The images and news coming from Japan are jaw-dropping. The devastation caused by the largest earthquake in reported history, the resulting tsunami and the after-shocks cause all of us to recognize how fragile life is, how precious each moment should be treated. Those images are hard to believe: houses swept away like they were made of paper thin match-sticks; cars picked up and tossed by the power of an ocean moving inland, where it is not supposed to be; explosions at nuclear power plants and radiation leakage; people stranded, people displaced, people missing, people who have perished because of the movement of earth's subterranean plates, are things that are hard to believe.....but they are happening right now.
Jesus asks his newest follower in today's Gospel reading if his belief comes from a simple truth caused by Jesus' observation skills and then Jesus goes on to say that this is just the beginning, with unimaginable deeds and events to come. Those coming events, which we are preparing for in this Season of Lent, were hard to believe for those first witnesses and are hard to believe by Jesus' followers today. In particular when we are faced with such dramatic and awful realities like what is going on in Japan. Common questions born from these events are: Where is God in all of this? How could God allow (or cause) these events?
A few years back, when hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Louisiana and large portions of Mississippi, I was watching the news coverage of the rescue efforts, much like I am currently watching the unfolding events in Japan. One of the TV news personalities was interviewing a woman from one of the coast towns of Texas, which were one of the projected targets for Katrina before it hit land. This woman identified herself as a Christian and said "Jesus answered my prayers and saved my town, my home." That statement just burned into my head making it unforgettable, and raised my ire and disgust. I thought then, and still think today, this is the type of sentiment that chases people away from Christ, away from church communities. Chase them away because what about all those people living just east of where that purported Christian's home and town were? Did God not answer their prayers? I personally know a lot of very good Christians in both Louisiana and Mississippi whose lives were torn apart because of that hurricane. How were they less worthy in Christ's eyes than the individual given air-time? Whenever someone asks, Why would God do this? How could God allow this to happen?, I think about that misguided individual in Texas. Although there exists a part of me that finds that kind of attitude hard to believe, I also know it exists more than I like to believe and causes more damage than can be easily stated.
That kind of ignorance is a mindset Jesus preached against throughout his life and ministry. God does not cause these kind of earth-events to happen: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes. Where we find God, and the living Christ in these events is in our response to them. One of those responses we can all participate in is prayer. This may be hard to believe, but pray for: those who have died, who mourn, who have lost everything and must start anew, who have been injured, who are on the scene doing what they can to alleviate the pain and suffering we are witnessing in these scenes on television. If you are able, contact Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) to find out how you can monetarily assist our sisters and brothers in Japan (and elsewhere in the world). Our prayers, and whatever other kind of support we can provide, will make a difference to the ongoing recovery efforts and will make those hard to believe principles Jesus' ministry exemplified, more understandable and real to us and more palpable to the world at large.
Copyright 2011, The Rev. John F. Dwyer. All Rights Reserved.