Jim Harnish

Helpless!

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(An email from the editor of MinistryMatters asked if I had any word to offer in response to the flooding along the Gulf Coast.  I found that word in last Sunday’s lectionary Psalm and next Sunday’s Old Testament reading.)   

Are We Helpless? 

Helpless! The word reverberates in our souls when we see people being rescued from the roofs of their flooded homes. It beats in our hearts as we watch water-soaked people make their way through chest high water to crowded shelters with a child in their arms, a few possession in a plastic bag, or carrying nothing at all. It stretches our imagination when we see aerial views of flooded cities and destroyed businesses and homes. It haunts our minds as we wonder what we can do that will make any real difference in this massive sea of suffering. 

Is there any word from the Lord that touches the deep flood of helplessness we feel?

A Word from the Lord 

Providentially, the lectionary for the Sunday after Harvey takes us to the burning bush, where Moses hears the Lord say, “I have clearly seen my people…I heard their cry.” (Exodus 3:7) The good news is that God is not absent or indifferent. God is not blind, insensitive or hard of hearing. The God of infinite compassion sees, hears, feels, and shares our suffering. We are not alone.

The disciples felt helpless when they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. (Mark 4:35-41) But Jesus heard their cries. He spoke the words, “Be still!” and “the wind settled down and there was a great calm.” The calming of the water was equal to the calming of their fears. The calming word for our helplessness is that God is with us. We are not alone. It led Charles Wesley to sing:

Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.

But what about our helpless feelings when we watch the flood but not in it? Is there a word from the Lord when we see other people’s suffering from a distance? We cannot stop the storm. We cannot erase the impact of global warming or the absence of city planning that led to paving over the earth that might have absorbed more of the rain. We cannot replace all that has been lost. Are we helpless, too?

As it was for Moses, the word of the Lord for us is, “Get going.” (Exodus 3:10) We are not helpless! The compassion of God that moved the Samaritan to do what he could for the helpless man on the side of the road calls us to get going; to do whatever we can to relieve some part of the suffering we see.

Bonaro Overstreet wrote her poem,  “Stubborn Ounces” for “One Who Doubts the Worth of Doing Anything If You Can’t Do Everything.” She confessed that we often think our little efforts make very little difference. She described them ounces dropped onto the “hovering scale where justice hangs in balance.” But she ends her poem with the bold confidence that she gets to choose “which side will feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.”

Sometimes everything we have to give seems like “stubborn ounces,” just tiny drops of compassion dropped into a massive flood of loss and suffering. But God has a miraculous way of using small gifts to bring great healing, hope, and the strength to go on. Every “flood bucket” or “hygiene kit” we send, every gift we give to UMCOR, every prayer we offer can become the expression of God’s love and the witness of God’s presence for the person who receives them.

The lectionary Psalm for last Sunday prepared us for this week.

If the Lord hadn’t been for us…
the waters would have drowned us;
the torrent would have come over our necks;
                  then the raging waters would have come over our necks!

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:1, 4-5, 8)

Because we know the Lord is for us, we are not helpless!

Grace and peace,

Jim

 

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