From Lauren Stanley:
“This is an excellent sermon on Haiti by The Rev. Michael Pipkin, priest at The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. I preached there on 3 January, telling the story of the miracles that the Diocese of Haiti is accomplishing there. “
Michael preached this sermon this morning:
I read this statement on a blog earlier this week:
Words cannot begin to describe the devastation that has taken place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The man continued, I am the Director of Disaster Services for The Salvation Army in Haiti, and I am from the United States. My wife and I have been in Port-au-Prince since April, and have fallen deeply in love with the country and its people.
When the earthquake struck, I was driving down the mountain from Petion Ville. Our truck was being tossed to and fro like a toy, and when it stopped, I looked out the windows to see buildings pancaking down, like I have never witnessed before. Traffic, of course, came to a stand-still, while thousands of people poured out into the streets, crying, carrying bloody bodies, looking for anyone who could help them. We piled as many bodies into the back of our truck, and took them down the hill with us, hoping to find medical attention. All of them were older, scared, bleeding, and terrified. It took about 2 hours to go less than 1 mile. Traffic was horrible, devastation was everywhere, and suffering humanity was front and center.
When we could drive no further, we left the truck parked on the side of the street, and walked the remaining 2 miles to get back to the Army compound. What I found was very sad! All of the security walls were down. The Children’s Home itself seems pretty intact, but our quarters, which are attached, are destroyed. Unlivable. The walls and ceiling are still standing – but so badly compromised that I wouldn’t even think of trying to stay there. All of the children, and hundreds of neighbors, are sleeping in our playground area tonight. Occasionally, there is another tremor – another reminder that we are not yet finished with this calamity. And when it comes, all of the people cry out and the children are terrified.
As I am sitting outside now, with most people trying to get a little sleep, I can hear the moans and cries of the neighbors. One of our staff went to a home in the neighborhood, to try to be of assistance to the woman who lived there. But she was too late.
Indeed, accounts like this have flooded the airwaves, the internet, and our imagination with the worst of images; people suffering under piles of rubble, while others live out the hours in terror, literally crying out each time an aftershock rolls over them.
A few weeks ago, on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas, our friend Lauren Stanley came to visit us and to bring us the good news of God’s work in and for and through the people of Haiti.
After serving for years as The Episcopal Church’s missionary to Sudan, Lauren transferred to Haiti in August and began her ministry as the coordinator of mission efforts for what is The Episcopal Church’s largest diocese. Maybe you were surprised, like me, to find out that Haiti is part of our Episcopal Church; another diocese, just like the Diocese of Virginia, or the Diocese of Washington, one of 110 dioceses that make up our Church and perhaps, like me, you were surprised to find out that they make up about 1/10th of our Church, with over 220,000 members.
As Lauren preached to us that day, I found myself amazed, over and over again, by the picture she painted: a picture of a country that had begun to stabilize, of a people who were beginning to move forward, by a church that seemed agile and responsive to how God was calling them to serve the people around them.
She told us about St. Martin de Tours church, with its images of Mickey Mouse and Goofy serving as icons of Jesus and his Disciples, and she told us about how this church, situated in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince, the one that she wouldn’t dare go into alone had opened a school and had been ministering to hundreds of children.
Lauren shared with us the ministry of St. Marc’s in Trouin (Twan), the little church that you could only get to by driving on the ridge of a mountain, down a two-lane road that was barely big enough for one car. She told us about the priest at St. Marc’s going door-to-door, inviting people to worship, and how the response had been so overwhelming that the majority of the gathered congregation would have to stand outside in the sun and rain just to attend worship. Her plan had been to help that congregation to build a larger church.
And most memorable for me, perhaps, was the story of St. Vincent’s Center for the Handicapped. The home and school for children who have lost limbs, or who are blind, deaf, or mute. I was overwhelmed by her accounts of the blind children who are taught Braille and who later serve as lay readers for the Bishop during worship services; and I was amazed by the mute children who are taught to sing, and the deaf children who are taught sign language and even more so, I was impressed at the thoughtfulness of a church that helps children in need of prosthetics by providing limbs in skin tones that match their own, helping to remove the stigma of disability.
As Lauren shared these wonderful stories with us, she kept urging us on, in the words of the Bishop of Haiti, to Come and See.
Come and see, she said, the beauty of the Nation. Come and see, she said, the strength of the people. Come and see, she said, the work of God in and through the church.
Come and see.
I know that her words had a profound impact on many who were here that day; even before coffee hour was over, people were already beginning to plan a mission trip to Haiti. There was discussion of supporting a seminarian from Haiti. We had begun to see this wonderful nation through the eyes of a friend and many of us were captivated.
And yet, while the invitation to Come and See was compelling for some, I imagine that there were others who, like Jesus in this morning’s Gospel reading, were asking themselves, “Woman, what is this to me?”
I was with Lauren on Tuesday evening, and pretty much every day through the rest of the week, and to see the look of devastation on her face told the fullness of the story, and as each day passed, and more and more information came in, I could see frustration and the despair that she shares with her Haitian brothers and sisters.
We know now that St. Martin de Tours has been heavily damaged, and that the school, which taught children about Jesus with images of Mickey Mouse, has been destroyed. Nothing definitive is known about the health of the priest or the staff, but several children were killed.
St. Marc’s church and school in Trouin (Twan) is completely gone. It collapsed during a worship service, killing 4 people and injuring their priest. 500 people are homeless and are living together in a common area between the church building and the school. There is no drinking water, little food and there are no medical supplies. Worse than that, the roads are completely impassable, and there is no way to get help in or people out except by air.
And St. Vincent’s Center for the Handicapped suffered heavy damage, with all of the older parts of the school and homes for the workers have been destroyed; the entire Boys Foyer has collapsed, and some of the boys have died. One of the workers, Jean Robert, reports that desperation is beginning to set in, and that they are all hungry.
What is this to you and to me?
I’ve actually heard this question posed by several pundits and opinion makers this week. The worst, perhaps, is Pat Robertson, who thinks that he can distance himself from the chaos of this; from the unpleasantness of despair, the stink of pain, the uncleanness of sadness by whitewashing the unexplainable with superstitious nonsense about a pact with Satan.
And there are others, like Rush Limbaugh, who see nothing but their own agendas, nothing but politics, nothing but risk to their own portfolios, and who want to encourage you to stay your hand because the Haitian’s hour has not yet come.
And then there are those, like you and me, who are touched; sometimes moved to tears, fidgeting in our seats because of the stark contrast between the comfort of our living rooms and the sheer devastation that we see on our televisions or on our computers, and we honestly want to know how we can share what we have with those who are in need.
What is this to you and to me?
It is not enough to simply sit and wait for a miracle. Yes, Jesus turns water into wine; yes, God has the power to make everything better with even the simplest of words, but miracles are participatory events; all of them they require you and me to get dirty, and they require you and me to give up something that we have.
We hear, this morning, the lesson of Jesus’ first public miracle at the Wedding at Cana of Galilee. When the resources of wine begin to wane, Jesus’ mother calls upon him to fix it.
“Woman,” he asks, “what is this you and to me?”
Not to be deterred, Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do, and Jesus asks the servants to take the stone water jars, all six of them, and to fill them with water.
Six water jars, probably clay pots, weighing somewhere around 20 lbs each; each of those hold between 20 and 30 gallons, and a gallon of water weighs a little over 8 lbs, all told, each jar would weigh almost 250 lbs once they were filled with water. If you don’t think that miracles take a little bit of work, perhaps you should ask the guys carrying the water how much work this miracle took to accomplish!
And many other of Jesus’ miracles took some work: When Jesus healed one blind man, he spit on the ground and made a mud poultice to put on the man’s eyes; a dirty job, no doubt, and when he healed another man’s blindness, it took two efforts to restore the man’s eyesight fully. And when Jesus healed the lameness of another man, it took his friends to not only carry the man all the way from the street, but they had to cut a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus was staying and literally lower the lame man into the house so that Jesus could see him.
Scripture is full of miraculous accounts, but I think that you would be hard pressed to find many miracles in Scripture that don’t require some effort on the part of us humans.
So, what is this to you and to me?
We have each been given an extraordinary gift. As Paul tells the Corinthians, we read that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are each equipped with some extraordinary capability so that we can help do the heavy lifting, so that we can participate in the miracles of God.
What this means to you and to me is that we have an extraordinary responsibility and an extraordinary privilege to not simply reach out with our wallets, but to reach out with our hands. We have the great joy of serving God by following Lauren’s words: Come and See!
Haiti, New Orleans, Indonesia, Appalachia, Fairfax, and Falls Church: together we can work miracles with God.
What is that to you and to me? I don’t know. But it means LIFE to those in need.
Let’s go and see!