Since last Tuesday, we’ve all been watching as the tragedy in Haiti unfolds. Though what we see and hear may be overwhelming, the calamity calls forth our generosity and our prayers; we want to do what we can to help.
Haiti is a close neighbor to us. We have Haitian communities in many of our towns and cities. You may have friends who have been to Haiti, or have supported ministries there. You may have traveled there. Our churchwide office provides daily updates about the earthquake to pastors and churches. Our Presiding Bishop sent a letter and a video address to all Lutherans in the ELCA on Friday. We’re putting the link on our website; it’ll be on the first page. You can listen to the address at our national website elca.org as well.
The Lutheran church in Haiti is small, but vibrant. Our partners in ministry there extend our capacity to serve people quickly and effectively through The Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief to provide emergency food, water, shelter and medical supplies. We work with other agencies as weill. Such times open our eyes to our common bonds as human beings, and our differences, for once, are put aside in an outpouring of compassion.
Today our scripture lessons direct us to be mindful of God’s grace and generosity. The images are those of abundance and faithfulness, from the symbol of the wedding feast in Isaiah and the Gospel, to St. Paul’s account of the many spiritual gifts given to us by the Spirit to do the work of the church.
But remember this, every one of these beautiful hopeful texts were written in a time of uncertainty, even national distress. Isaiah, in exile, longs for the day when his people will be restored to their homeland, a restoration as beautiful as a crown in God’s hand. The prophet will not keep silent until his nation is rebuilt—he intercedes for his people, reminding God of what God has promised. He calls on God to rebuild the nation, to look upon her with delight. “As a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you.” No longer shall you be called forsaken, Isaiah prophesies. No longer shall your land be called Desolate. But you will be my delight.” With a vision of God’s saving love before him, Isaiah prays for his people, “as one rejoices in marrying one’s beloved, so shall your God rejoice over you.” The prophet holds out the promise and hope of a future for his people.
Here is a prayer we can claim for Haiti: that out of the forsaken and desolate landscape of an earthquake, God will reach in through the hands and hearts of her people, and all who wish to help, to rebuild a country. We, too, can take up Isaiah’s constant prayer, refusing to keep silent, reminding God of God’s promises to bring life out of death.
In a similar prayer, the Psalmist intercedes for his people. If you read the whole of Psalm 36, and not just the section for this morning, you see the singer moves through a lament over our broken humanity, naming our limitations and sorrows. But then, in verse five, where we come in this morning, he remembers God’s steadfast love. Wherever there is sorrow and fear, where there is suffering, that is where God is. This God doesn’t stand above or apart from our lives in distant judgment. This God draws near, setting up his tent amidst our tragedies.
Jesus suffered the deepest experience of human loss in his death on the cross. It was an unjust death, a burden shouldered for us. This is the mystery of our faith: this cross of Jesus. God is with us, Immanuel, not to send us pain, but embracing us, never to let go. We know that where the cross is, Christ is—and we see the face of our Lord in the faces of our suffering neighbors in Haiti.
We may feel overwhelmed by the need we see. Yet we are not helpless—we have many gifts to share. St. Paul urges his fellow Christians in Corinth to join each other in unity, and remember they are the body of Christ—that they have been given the Holy Spirit, equipped with gifts to serve their neighbors in need, bringing healing and help.
We can extend our hands to our brothers and sisters in need through wonderful, effective organizations like Lutheran World Relief. We can respond to needs as we hear about them. Already a call has gone out for health kits—well that’s something we’ve done in the past, we know how to do them, and we can help. This is part of God’s work of healing through our hands. Haiti has been a poor nation for many years, and this calamity on top of their poverty is more than they can bear alone. We can help bear their burdens, just as we do our friends here at home. This is Christian life, that we bear one another’s burdens.
Our final lesson today is the Gospel story of the wedding at Cana. We must find a way to bring the miracle of Cana into our present experience. This is the scene of Jesus’ first miracle; we can see from the response he gave his mother, that he wasn’t quite ready for it. Yet Mary, like the prophet Isaiah, like the Psalmist, calmly reminds Jesus of what and who he is, just as they have reminded God. Jesus is the one who transforms our lives, bearing such love and grace that our empty jars are filled. Where there was water, now there is something even richer, the wine he pours out.
Cana is ultimately about the gift of a God who pours out his life for us, over and over, filling us, renewing us, and overflowing through us into the world. And we are surprised, as the steward is surprised. When the servants at the wedding feast serve the wine, the steward says with amazement: you have saved the best for last.
Grace is poured out in Cana, as Jesus comes to the aid of his friends at a wedding feast. It is a quiet miracle, an intimate transformation behind the scenes. Few people know about it, and yet it is a great sign of who Jesus is, and what it is to come. Yet isn’t it often that way with us. Something happens in our lives, behind the scenes, transforming us, and showing us the signs of things to come.
Cana is a sign of the grace of a God who has joined himself to his people in a marriage covenant of faithful love. In your prayers and actions this week, remember God’s steadfast care. His power transforms us, as water is turned into wine, restoring nations, reconciling enemies, healing and binding up the broken. Remember his great faithfulness and be agents of His grace, Cana people filled with Christ, bound in loving service to God and neighbor.
(For more on this topic of preaching the texts this week in light of the earthquake see Working Preacher at the Luther Seminary website).