"As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him." (Matthew 4:18-22)
DISASTERS: OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOVE AND GENEROSITY
The disasters and conflicts that have made the headlines in recent weeks are shocking, saddening, and - if we are not careful - mind-numbing. Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Irma. Hurricane Maria. Two earthquakes in Mexico - the most recent one occurring yesterday. Fires in the Pacific Northwest and in Canada. Muslims fleeing violence in Myanmar. Another London subway bombing. Riots in St. Louis. Ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan. Undoubtedly I have forgotten to mention some of them in this quick recounting. Different people have asked me, “Is this the end times?” I don’t know the answer to that. It does sound similar to what Jesus referenced when the disciples asked what would be the signs of his coming again and “the end of the age.” (Matthew 24:3-8)
What I know for sure is that we are called to follow him into loving everyone, being agents of light and healing, and proclaiming the good news of the reign of God - now, more than ever. Peter and Andrew and James and John left their nets to learn how to “fish for people.” (Matthew 4:19) Fishing for people, as Jesus modeled it, had to do with seeing them, respecting them, listening to them, and offering love, healing and hope.
It seems to me that whenever disasters or crises or tragedies present themselves, we are being given new opportunities by God to love and to be generous. Those who are more blessed in the moment - those whose houses are still standing, those who have not lost loved ones, those who have ample resources - are invited by God to share what they have. This includes everything from praying to sending money to using our strong bodies to help others clean up and rebuild to standing in solidarity with those who have experienced injustice, oppression, and/or discrimination.
Two of these disasters have hit very close to home for me. Hurricane Harvey flooded my father-in-law’s home in Spring, Texas. He will not live in it again. Fortunately, because of Orin’s resources and the resources of all those who love him and are helping him, he will be moving into a beautiful 2-bedroom apartment on October 1. The island nation of Dominica, where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1980’s, suffered incredible devastation from Hurricane Maria on Monday. We are still waiting to hear news about the fate of the people there, and I feel very, very sad.
For every person I know who has been affected by these disasters, there are obviously thousands - even hundreds of thousands - that I have never met... who are going through similar losses, similar shock, similar emotions. What I know is that - in Christ - I am connected to all of these people, known and unknown to me. They are our brothers and sisters on planet Earth. They are the ones Jesus is referencing when he sends us out to fish for people, when he sends us out to love and heal.
Is your life sufficiently blessed right now? Do you have money, time, expertise, energy and other skills and resources that can be shared? If so, God is calling you to go out into the world and fish for people, by making a connection with them... loving them... and offering whatever you can - out of your sufficiency, out of your abundance.
Yes, these disasters provide opportunities for us to be loving and generous. In the midst of all the tragedy and heartache and loss and trauma, that is the silver lining. This is what the reign of God looks like - people showing up in the worst of times and offering hugs, help, money, hope, and healing, and a message that “We are with you. We are all in this together, and we are not going to be alright until that time that you are alright.”
“And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 366)