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Michael B. Brown: Raging winds and rising waters
Even after Hurricane Sandy left everyone feeling bruised and battered, the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, reassured his congregation that Christ is always with us in the storm.
November 20, 2012 | Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. This sermon was preached at Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, on Nov. 4, 2012, the first Sunday after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the East Coast. A video of this sermon is on the church's website.
A week ago, we thought we would be listening to Dr. Anna Carter Florence right now, preaching a stirring sermon for All Saints’ Sunday. However, last Sunday we did not know that we would experience a crisis of unprecedented proportion this week. So today it made more sense for us to gather as family. We can entertain guests later. For today, however, we need to be together as family -- to process, and pray, and just love one another.
I’m not going to recount what you already know -- what you have seen on TV, read in the news or lived through. We have all witnessed the Jersey Shore that was washed away, the fires in Breezy Point, the waters filling our subways and PATH, the homes destroyed on Staten Island and Long Island, the businesses swallowed up at Coney Island and Battery Park, the dangling crane, the fears, the tears, the enormity of it all.
But, as your pastor, I want to make four simple observations this morning.
Admittedly, for a while Monday night, it felt like the storm would win. The disciples felt the same way in our morning lesson. They thought they were going to die: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” They thought the storm would kill them -- but it didn’t. And it didn’t kill us, either. Marble Collegiate Church is still standing here, as it has on this corner since 1854. And you and I are still sitting inside it, a little the worse for wear, but present and alive.
[New York] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg was correct when he observed that this storm was the strongest we’ve ever seen in this city, but New Yorkers are stronger than the hurricane was! And the same can be said, of course, of our neighbors in Connecticut and New Jersey, and as far south as the West Virginia mountains and the Carolina shores.
You folks lived through 9/11. You will live through a hurricane. And whatever other storms our city faces in the future -- or our church, or we as individuals -- you somehow will be given sufficient strength to endure.
Recently, my wife and I were in the second-worst airline flight I have ever experienced. Our plane was bounced around like a basketball. During one of the rockiest moments, Page reached over and grasped my arm (with sufficient strength to cut off anyone’s circulation) and said, “I cannot do this!” I understood her anxiety. But the truth is, at 35,000 feet, I couldn’t come up with another option. Some things we go through simply because there is no way to go around them.
But “through” is a terribly important word. No tragedy is forever. It may not be pleasant or desired, and there are aftereffects that can be painful. But the words attributed to King David are crucial: “Yea, though I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Sooner or later, we do get through. No matter how desperate the storm on the Sea of Galilee seemed, the disciples survived. And this week, so did we.
Valuable lessons will be learned from this experience.
In one of his press conferences, [New York] Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo said, “It seems like now we have the storm of the century every two years!” Then he added, “But as the global climate changes, we will learn to change with it so as to be prepared and protected.” He was saying that we will learn lessons from this experience. In fact, we already have.
For example, despite the fact that we are a coastal city, flooding has never been a huge issue here. So up till now, backup generators have always been placed in basements. However, now that we know that floods are and will be an issue, builders and engineers will put backup generators above flood levels so that hospitals will not have to evacuate again.
We will learn from this. Architects and builders will learn. Transportation and communication personnel will learn. The public will learn that when government officials say we need to evacuate, they know what they’re talking about. Thus, lives will be saved next time around.
One of the valuable lessons we learned is something we already knew, but this storm reminded us. [New Jersey] Gov. [Chris] Christie said it in a news conference: “There is a time for sorrow, and that time is now. But that time is not forever. Our sorrow will not displace our resilience!”
You folks are made of tough stuff. Bruised? Yes. Battered? To be sure. But when the waters receded, you were still standing. “Our sorrow will not displace our resilience!” Valuable lessons will be learned, and have been learned, from this experience.
Nature’s worst revealed humanity’s best.
It always does. In our four years together, I have witnessed you stand up and step forward in generous and loving ways for the people of Haiti, the people of Japan, the people of Prattsville, the hungry children in Somalia -- the list goes on and on.
Today, in a special offering, you will do so again for our neighbors in the tri-state area. But isn’t it inspiring to realize that just as you have stood up and stepped forward for others, today others all across the country are standing up and stepping forward for us?
Our mayor and our governor told stories of the bravery of first responders who walked into the teeth of the storm to rescue people, risking their lives for others whose lives were at risk. Offers have come in from all over the nation -- as far away as Texas and California -- from power companies, ambulance providers, Red Cross volunteers. Federal and local elected officials have stepped up to the plate, putting partisan politics behind them and joining hearts and hands to help people.
The general secretary of our denomination sent out an email to church members from coast to coast while the winds were raging and the waves were rising, asking people to pray for us and promising that Church World Service would be there to help those who suffered losses. Nature at its worst has revealed humanity at its best.