This past week I had the opportunity to work with the American Red Cross at a recovery assistance center. The center was a place for people, suffering from the effects of Winter Storm Riley, to come to one place and get information, and perhaps some assistance, from Red Cross and other agencies. I have worked in centers like this before, but this was the first time I worked in one in my town.
Helping people is in my nature and is part of what I am called to do not only as a minister but as a Christian. I have mixed emotions when I say that I have gotten good at ministering to people in times of distress in their lives and seemed to be at the end of their rope. In some ways it is easy when you do not know their backstory, you meet them for the first time, sit with them for a few moments, and then the next person comes in, but when they are your friends and neighbors, people you grew up with, went to school with, hung out with, it takes a whole different turn.
People would come to the center, many of them lost everything and just do not know what to do next. I sat with one man who had been just standing in this living room, look at the devastation and just feeling paralyzed and not knowing what to do next. I listened to the mother of two, with one on the way, that had to be rescued by the police and fire department in a front end loader as the water washed away everything they owned. People were in shock and disbelief, and some of them were angry.
But my job in this situation, as it is in any situation when dealing with people in need, is not to judge them but to minister to them no matter what. And I get the inevitable question, “where was God?” And as much as it pains me to say, my response to this question is, God was with you in the midst of the storm and is with you now in the middle of your recovery. God is always with us, no matter what.
But saying that God is always with people in times of distress is not easy so as I sat with folks I would merely point around the room at all of the folks there to help them. Sure, somewhere there because it was their job, but their job is to help. Each person was greeted with a smile and concern first for their well-being and then for that of their home. Each person helped lift a little bit of the load and make it easy to carry. Each person showed the love of God to the person sitting across the table from them.
The opening verse of the Psalm we read today says it all, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
But what do we say to people who will inevitably claim, because they always do, that this is some punishment from God? I am surprised I have not heard it said yet, but usually, after some natural disaster, school shooting or another such thing, some well-meaning preacher says that this is all a punishment from God. Perhaps there are some sitting here today or listen to or reading these words, nodding the head and agreeing that this is God’s wrath. Well I say, God’s steadfast love endures forever!
After the flood waters recede, God tells Noah and his children that he will never again destroy life and that this covenant will be marked by the rainbow in the sky. God continues to say that even if the clouds come, the rainbow will follow as a reminder of this covenant that God has with Noah and all generations. God’s steadfast love endures forever.
The writer of the Gospel of John tells us why God sent his only Son, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” And how does he do this? Not with wrath and fire and judgment, no, he leaves that to his followers, Jesus came to save the world through him with love. God’s steadfast love endures forever.
I caught up with the man who had come into the center in shock as he was leaving and he had a big smile on his face and an arm full or papers. He was so happy because someone listened to his story and was willing to help him out. Because he came, volunteers would be coming to help him clean out his house so the next phase could begin. Because people cared and showed him concern he was physically, mentally, and spiritually on the road to recovery.
This is a wonderful Psalm to meditate on during these last weeks of Lent. The psalmist reminds us that no matter what we do, no matter how far we stray from God, God’s steadfast love endures forever and that God is always there to welcome us back. We need to be that agent that helps reconcile people to God, and we need to be the ones that show the world how much God does love them, no matter what.