Thursday, September 15, 2005

Well, had anyone showed up for the 1:00pm Protestant worship service in the convention center, this is the sermon I would have preached... but no one did. Of those who are still there, most were either sleeping or waiting for their number to be called for housing, FEMA, jobs, hairdresser or whatever line they were sitting in. But before mom asks me to send it to her, here it is, enjoy...

Soon ah will be done with the troubles of the world, the troubles of the world, the troubles of the world, Soon ah will be done a with the troubles of the world, and goin’ to live with God. No more weepin’ and a wailin’, no more weepin’ and a wailin’, no more weepin’ and a wailin’: goin’ to live with God.

Soon. But not now.

Right now you live in a convention center. Right now you can’t find your children. Right now, you don’t have a job.

Soon we will be done with the troubles of the world, but not today.

In New Orleans you had a house. It wasn’t huge, but it was home. Your grandchildren knew where to find you, as did the neighborhood boys who always seemed to find their way to your front porch with their harmonicas and pants that drooped too low.

But the rains came down and the floods came up and now everything has changed.

Now you sit in a convention center feeling sick with disease.
Now you sleep shoulder to shoulder with people you don’t know.
Now you wonder if you’ll ever stop seeing rushing water when you close your eyes at night.

And you cry out to God with prayers on your lips and in your dreams. You plead with the Master of the Universe to have mercy on the people who have been displaced across America. You beg God to see, to relieve, to fix, to love, or at least to cut you some slack for-the-love-of-God.

But take heart, you are not alone and never have been.

The Bible is full of people crying out. Lamentations reads, “Remember O Lord what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace! Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows.”[1] Psalm 69 reads, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”[2]

Although these poets speak metaphorically of their lives, these passages bring forth real images for you. Both you and the poets of 2500 years ago cry out for mercy from God. But there is one distinct difference between you and them. In each of these passages, the poets acknowledge their sin and transgressions that have antagonized their souls and tormented their spirits. Their wrongdoings caused their pain. But for you who saw the waters wash away your homes, you sit with a different ache inside your soul. You did not cause Hurricane Katrina, you did nothing to provoke her fury, and your tears of anguish come from victims’ hearts. And so, the psalmist’s words are not for you today. And neither today are the prayers of lamentation. Rather today, you are like the Israelites in Egypt who cried for mercy when they found themselves helpless in a foreign country due to no fault of their own. The new Pharaoh feared their strength and so enslaved them to the land. He feared their numbers too and ordered the murdering of their newborn sons. Imagine the anguish not only of unrequiting physical labor, but the emotional torment of losing your babies to the sword.

But deep in the pain of Egypt, we find God. In Exodus 3 God tells Moses, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians.”[3]

God remembered Israel, and through Moses’ leadership he delivers his people from bondage and oppression! And though Moses often got cold feet, God persevered to protect and free His children. God heard their cries and knew their pain, God remembered His people. And the good news is, He remembers you too!

Yes, it will be a painful process to relocate, re-situate and create new roots. Yes, it will take time and energy and spirit you may not be sure you still possess, but God remembers His children, and God remembers you. God heard the sound of your saxes in the streets of New Orleans, and those saxes will sing again. God saw the dancing on the rooftops of people whose blood pumped to the beat of the jazz club below, and God tasted the gumbo that went into the mouths of every foreigner you fed. And now we feed you. You, who gave your spirit to us and your souls to God, will now be tended to. For God has not forgotten, and neither will we.

There is hope.

On TV we see what once was New Orleans and we are homesick or afraid. We are reminded of the passage from Lamentations that hits so close to home. “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!”

But the good news is that though waters poured over the land you once called home, God pours over your hearts with his love, compassion, tenderness and hope. Our God is like a mother who sits in her rocking chair, cradling her child, and singing the songs of her grandmothers into his small ears. Our God is like a warrior going to battle for you as he warms the hearts of your new neighbors in Austin, and breaks the hearts of the government that has failed you time and time again. Our God is like a song that soothes your soul in time of trouble, and reminds you of a unity and peace only achievable through his love and beauty.

And so we cling to the Exodus story of a God who remembers his people. We write God’s remembering on banners across our hearts. And we make Psalm 10 our daily prayer: “Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed… You do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan… O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.”[4]

Our God hears your prayers. Our God sees your tears. Our God commends your courage. And our God works diligently on your behalf, and so will we. Take heart, God remembers and hope has come. You will rise from this pit of pain to walk with newness in the hope and love God offers His people. God sees, God knows, and God heals.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrow like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”


Ann Pittman
Austin Convention Center
September 15, 2005
[1] Lam 5:1-2
[2] Ps. 69:1-3
[3] Exodus 3:7-8.
[4] Psalm 10:12, 14, 17, 18.

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