God Speaks from the Whirlwind

            I rode Hurricane Irene out...in Iowa.

             When we left to attend a memorial service for my mother-in-law, I vaguely knew there was a hurricane somewhere down south. By the time we arrived in Iowa three days later, the news was full of predictions of a devastating storm headed right for the metro New York area. The apocalyptic scenario being painted was terrifying. I felt guilt at being far away, in a safe place...I also felt anxiety at the thought of what might happen to this community I call home. Having spent a fair amount of time in post-Katrina New Orleans, I knew how devastating a hurricane can be. Would there be an Amityville, would there be a St. Paul’s, to come back to?

             Trying to ease my mind with music, I played favorite albums on my car stereo. But songs kept popping up that actually deepened the anxiety–like Springsteen’s “Lost in the Flood”, about a young man who drives his car into a hurricane with fatal results; or “Sir Douglas” Sahm’s “Texas Tornado” (which is actually about hurricanes--Doug, not always the clearest thinker, mixed up the two types of storms).

             I spent lots of time on the cell phone, talking with church leaders and neighbors. The connection with people back home was comforting. And I also spent a lot of time praying–and that connection was powerful beyond imagining. There wasn’t, ultimately, much that I could do from Iowa–so I went to the One who could do something. When you feel helpless, prayer becomes very, very important–entrusting the situation to the compassionate Lord Jesus, who has all power in His hands and who invites us, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

             When I arrived back home two days after the storm, I praised God that our community and our church had survived relatively intact (although several of our members had some serious damage–may God speed their recovery from the storm! And certainly we also pray for those areas far from sea that, ironically, suffered much greater devastation than Long Island did. May God be powerfully present with them!) There was no electricity at my house or the church for several days (although we discovered that, by an amazing divine dispensation, the Irrgang house is on a separate power grid, which enabled us to run lines into the church office and produce a worship bulletin). But the lack of electricity actually was a reminder that all the little accessories of life that seem so important–computer, television, DVD player–are not, in the end, absolutely necessary. We made it through the week without them. Not having them underscored the fact that, in the end, it’s God that we really need: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth” (Psalm 73:25). The lack of electricity also gave us a great gift: a beautiful candlelit Thursday evening service that was a blessing to all who attended. As I remarked at that service, “I keep saying we don’t have any power...but that’s wrong. We don’t have any electricity. But we have plenty of power...in the Holy Spirit!”

             A number of people have asked me about the hurricane prayer we say every June at St. Paul’s. I’ve been kind of proud that, since we started offering the prayer the year after Katrina, there have been no major storms. Obviously, that “streak” ended with Irene. Actually, it’s been suggested that Irene shouldn’t count against St. Paul’s “hurricane record”, since (a) it was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached Long Island, and (b) the guy who says the prayer (me) wasn’t present in the area when the hurricane hit. But I don’t feel the need to resort to such explanations. All prayer is offered with this condition: “Not my will, but thy will, be done” (Matthew 26:39). We will continue to offer our hurricane prayer every year, but we will certainly realize that the final determination of all things is in God’s hands, not ours.

             The Pope speaks to Lutherans. A few days ago, Pope Benedict XVI addressed Lutheran church leaders in Germany at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. That’s where Blessed Martin Luther began his life as a monk–and thus, where the Lutheran Reformation had its birth. Benedict has a deep understanding and appreciation for Luther. Reading Benedict’s talk, I especially was struck by these words:

             God, the one God, creator of heaven and earth, is no mere philosophical hypothesis

             regarding the origins of the earth. This God has a face, and he has spoken to us.

             He became one of us in the man Jesus Christ–who is both true God and true man.

             Luther’s thinking, his whole spirituality, was thoroughly centered on Christ.

Benedict understands how profoundly Lutheranism is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.

             There is still much unfinished business, and lots of disagreement, between the Lutheran and the Roman Catholic churches. We’re not at the point of “holding hands and singing ‘Kumbaya’ together”, as the saying goes. But when we look at the religious scene around the world–the rise of a reinvigorated atheism, the resurgence of Islam, the abandonment of traditional Christianity in much of the “Protestant” world--we realize that the old “battle lines” between churches have shifted radically. And we can certainly appreciate the appeal Benedict made to the German Lutherans to “keep in view just how much our churches have in common”. This month, on Reformation Sunday, we will proudly, and with thanksgiving to God, celebrate our identity as Lutherans. But we also

want to acknowledge that we are brothers and sisters with all those who worship Jesus Christ as God and Lord, all those who take His revelation in Holy Scripture seriously, and all those who confess and believe the ancient creeds of the church. “There is one body and one Spirit...one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all...” (Ephesians 4:5-6)

             And may that focus on Jesus that was so important to Luther be renewed for the whole Christian church, and for each of us individually.

             God loves you and so do I!

Vol. 82 - No. 10