Jesus Present Beneath the Rubble
Sermon preached by Pastor Matt Staniz after the January 2010 Haiti earthquake
Temple Lutheran Church, Havertown, PA
Click to listen/watch:
There are tragic times in life, and in the life of the world when everything is forced to stop. Times when everything that really matters gets re-evaluated and priorities are re-ordered. Times when the only fathomable reaction is to pay attention and respond. We have reached one of those times this week as a 7.0 magnitude earthquake has torn apart impoverished Haiti, leaving much of the capital city of Port-au-Prince in ruins (a city that is closer to us here in Pennsylvania than Denver, Seattle…or the areas of California where earthquakes occur). The pictures and the stories are heartbreaking and horrifying, and it’s difficult and challenging to respond as people of faith.
But that’s the challenge isn’t it? Because if the gospel has nothing meaningful to say in the face of this unthinkable devastation, then it doesn’t really have anything meaningful to say at all. What do we believe in when something like this happens? That’s a question that holds countless unspoken questions below the surface: why did this happen? why did so many people die? what can we do? how do we offer comfort? How do we find comfort ourselves?
And then there’s that difficult question that we don’t know what to do with, as we realize that it is not just that our faith seems to lack adequate words of comfort, it is that our faith is not sure where God fits into all of this. Or perhaps even that God is not to blame. Those who shake their fists at heaven and say that either there is no God—or that God is a terrible, terrible tyrant—have got a massive debris-pile of evidence on their side right now.
And then, without fail, Pat Robertson shows up on TV and says something ridiculous and nauseating, suggesting that all of the suffering that Haiti continues to endure happened because the people of Haiti “swore a pact with the devil” a long time ago and have been cursed ever since.” I can’t believe Pat Robertson’s picture of how God works in the world. In fact, I won’t believe Pat Robertson’s picture of how God works in the world, and I’d encourage you to not believe it as well. We need not try to speak too hastily to defend God, lest we be guilty of simply trying to prop up our own shaky faith while neglecting the doubts, questions, fears and reality that surrounds us.
God will speak for God—and God has spoken. God has spoken by coming to live among us in Jesus—to be “Emmanuel”: God with us. And to say that God is “with us” means that God is not only with us when everything is good, but that God also is with us when the unthinkable happens. It means that right now, as much as ever, Jesus has taken up residence under the rubble in Port-au-Prince. Those of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus must turn our eyes…and our hearts…and our lives…to this picture of how God works in the world.
To borrow a line from Bono’s address to the National Prayer Breakfast a few years ago: “God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”
God is with us even when the unthinkable happens. God is with us even when palaces and hospitals and schools collapse. God is with the person choking on their final breath in Haiti this week, just as God will be with each one of us when our death occurs.
This is a holiday weekend for many of us, remembering Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.—remembering a voice who spoke of hope in the face of unthinkable death. After 4 young girls were killed when their church was bombed in 1963, Rev. King offered these words about death: “There is an amazing democracy about death. Kings die and beggars die; rich men die and poor men die; old people die and young people die; death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all [people].” And then Dr. King turned to the families of those young girls, saying, “I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity’s affirmation that death is not the end.” We are people who have hope in a reality that does not end with death. But we will not really understand the depth of that hope if we think of resurrection as just some kind of miracle cure, which means that death is no longer part of Christ’s reality. There is no resurrection without the harsh reality of death. The Jesus that is revealed as water is turned into wine at a wedding in Cana is the Jesus that will be killed by our sin on the cross. Even after resurrection, the risen one is still the crucified one. The risen Jesus is still the suffering and dying Jesus. This is the Jesus who said, “you meet me in the least of these desperate and vulnerable ones”: in the thousands who were killed by the earthquake, and in the thousands more who survived only to face an equally tragic suffering. People whom it would be obscene to call them “the fortunate ones”. In Jesus, God puts on human skin…God puts on human life and experience: living among us, walking with us, suffering with us. Whether it be under the collapsed walls of Port-au-Prince or quietly in the places where each of us call home.
If we are striving to follow Jesus today, we know where we will find him. Jesus is present beneath the rubble in Port-au-Prince, and as we pray for an end to the suffering of the Hatian people, God calls us to work toward that end. It is our calling as followers of Jesus, and our obligation as caring human beings to respond to this tragedy.
And that response is already happening as we watch the world set a course for Haiti in order to bring help. Our church, through Lutheran Disaster Response immediately provided a quarter of a million dollars to help, and has pledged to at least triple that amount, knowing that it will be provided by people in congregations just like ours. You can find more information on the bulletin insert—and you are invited to contribute directly to Temple Lutheran Church, designating giving to “Haiti” or “Disaster Response”. You can include it with your regular giving or use one of the red envelopes in the pews.
If you have paid attention during times like this, you already know that Lutheran Disaster Response is considered to be among the best—or perhaps even the most effective channel—for responding to disasters like this. Every cent given to Lutheran Disaster Response—one hundred percent—is used in full to provide immediate relief and then ongoing recovery. Every cent. The reason that is possible is because Lutheran Disaster Response is ready. They are ready because they are sustained by congregations like ours. Next Sunday, we’ll be approving our budget for 2010, and once again we’ll be struggling with a deficit and tapping our reserves. Once again, some questions might sneak into our minds: “What is this ELCA mission support we’re giving away?” “Where does all this money go that we send to our synod?” As you watch the recovery in Haiti, you are seeing an answer to that question.
Our giving makes a difference in the world. We are a part of community that is at the forefront of caring for the needs of this world in the name of Jesus. A community—a church—committed to doing God’s work with our hands. We are God’s hands and feet in the world today. In a world that isn’t always fair, or even safe, for all people. But God chooses to love the world instead of exercising absolute control over it. God chooses love over control. God’s power is revealed not in earthquakes and hurricanes, God’s power is revealed in love. Love that bears all things and suffers with us. Love that moves the earth toward hope and eternal life, even in the face of death. Love that changes our lives and equips us to respond to suffering. Love that opens they eyes of our hearts so that we can see Jesus, not only high and lifted up in glory but also present beneath the rubble. God’s power is revealed in a love that is the good news of the gospel.