As I write these words on Friday, September 14, I am looking out the window at pure "Carolina Blue" skies and fluffy white clouds. It's hard to believe that right at this minute Hurricane Florence is churning away on the North Carolina coast, flooding towns and villages as far west as Goldsboro and Fayetteville. High winds are blowing down trees and knocking out power lines. It will take weeks to assess the damage and years to recover – some people never will.
We watch the destruction on television, we track the path of the storm, and we quietly lift a silent prayer of thanks that it looks like the worst of Florence will miss us. And we send our thoughts and prayers to those caught in the wake of the storm. But we all know that thoughts and prayers are just the beginning. Soon we will need to act; as individuals, as a parish and as a diocese. The calls will come in for help, at first for donations of money, later for donations of time and energy as mission teams are formed to go east to help with the massive clean-up. And knowing the folk of Good Shepherd as well as I do, I am fully confident that we will respond graciously and generously, reaching out in love to those in need.
Sometimes I wonder how often we look out our metaphorical windows and, because things are going well for us and those like us, assume things are "blue skies and fluffy clouds," for everyone else? There are storms raging throughout the world – storms of poverty and starvation, war and destruction, political oppression and societal upheaval. And yet, if it doesn't touch us, if it doesn't hurt someone we know and love – all too often we ignore it, act as though it doesn't exist. Jesus Christ calls us to a different standard, to a different way of looking at the world. The appointed Sunday Gospel Readings for September and October are from the book of Mark, there Jesus says things like this to the disciples (and to us):
"If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me." Mark 8:34
"Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. . . " Mark 9:35-37
"You lack one thing; go, sell what you have, and give the money to the poor . . ." Mark 10:21
". . .whoever wishes to be become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be salve of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve." Mark 10:43-45
It is a vital part of our calling as a Christian community to look beyond our immediate surroundings and our own personal comfort to see the pain and needs of others. As we give thanks and praise to God for the many blessings we have received, let us never forget to pray for, and take action to relieve, the needs of others.
My daddy was a good man, a church-going man, but he wasn't much of one for Bible reading or praying – in fact, I don't recall ever seeing him do either. Once, when I was a teenager, I asked him about that. He took a drag on his cigarette, grinned a little and said, "Your Mama and me are a team. When it comes to religion, she does the talking – I do the heavy-lifting." In that moment I remembered all the times I had seen him helping people in need, without a word said to anyone about it or a thought given to being praised or thanked. He was a man who really saw his neighbors, saw when the gray clouds and difficult times had come in their lives, looked beyond his own "blue skies and fluffy clouds," to see something that needed doing – and did it.