The 16th Sunday after Pentecost
Friday, a friend who is also a priest and a respected theologian
here in Memphis called me. “This hurricane is the most
catastrophic event in my lifetime," he said. Since he served
in World War II and has been a priest for 52 years, I said, “What
do you mean? How is this different from war, or even from 9/11?”
feels like civilization is coming apart,” he responded. “After
9/11, we could take our pulse; we were focused, centered, and
unified. Now there is such confusion and chaos. We desperately
need to hear more about the providence and grace of God.”
said weakly, “Did you know I’m scheduled to preach
on Sunday?” “Yes,” he said, “That’s
why I called; I’ll be praying for you.”
sobering conversation reminded me of a graphic poem written by
William Butler Yeats in the 1920s. It’s called "The
Second Coming", and it begins:
and turning in the widening gyre
falcon cannot hear the falconer;
fall apart; the center cannot hold;
anarchy is loosed upon the world,
blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
full of passionate intensity.”
center cannot hold." Is that what people of faith believe?
inadequate as I feel to speak in the face of such tragedy and
loss, I want to say clearly and firmly that our Center, our
God, does hold. Perhaps more than ever, in the midst of crisis,
God is with us.
believe this with all my heart. Over thirty years ago, I lived
through my own personal hurricane, a time when I felt, like Yeats,
that the center could not hold. But good and caring friends put
their love for me into action. One of them took me to a silent
retreat where, the first night, I heard this passage from the
now thus says the Lord,
who created you, O Jacob;
who formed you, O Israel.
not fear, for I have redeemed you;
have called you by name, you are mine.
you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
through the rivers they shall not overwhelm you.
are precious in my sight,
honored, and I love you."
words changed my life. I heard them, I somehow believed them,
and I have not been the same since. That Scripture, plus the
action of friends, helped me regain my Center, and I urge us
to use the same tools as we walk together through this tragedy.
least 12,000 people have come to Memphis, wondering
what became of their Center, how they can possibly hold their
lives together. Let’s offer them words of hope and encouragement,
but also, like my friends, let’s put our words into action.
to do this? Hear what St. Paul says in today’s Epistle: ‘love
your neighbor as yourself.’ Have we heard this so often
that it has lost its punch? Paul is not talking about love as
a feeling, an emotion. Love here is an act of will; it means
doing something for the good of others, even if you don’t
week, Episcopal clergy in West Tennessee gathered with
Bishop Johnson to strategize and coordinate our efforts. At
that meeting, Craig Strickland, senior pastor at Hope Presbyterian
Church, was guest speaker. He said that last week he and
his wife had each thought about inviting a family from New Orleans
to stay with them, but each was afraid of what the other would
say. “It is scary,” he said. “It is risky.
Things can get stolen, or broken. We would screen people, but
it’s still a risk, and it may not be very smart. But then
I think of the gospel, and that stops me short.” As it
turned out, his wife was thinking the same thing. They decided
to have their adult children and grandchildren move in with them
so they could offer two empty houses to two large families who
had come to the church.
felt acutely uncomfortable listening to him. Just how open am
I to welcoming strangers into our house? Or moving out of ours
so someone else can move in?
bishop encouraged us to roll up our sleeves, open our churches,
and cooperate with each other. He also warned us that this is
a long-term situation. “Get busy,” he said, “but
don’t overextend yourselves now, and burn out prematurely.
This will be with us a long, long time.”
is right, and we need to remember that. We also need to remember
that God is with us, in all circumstances. This week, I talked
to two women who are beset with personal crises and feel guilty!
One woman’s mother-in-law has died, one woman was told
her cancer has returned. They both said the same thing: “How
can I feel bad when those people are suffering so much from the
is with us in all things, not just in these national disasters.
If you are suffering already, please don’t heap guilt on
top of it. There will be plenty to do for a long time to come.
of doing more, it occurs to me that we could also do less: drive
less, even buy less gasoline. If each of us bought one gallon
less than we think we need, there would be a lot more available
for everyone in the short term.
sounds wildly impractical from one who has just driven back from
Maine, but I wonder: Might we all learn from this hurricane that
we can do with less?
many of you know, Frank and I go to Maine every summer. People
have started asking me, “What is it about Maine? Is it
the lobster? The weather? The boating?” “Sure,” I
say. “It’s all of that, and more.”
is much more. This summer I realized what it is: I see better
in Maine than anywhere else. I see the way the light slants on
the water at sunset; I notice wildflowers along the dirt road
we walk on; I watch ospreys build their nests and feed their
then there is the sea glass that I love so much. Every time I
find a piece, whether it’s an amber chunk or a tiny green
sliver, I am thrilled. I pick it up and think, “This is
how God feels about us, no matter what shape we are in. I rub
the smooth surface across my face and remember how God has smoothed
my rough edges. I bring it home and give it away. “Here,” I
say, “take this and remember that no matter how battered
or broken you are, you are precious to God.”
wish I had enough glass to give a piece to every person who went
through the hell of that hurricane, people whose lives are awash
with chaos and confusion. They need to hear that God is with
them, that they are loved and valued, and that nothing can separate
the love of God in Christ
Jesus. They need to know that they need not be afraid: the Center
will definitely hold, now and forever.
The Rev. Margaret Jones
Preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN
Reading: Romans 13: 8-14
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one
who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any
other commandment. are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as
yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is fulfilling
the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment
for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we
believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside
the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably
the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness,
not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and
make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. NRSV (New Revised