“For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 45)
I have always been a little uncomfortable when I hear someone referring to a natural disaster as an “Act of God.” Of course it is a legal term, meaning a natural disaster outside human control. God doesn’t need me as a defender, but when people refer to a flood or an earthquake as an “Act of God,” I want to blurt out: “Don’t blame God for this!” There is a human tendency, especially among religious folks, to suggest that anything tragic or unimaginable must be God’s will. Great damage has been done to people’s faith when they are told that a loved one’s murder must have been God’s will. Rather than giving comfort, it frequently drives people away. Who wants to believe in a God who allows, even delights in the suffering of innocents?
Natural disasters abound, both in the United States, and across the globe. Right now the ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response is active in:
Hurricane Harvey Relief
South Sudan Relief
Louisians Gulf Coast Flooding
West Virginia Flooding
Middle East and Europe Refugee Crisis
AMMPARO: Protecting Migrant Minors
Lutheran World Relief, a pan-Lutheran agency, works in 32 countries, doing 118 relief and development projects.
Closer to home, the Montana VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Assisting in Disaster), chaired by LPA Dick Deschamps, has been keeping close watch on the Montana fires, from the range fires in the eastern part of the state to the forest fires in the west. We have also been in conversation with synods in North and South Dakota, and with ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response about drought and possible donations of hay from the Midwest. The Montana Synod maintains a disaster fund, available to those experiencing disaster. It is made up entirely of congregational and individual contributions. You can send checks to our office, 3125 5th Ave. S., Great Falls, MT 59405, with “Disaster” written on them.
If Montana and other states in the west are too dry, Texas and its neighboring states are too wet, as they suffer the havoc wreaked by powerful Hurricane Harvey. ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response is already helping. They send this message to all of us:
“Lutheran Disaster Response’s affiliate is actively present, collaborating with community leaders and officials to initiate the proper responses, particularly the long-term recovery efforts. Together we have a strong history of working with disasters in the Gulf Coast area. Recovery effort are expected to take years, and Lutheran Disaster Response will be there to accompany those affected through every phase of this disaster.”
How can you help?
Early Christians in Rome stayed around the city to care for the sick when everyone else who could do so fled. I am grateful that our church has maintained that tradition of care for those in need. I believe in a God who understands human suffering, and who sends us out to respond.
“ In my distress I called on the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.” (Psalm 18: 6)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
As you get geared up for the new program year, how are you and your congregation meeting the future boldly? How are you finding new ways to love out the love of Jesus in your neck of the woods?
Has your congregation participated in the ELCA’s “God’s work. Our hands” Sunday in the past? (It is September 10 this year, but you can choose any day that works for your congregation.). It is a way to get outside our doors and into our neighborhoods, serving others in the name of the Gospel. If you haven't participated in the past, consider doing so this year. If you have, consider reaching out even more—checking with schools, law enforcement, support groups, veterans groups, and social services to see who is being left out, who falls between the cracks.
Our church designates a particular Sunday as “God’s work. Our hands” Sunday to encourage us to go public with what we do so naturally—reach out and help our neighbors. It's what Christians ( and most other people of faith) do—we help. It has been a signature part of Christianity since the beginning. When the plague hit Rome, and everybody who could afford to get out of town did so, the Christians stayed and took care of the sick. That personal risk-taking, with little regard for their own health, had a profound effect on the people who took notice. While everybody with means and sense was running away from danger, Christians were facing it. They were meeting the future boldly. And they aren't doing it as part of some self-promotion campaign. They were doing God’s work with their hands.
“God’s work. Our hands” Sunday started as a way to encourage ELCA congregations not only to serve their neighbors, but to let people know who they are and why they are doing it. We have all kinds of opportunities to serve our neighbors in Montana and Wyoming, and to let the world know about it, as well.
Maybe you will provide a free lunch to families whose resources are stretched. Maybe you’ll have a fundraiser for families impacted by the fires and the drought. Maybe you will cleanup a park. Maybe you will visit your county jail—both the staff and the prisoners.
Maybe you will create a safe place in your congregation where people of opposing points of view can listen to one another respectfully and peacefully. Maybe you will seek out a situation where there has been misunderstanding and strife, and seek harmony, understanding.
Maybe you will invite young adults who were once associated with the congregation to come back for a volunteer project. Maybe you will find intergenerational ways to serve your neighbors.
When the early Christians cared for the plague victims in Rome, they did not limit the pool to Christians. As Jesus showed us in his actions and in the parable of the Good Samaritan, neighbor love is not limited to our own kind.
“God’s work. Our hands” Sunday challenges us and gives us the opportunity all over again to ask the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Meet the future boldly.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA