Sermons That Work

Following the Tsunami, Christmas 2 – 2005

January 02, 2005


(Note to the reader: This sermon is written for use the Sunday after the tsunami disasters in the Indian Ocean. While it makes reference to the lessons for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day, it is topical in nature).

As we gather in worship today we have to remember before God the mounting numbers of dead, the children, parents and relatives that have died by the thousands as the raging tidal waves swept them away. The scenes we have all witnessed on newscasts or read in the papers do not begin to describe the anguish being felt by survivors. The earthquake and resulting tidal waves are of such epic proportion that it is possible we , though far away, may know people who were there or had loved ones there. Many people throughout the world will be in sorrow; and it will be years, if ever, before some have their lives restored.

While there are natural disasters that often trouble us, it is particularly sad when they occur at a time like Christmas. The Alaskan earthquake of 1964 happened on Good Friday. What are we to do when we are confronted by such disasters? What are we to say about God in the wake of these horrible things?

God always promises us an abiding presence with us. God never promises we will be protected from harm. The people of the Indian Ocean basin are no more or less under God’s abiding love than we are. We believe God cares about all creation and seeks to redeem it. It is all precious to God. While we struggle to comprehend the thousands of dead, God mourns the loss of them all. So, our first response is appropriately one of sorrow and grief. We offer prayers for the bereaved families and ask God to take into God’s arms those who are dead. A prayer from the Burial Office says it well: Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting (BCP, p. 481).

Providing relief to those who have lost everything and have to rebuild from nothing is another way we can respond. The early church recognized the need to provide for the welfare of others in distress, and we can do no less. While there are numerous ways to respond, the Episcopal Relief and Development has direct contacts in all the stricken areas and can make sure that aid goes to those most in need. Offerings taken in churches can be sent directly to ERD for distribution. Every diocesan office has information about how to direct funds for relief through ERD, and this is a time when our relief is much needed.

The Gospel for today highlights the Holy Family. They were refugees in Egypt for a period of time. They knew the distress of homelessness and being out of contact with loved ones. The world has many people like that today, some because of natural disasters, others because of war and displacement of innocent people. For all of them, Joseph, Mary and Jesus stand as an icon of God’s abiding love and concern for all the human family.

In the collect we prayed to God who wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature. This dignity is also echoed in the Baptismal Covenant when we promise to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. It is dignity which makes us human, and also calls us to mourn its loss when disaster or war erases it from life. We are all reminded by this disaster of the uncertainty of life and our reliance on God to preserve our souls. Living as if we believe it, mourning and sharing with our brothers and sisters who have lost so much, and recalling our faith that God will see us through these trials are ways we can honor the Holy Family and help restore dignity to all humanity.

Now it is time to pray for those who are bereaved. Now it is time to generously give out of our abundance to those in need. Now it is time to remember with thanks the Holy Family who endured so much in their innocent goodness. Let us pray:

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that
Thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men:
Look with pity upon the sorrows of all for whom our prayers are offered.
Remember them, O Lord, in mercy,
Nourish their souls with patience,
Comfort them with a sense of thy goodness,
Lift up they countenance to them,
And give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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