Arthur, Bridge City , and Vidor who desperately needed rescuing, Don and my older grandsons were able to hitch up my boat and join the Cajun Navy.  I only have three pictures of their efforts, but one family they rescued was a multi-generational Muslim family of 10 people.  The hardly fit in the boat.  My boys had to walk along in waist deep water guiding the boat back toward the road where they launched.  They then had to get them to the church for safety.  The family all did not fit in the truck so my boys and some family members had to sit on the floor of the boat which was now on the trailer, while they worked their way about 5 – 10 miles an hour to the church which was serving as a make shift shelter.  Think back to our reading from Romans…. “in harmony with one another.  So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” 

One amazing difference from Hurricane Audrey to now, besides forecasting, is the difference cell phones, APPs and social media have played.  There is a lady whose home flooded in Baton Rouge last fall who wanted to help in some way.  She simply started with social media and posted a message that if there was anyone who needed rescuing or someone who could volunteer to help rescue, “Please reply.”  A lady in Texas was the first to reply and she needed rescuing and a boat owner also trying to help replied.  She dispatched the boat owner to rescue her.  From that one post, she has helped three legal pages of people who replied either needing help wanting to offer help.  The Cajun Navy and the other groups rescuing use an APP called ZELLO.  It acts just like a Walkie Talkie.  There are some who act like dispatchers and others who are calling in to get the addresses of those needing help.  Facebook posts let us know in real time exactly what supplies are needed and where.  It was just as important to know when a shelter was no longer accepting various things.

Back to the gospel…. Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.  Then he told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

That is what everyone has done this week by volunteering to bring supplies or help with the rescue efforts.  They have given up their normal lives to help others, complete strangers.  There is more to do.  We cannot get complacent in our own lives.  We must help in any way we can.  Then the gospel will be fulfilled in us as we have heard these words, “for the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.”

If there is anyone that you know who needs help of any kind, please let us know.  We want to respond. The St. Andrew’s Cajun Army has assets staged and ready.  We just need to receive the call.  This week continue to be the hands and feet of Christ.  Let us take up our crosses and follow Jesus.  AMEN.