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"Go" November, 27 2005
St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Atascadero, CA
This sermon is based on my experiences doing Hurricane Relief Work in Mississippi
and: Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
Restore us of God of Hosts, Show us the light of your countenance and we shall be saved. Amen.

The readings today are apocalyptic, but with a hopeful twist.
In Isaiah, we cry out to the Lord: We have gone astray, please don’t remember everything we have done wrong for eternity.  In the Gospel, Jesus describes what the end of the world might look like, and tells us to stay awake, to be prepared, for we don’t know when that day will come.  But in Corinthians, Paul assures us that God has showered spiritual gifts upon us, and that Christ will strengthen us so that we may be blameless on the last day.  Isn’t that a beautiful image to go along with apocalypse.

I’ve spent the last two weeks doing Hurricane Relief work on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and four weeks before that as well.  And what I saw there was Apocalyptic, but there was hope there also.
The destruction is absolute.  For people who lived along the coast, they haven’t just lost their homes and their possessions, they have lost their way of life.  They have lost every landmark that signified to them, this is my home, this is my community, my city, my region.  Their neighborhood, their favorite restaurant, their schools, the sidewalk even.  Everything… every blade of grass is gone.  And in it’s place, seas of lumber and crumbled brick, foundations wiped clean by the force of the storm.  The stench of decay.  And if they are looking for help, they can expect mountains of paperwork that’s difficult to understand, long lines, and insurance companies saying that it wasn’t the storm that destroyed their home, it was the flood, and so they get nothing.  Despair is in the very air they breathe.  And they have nothing familiar left to cling to.

So where is the Hope?  Every hotel room in the region, as far away as Mobile Alabama is booked solid with people from all over the country who have come to help.  You yourselves have given money or food or clothing or sent cards and prayers.  You did because you loved people who you’ve never met, and you felt some piece of their pain.  And that love makes all the difference in the world.  They tell me that love from a stranger means so much more than love from a friend.

I worked with Camp Coast Care, which is a joint effort between the Lutherans and Episcopalians to help the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  Leann and I were the group from St. Luke’s, Atascadero… we had to teach people how to say “Atascadero”… we were sent from this community with the love of this community and we shared it.  Camp Coast Care runs a distribution center that serves more than 2,000 people every day with food, supplies, clothing and medical care, a tremendous undertaking.  And somehow help always arrived.  We witnessed miracles daily.  The center would run out of food, and later that day a truck would arrive with food, and they didn’t know it was coming. 

The camp also sent out work teams to do demolition and debris removal.  That was what I spent most of my time doing.  Our work crew would arrive at a house, and the task would seem insurmountable.  We were armed with some hand tools, sledge hammers, crow bars, and wheelbarrows, but no particular expertise in demolition… I myself became a crew chief.  One home was four feet deep in a congealed mass of rotting, molding, slimy, muddy stuff.  The contents of someone’s life… ruined.  And even a shovel couldn’t dig into it.  And somehow as we worked, as we cleaned it out by the handful, we saw a miracle unfold. That decaying, broken mess became a framework.  All that was left was the studs, the cement foundation, the roof, and some exterior siding. A framework ready to start again, ready to be renewed.  Toward the end of the day when we thought we couldn’t lift a shovel or a sledge hammer or a rake one more time, somehow the strength would come.  And the next day we would wake up, not exhausted, but revived, ready to go out again. 

The physical work itself was a gift to the people we helped.  But the greater gift was the gift of hope.  When they couldn’t face it alone, when they were too weary, too broken hearted, they could cry out for help and someone was there to answer, “Here I am.”  That hope changed them.

But what the people we helped didn’t realize was that they helped us just as much as we helped them.  To be given the opportunity to serve, and to be a witness to the spirit of thankfulness and love and perseverance in that community was life changing.  Neighbors who had never spoken before helping each other, strangers in deep conversation, people sharing what little supplies they had, a community coming together to share Thanksgiving Dinner, and people coming together every Sunday to worship at the ruins of their churches or in a school gym, singing praises to God with happy voices, and thanking God with grateful hearts for all the gifts that had been given to them.

These sound like remarkable people don’t they?  But the truth is they’re just like you and me.  Through this tragedy God has held them and strengthened them and taught them.  And God will do the same for us!  It probably won’t be a Hurricane in our area.  But there are a thousand hurdles, pains, tragedies, sorrows in our own lives, and though each one God with strengthen us and comfort us, and mold us into the people that God intends us to be.   God with strengthen us so that on the last day we may be blameless.

I went to St. Patrick’s Church in Long Beach, Mississippi last week… which wasn’t hard for me because they met in the gym where I slept… During his sermon the priest said that he was not concerned about where they were going to get the money to rebuild their church, or where it would be located, or when it would happen.  What he was most concerned with was that through this experience his congregation become a people who go.  Who hear the call of the Gospel, who hear the cry of someone in need, and go.
The people at Camp Coast Care heard that call, the common refrain to the question, “why did you come?” was, “because I couldn’t stay away.”

What is God calling you to do?  I’m not saying that God is calling you to go to Mississippi.  God may be calling you to something right here at home. 
What is it that is keeping you from hearing God’s call for you?  Is it fear, insecurity, are you distracted by wealth, or need, or obligation, by brokenness, by anger, by pain?  What is it that keeps you from hearing God’s call for you?  Because I promise you, whatever that call is, it will change you, it will set you free, it will fill you up.  But first you have to let go.

The people of the Gulf Coast didn’t get a choice.  They had to let go.  And on the last day, you won’t have a choice either.  But you have a choice today.  What will you do to prepare.  Stay Awake. Christ will strengthen you.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  And that’s a good thing!
Amen.
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