I had written a sermon on the theme of the wonderful story of the Wedding feast at Cana , a story rich in symbolism. It was, I thought, a perfect follow up of the announcement I made last week. Turning water into wine signalled to the early church that where Jesus was there was a feast; there was community; there was transformation; there was abundance. What a great theme for Cedar Park right now. Jesus transforms scarcity into abundance! which, for the writer of John, was a sign of Godâ€™s presence through him.
It was a great, (well maybe not great, but it was a pretty good) sermon about the miraculous life-giving power of God at work in the intimate daily places of human lives- at a wedding, at a family gathering, even in a family dispute, for Jesus and Mary certainly knock heads a bit in this storyâ€¦In other words, it was about looking for Godâ€™s transforming power at work in places we donâ€™t always look for God, in places where things do not go as we intended, when the wine of joy, of celebration, the wine of life and hope has given out. In times when life is anything but feast, and we do not have enough of what we need for life to be a feast; even there Christ can bring transforming power. Thereâ€™s your Colesâ€™ Notes version of the sermon I intended to preach todayâ€¦.
But then life took over!â€¦It is hard to speak of abundance in the face of the images of Haiti seered into our hearts and minds this week. Some may have family, friends or neighbours affected by the devastation. I met a woman shopping yesterday, whose father and mother are holidaying there and she has no idea if they are alive. She is trying to keep hopeful, but if by next week, she has not heard anything, she plans to find a way to go there to search for them herself. Imagine living with that! All of our hearts are broken as we see and hear stories of unimaginable suffering of brothers and sisters in our human family. Those sitting powerless by telephones waiting for news of a loved one â€“ The joy and relief they are alive; the lament if they discover news of family devastation. Our hearts break for those without homes, food, water, all in the context of overwhelming grief, death and increasing violence bred of desperation.
Using the image from scripture of the wine running out at a party, somehow feels like too much of an understatement for what the world is living todayâ€¦ How can we speak of abundance when we see so much destitution?
And yet, the core message of this scripture remains a truthful one. That the power of God, the transforming Spirit is at work creating new life, one might even say fullness and wholeness of life even in a place like Haiti when everything is falling apart.
We are watching the world respond in compassion as one. It calls us all to our deeper humanity and connection. All kinds of help is being sent in this crisis time, even though much of it is having trouble getting to the people.
As Susan mentioned earlier, our United Church is part of the relief and rebuilding work already on the ground through our ongoing partnerships there. We know that our partners, the Karl LÃ©vÃªque Cultural Institute (ICKL) and The Methodist Church of Haiti and ACT (Actions of Churches Together of the World Council of Churches) are already working in the devastation, trying to bring relief and hope in very difficult circumstances, though some of their own offices and churches have been destroyed.
And the good news is that long after the crisis, and many of the others have gone home they will continue to be agents of Christâ€™s message of abundant life for all in that very poor country. They will be comforting the grieving, caring for the wounded, feeding the hungry, rebuilding the devastations, and helping people move forward with their lives.
A great deal of the population is traumatized, and ACT Alliance through whom the United Church works, is now sending in experts on psycho-social support. The psycho-social specialists will assist the population of Haiti to get going in their difficult state of life, support them in getting together to be able to talk and process their traumatic experiences. ACT Alliance, a global coalition of church based humanitarian agencies, has long experience in psycho-social work under emergencies.
Maria Lundberg, head of the emergency unit of ACT member Church of Sweden, is responsible for the ACT psycho-social activities. â€œWe canâ€™t heal a whole cityâ€, Lundberg says, â€œbut we have an approach to lead people through harsh difficulties.â€ This kind of support has to be done closely together with the affected Haitian community, who knows best about the needs and resources among themselves. To be enabled to support each other and take a constructive part in the rehabilitation is an important step forward in such a chaotic situation.
The ACT Alliance psycho-social project involves the population in community based activities; repairing houses, cleaning streets, rebuilding schools etc. It is a way of imposing hope for the future. â€œIn Haiti we have seen people crying, asking for the meaning of life: Where is God? We will help people to live and deal with these existential questionsâ€, Maria Lundgren says.
Another way the church is responding is through provision of water. Port-au-Prince is without water. ACT Alliance is sending water-purification equipment that will serve 10,000 people. Clean water will be hugely important in the coming days to fight the risk of cholera and other water-based diseases. Itâ€™s not turning water into wine, but but it is transforming unhealthy water into living water to sustain life.
We cannot be there ourselves, but we can stand in solidarity with those who are, and make it possible for them to do far more than they could do on their own. Our financial support will create seeds of hope and healing and new life where there is so much despair. We can be part of their work of transforming love in this devastation. Many others are working through different groups and in different ways. Some of you may have already chosen other routes to offer your gifts. There is so much need.
As you know, Montreal is home of the largest Haitian diaspora community in Canada. Montreal City mission works with many in the Haitian community and has sent the following message to us.
We invite – pastors, presbytery reps, congregational members and any other interested friends, to come to a special gathering Tuesday evening, January 19th at 7 p.m. to discuss and plan our collective Haitian relief efforts. This meeting will be held in Webster Hall, Westmount Park United Church, 4694 de Maisonneuve West.
As well there will be a service of Memory and Hope held at St. James United Church to offer a place for the city to grieve, lament, and find hope. It will be held next Sunday Jan 24th at 7:00 pm. Moderator Mardi Tindal will be present.
Over the next weeks, there will be inevitable stories of suffering and despair. And we need not to close our hearts and minds to them feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But we need also to look for the signs of hope and new beginnings, to be aware of where the power of Godâ€™s transforming, life-giving love is also present. We need to be part of the solution, standing with those who are helping the people to pick up their lives again. And we need to be supporting our partners with the rebuilding of this nation long after this crisis has passed.