Second Sunday after Epiphany ? First Sunday after the Haiti Earthquake

Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe, Peace Lutheran ? Sioux Falls, SD


This is a very different sermon than I had planned to preach earlier in the week. The events of the past week in Haiti have kept me glued to the TV news. We?ve all been horrified at the devastation that has happened there. It reminds me of the similar feelings I have every time a disaster occurs- 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Tsunami- the numbers of the dead are overwhelming. The tragedy in Haiti is unbelievable -- the pictures of the pain and destruction are mind boggling. Our hearts breaks for the families and the victims of this tragedy. We offer our prayers and our donations to bring help and aid.


When things like this happen it often causes us to ask questions of our faith. How could God allow this to happen? It?s okay to ask those questions. Faith often grows by asking questions. Ultimately God is responsible for creating a world where continents shift and earthquakes occur. But why Haiti? Why Port-Au-Prince with its dense population? Haiti is the poorest nation in our hemisphere. Often it is the poorest who pay the biggest price in natural disasters. Those who have the least have the least to lose.


I?ve lived through one earthquake in my life. In 1971 I was living out in Los Angeles when the San Fernando earthquake struck- 6.5 on the Richter scale. It claimed 65 lives and caused more than a half billion dollars in damage, small in comparison to Haiti. In addition to the impact it had on our buildings was the impact it had on our psyche. Things we relied on everyday were found to be not so reliable. We were all equally vulnerable and at the mercy of forces we couldn?t control, reminded of that continually by all the aftershocks. The day after the earthquake the nation tuned in to the Tonight Show to see how Johnny Carson would respond. He joked that the ?God is Dead Rally? had been cancelled. We all laughed because what he said was so true. At times of crisis we turn to God and faith to help us. We discover that the things we trust in to provide security and meaning in our day to day lives aren?t always dependable. What is the true foundation of our lives? What this earthquake did was to shake us all out of our complacency and force us to think about things we too often ignore.


One of the things this earthquake revealed to the world is the unbelievable poverty that exists in Haiti. Nearly 80 percent of Haiti?s population lives in abject poverty. How can this happen? And especially in the backyard of one of the richest nations on earth? Not only is this a natural disaster, it?s also a moral disaster. I think of some of the members of our congregation who have traveled to Haiti to witness firsthand the conditions there. There is a shock that happens when they return. The distance between their poverty and our affluence creates a psychic dissonance. How can we live in a world where there are such extremes? How can we go about our lives when we know people are starving and dying around the world? And so missions have developed- Helping Hands for Haiti, Kids Against Hunger.


Years ago I read a book called Hunger for Justice. The author, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, described walking through the streets of Calcutta and being overwhelmed by the poverty and suffering of there. A moral outrage started welling up inside of him. How could this happen? Jack started yelling at God. How could you allow this to happen God? As he thought more deeply about the situation he realized that in the suffering and poverty of the poor God was yelling at him and all of us, and at our institutions and governments that tolerate situations like this to occur.


This past week I?ve not only been horrified at the devastation but also horrified by the comments of Pat Robertson who claimed that the earthquake was punishment on the people of Haiti for having made a pact with the devil some 200 years ago when they were fighting for independence. I hope people know that he does not speak for all who claim the name of Christ. The Christ I serve loves the people of Haiti and gave his life for them. A god who keeps score and punishes people by indiscriminately killing hundreds of thousands of people is a god not worthy of worship. It really represents a simplistic theology, a black and white moral universe that doesn?t quite fit a world filled with shades of gray. God rewards the faithful and punishes the wicked. If something bad happens it must imply that there is a sin God is punishing. This was the moral universe of the Pharisees. It was a theology rejected by Jesus. In Luke 13 Jesus mentioned an event in the news. The Tower of Siloam collapsed and eighteen people were crushed. Was it an earthquake or faulty construction? We don?t know. But Jesus asks his disciples this question- Were those eighteen punished by God, worse offenders than those whose lives were spared? No, Jesus said. But we are all terminal. We are all going to die. And in a world where freak accidents happen we all need to turn to God (repent) for our true security.


Where is God? The picture that you see[1] is of the Catholic cathedral in Port-Au-Prince, what?s left of it. One thing survived the earthquake- the crucifix in front of the church. It is an appropriate answer to that question- where is God? God is suffering with those who are suffering, hanging on the cross. God is grieving for the dead, crying out in pain with those hurting. God is trapped in the rubble with those who can?t escape. God is in the broken bones needing to be set and the lacerated skin waiting to be stitched up. God is in the morgues and the mass graves. God is with those who are suffering.


But let me tell you where else God is. God is in the efforts of thousands of people, governments and institutions mobilizing to bring food and water to the Haitians. God is in the search and rescue teams freeing those who are trapped. God is in the doctors and nurses providing health care and medicine. God is in the soldiers providing security and order. God is in the food packages and bottled water. God is in the compassionate response of millions around the globe who are responding with their prayers and their money.


When evil strikes, it?s easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering. I have been struck by the news interviews with so many missionaries who are working in Haiti. They?ve been rescued. But almost everyone says that they are eager to return. It?s almost like they have this burning passion, this emotional and spiritual connection with the country and people of Haiti. They want to go back to help, to make a difference. Where does this come from? It comes from God?s love for the people of Haiti, God?s love calling people of faith around the world to help, to make this world different, a world God wants it to be.


Epiphany is a season where God is revealed to us. What kind of God do we worship and follow? In John 2 Jesus? first sign revealed his glory. God is a God of feasting and abundance, of joy and happiness, of abundant life and love. This is not a mean and vindictive god, but a God who loves this world and gave the only Son so that we might know God?s love for us and God?s abundance.