WORD FROM THE PASTOR:
The weekend before Superstorm Sandy hit, I preached a sermon in which I questioned whether something with that name could really be a threat. Sandy, after all, was Little Orphan Annie’s dog...and the all-American girl in “Grease” (who somehow became the all-Australian girl in the movie version, but that’s another story)...and a fine Bruce Springsteen song about the boardwalk at Asbury Park. If I’d thought of it, I probably would have also mentioned that it’s the name of SpongeBob’s squirrel girlfriend. How could a storm whose name has such pleasant associations really bring harm? I prayed that it would not make that big curve toward metro New York but would go quietly out to sea.
Alas, I forgot one other famous Sandy: Sandy Koufax, a pitcher legendary for both curve and fastball. Had I remembered Koufax, I might have realized that Superstorm Sandy was going to take a mean curve toward our neighborhood, and hit with the force of a blazing fastball.
And our church was hit hard. Not the building–thank God, our church building sustained little to no damage. But as the song says, “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple...the church is a people.” And plenty of our people took a wallop from Sandy. I was at a circuit meeting about a week after the storm (our circuit includes churches in Sayville, St. James, Islip, Central Islip, Holbrook, and Dix Hills). I asked how many affected households each congregation had. And I was shocked: the answers were two, three, four. Every church had only a handful. And I said, “We have about fifty.”
So...about fifty St. Paul’s homes have been invaded and damaged by Sandy. About fifty St. Paul’s households are trying to put their lives back together.
That’s why I’m so proud of St. Paul’s response to the hurricane. Despite our being devastated, we were able to deploy more than 40 volunteers, who have worked on 17 houses so far. A big thank you goes to Larry Rath for coordinating this, and lots of appreciation to everyone who has volunteered. If you need help with a house, or you’d like to volunteer to help, please call the church office.
We have also received generous contributions from private donors, as well as from the Atlantic District of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, which will enable us to assist families that are especially hard-hit. (If God leads you to contribute to our hurricane relief fund, please do so!)
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the hurricane. And two things that keep amazing me are these:
God has a plan. I see this when I reflect on the many trips we’ve made to the Gulf region in response to Hurricane Katrina. Since our first Katrina trip in March of 2006, St. Paul’s members have gone five times to New Orleans and Mississippi. By my count, at least 15 of our members have participated in those trips. God, through our Katrina work, has been preparing St. Paul’s for this moment–when we can take what we’ve learned in the Gulf and use it in our own community. Part of this divine plan can be seen in the fact that, two summers ago, the church hired Larry Rath to run the office–Larry, who has gone on every one of the Katrina trips. So God ensured that someone with significant hurricane recovery experience would be in a position to coordinate St. Paul’s response to the storm.
I even notice a plan in odd little things. Like two of the hymns that I chose for Thanksgiving. One had the line “homes are bare and cold” in it. And when we sang that, I thought: “Wow! How fitting that is! Our community is full of homes that are bare and cold!” Another said, “Through life’s storm and tempest our guide hast Thou been”. In neither case did I notice those lines when I chose the hymns. But without my realizing it, God guided me to select those hymns because He wanted to make the point that, even when homes are bare and cold, even when there is storm and tempest, He is there.
One of my favorite movies is “Signs”, in which Mel Gibson plays a clergyman who lost his faith. His wife died in a terrible accident, his son has serious asthma, and his little daughter has obsessive-compulsive disorder. But when an alien invasion comes, he realizes that every one of his family’s problems–the asthma, the OCD, even his wife’s death–was part of God’s plan to save the family from the aliens. (The defeat of the aliens involves water and a baseball bat–which to me suggests that God vanquishes the power of evil through the wood of the Holy Cross and the waters of Holy Baptism). Gibson recovers his faith as he realizes the wonder of God’s plan. And I have to say that Sandy has reinforced my faith that things happen according to a divine plan.
And I would hold that up to all those who are dealing with damaged homes and disrupted lives now. God has a plan. I think of beloved verses like “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28)–or “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, plans to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plan is sometimes hard to figure out, but we know that ultimately it brings blessing.
God gives His people resilience. Another noteworthy thing about this storm is how it has shown the resilience of people. I have stood in innumerable houses where people’s cherished possessions have been wrenched away...and yet in almost every case they still had good humor and optimism about the future. I think of a classic verse from Isaiah: “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be
weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). That promise is being fulfilled in home after home, as God gives people the strength they need to face a time of challenge. Those who belong to God (to borrow a phrase from the old Timex commercial) take a licking and keep on ticking.
Looking with heartbreak upon devastated Jerusalem, the author of Lamentations said, “My soul is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new
every morning. Great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:20-23). Like Jerusalem, our community has been dealt a crushing blow. But whatever the storm took away, whatever the storm devastated, one thing remains strong and real: the love of God in the crucified and risen Jesus. And may that love, that endless mercy, carry our community through this time of recovery, and cause this community to rise again in beauty and splendor!
God loves you and so do I!