12th Sunday in Ordinary Time B Cycle – June 21, 2015 – Weathering Storms: A Christian Survival Kit
How can we explain the suffering endured by Job in the first reading when Job clearly was a just man who walked with God? How can we explain the violent and senseless killing of nine faithful church members who clearly believed in the mercy and justice of God?
The shootings in Charleston South Carolina were carried out by a young man who apparently felt threatened by people who were different from him. He harbored deep hatred toward the “other.”
Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote to his congregation last week, “a part of our human condition is paranoia and fear. The more we feed them the more fearful we become. We then need to separate ourselves or protect ourselves from them or actively find ways to destroy them.”
The psalm this morning describes people who are thankful for God’s care and protection from stress. During our liturgy we plead with God to protect us from all fears and anxieties. How, then, do we explain God’s apparent lack of concern in devastating situations. How do we respond?
Last week some members of our parish and I were at Coxsackie Correctional Facility for a bible study program. One inmate stood up and reiterated the question that is on everyone’s mind. If God is present to us and promises to protect us how could such a Godless act take the lives of good people … in a church nonetheless. Here is how I tried to answer it.
God does not leave us alone during tragic events. Rather, an evil action such as those church killings or the holocaust or any act of torture and terrorism ignores God’s presence and becomes an agent of destruction. Natural disasters are not acts of God. Evil actions carried out by human beings are not the work of God.
Last week I talked about strong trees with many branches. There, all of God’s people can find safety, sustenance and salvation. I am reminded here of the phrase in our Eucharistic Prayer that says God loves the human race and continues to walk with us. However, while praying to God for guidance and assistance we cannot always wait for God to intervene or tell us which way to turn.
The Rev. Emma Akpan of the African Methodist Episcopal Church said she would like to pray for Charleston, SC but cannot. “Prayer doesn’t seem like enough, she cried. I need action. I need change.”
We have the freedom to make choices. God seems to be absent only when we will God to be absent. When we do not recognize the presence of God in our lives and in the lives of others all day long, all week long, we risk making serious mistakes that affect our lives and those of others.
Here’s a good example. As we know last week Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’ — “Praise be to you.” The title is taken from the Canticle of Creation written by St. Francis of Assisi — one of the saints chosen by you to be in our collection of icons.
The encyclical frequently refers to St. Francis as an example of care for vulnerable persons. Francis is a model of the inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for poor people, commitment to society and interior peace. There is much to ponder in this encyclical but I want to point out an important thread known as “integral ecology.”
To be morally good and just, economic development must consider people’s need for freedom, education and meaningful work. The pope said confronting the climate crisis will require a “deeper, spiritual transformation of society, replacing consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.”
Throughout the encyclical Pope Francis argues that everyone and everything is interconnected — to God, to creation, to one another. Job was punished not because he was a bad guy. He was being tested to see whether or not his sense of justice included others or was self-centered.
We do not know when the end times will be. We do know that if we want to partake in the beauty and grace of God’s creation, if we want to assure that every one else, including our children, will be able to live without fear and enjoy with equity this fragile planet of ours, we would be wise to take action to protect it and all of its inhabitants.