As I began work on this final series for the Season after Pentecost for Year C, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of Louisiana who have suffered terrible devastation from flooding this August. My thoughts are also with folks out West, who are losing land and homes to forest fires. They are with the hundreds of thousands of refugees flowing out of war-torn Syria and into makeshift camps in Europe. I am thinking also of our United Methodist brothers and sisters in the East Congo who are serving in the midst of political instability and who recently suffered terrible loss of life due to the fighting. And I’m thinking about the many citizens of the United States who are feeling frustration and anger about their present situation and who are unconfident about the future. I am worried that the desperation people feel could override any signs of hope, and ultimately result in further division as a nation as we move toward the election of a new president. Closer to home, I am thinking of a couple of my closest friends who are grieving the loss of several people they know, middle-aged adults who have fought personal demons for many years, and who lost their battles. And today, as I write, several small villages in Italy are digging out bodies – some alive but many crushed to death – from underneath the rubble left by a terrible earthquake. It never seems to end. What tragedy will tomorrow bring?
Every day, it seems that there is something else for us to collectively turn our grief-stricken eyes toward. We pray, and we try to help. But these kinds of painful losses strike at the very core of our identity and sense of stability. They leave wounds that take a long time to heal, and some leave deep scars on our souls that never go away.
Disasters strike in every part of the world. Times of deep suffering befall every human being. No one is immune. We all have to pass through deep valleys in this life and then endure the torture of climbing back up the mountain on the other side. Rebuilding takes time and effort. There is no way forward, except by committing ourselves to keep moving, sometimes at a rate of one small, painful step at a time.
All of us have been challenged to speak a word of hope to a congregation member who is going through a personal tragedy–grief, job loss, depression, struggle with addiction, facing a difficult diagnosis or illness -- the list goes on and on. And all of our members struggle to figure out how to be supportive to their sisters and brothers who are in the midst of a time of trial.
Likewise, all of us have had to find words of encouragement as our communities have faced natural disasters, economic setbacks, and tragic losses of life. We’ve all had to wonder with our members where God was when the floods came, the terrorists attacked, the hurricanes struck, the fires raged, the earthquakes took thousands of lives, and the tornadoes flattened entire communities in only a few hours.
What do we do after the disaster? How do get back up, where we are standing again on our feet? How do we begin to rebuild our lives when we have lost everything? These are enduring questions for human beings in every age, and questions that our sacred texts speak to with both challenge and encouragement. As we close out the Christian Year, we will walk alongside our forebears in the faith during and after a time of great suffering—the exile in Babylon—and listen to the prophetic voices sent to speak for God, who both challenged and consoled them.
Week 1: We will MOURN with Jeremiah’s Lamentations.
Week 2: We will look again to Jeremiah for ways to COPE with the present disaster.
Week 3: Jeremiah will bring us a word of HOPE to help us go on.
Week 4: We will hear a PROMISE from God delivered through the prophet Joel.
Week 5: Habakkuk will help us to go on while we WAIT.
Week 6: Haggai helps us PERSEVERE.
Week 7: We will hear that God will make ALL THINGS NEW through the words of Isaiah.