Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
Harvey, Irma, Joses, and Katia
Hurricanes. Epic hurricanes.
Harvey drenched the Houston area with more rain than has ever been recorded in our country from a single event in modern history.
Irma that is striking Florida today is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.
While we are still reeling in the aftermath of Harvey, Irma, Joses, and Katia follow close behind.
All three of them are expected to make landfall this weekend.
Irma in Florida.
Katia in Mexico.
Joses will hit the islands in the Caribbean already hit by Irma, before heading northeast into the Atlantic, luckily sparing Florida.
Meanwhile, at home, our forests are burning.
Sandpoint recorded the worst air quality in the nation this last week, the result of the intense forest fires in the Northwest.
If only there was some way to get some of the moisture from the Gulf States here, we could solve two problems simultaneously.
Well, that’s wishful thinking.
Back to reality.
One of the things about hurricanes is that there are always warnings.
We know when they are coming.
We have a pretty good idea where they are headed.
We have time to prepare.
My sister and brother-in-law live in Florida, and one of the things that struck me when I visited them a few years back is that they had brackets installed on their home so that whenever a hurricane struck they were prepared to cover all their windows with metal panels.
Head the warnings.
Friday night I was amazed as I watched CNN’s coverage at how some are ignoring the warnings to get out of the storm’s way, choosing rather to just hunker down and ride it out.
Now for some, this makes sense.
My sister Karen lives northeast of Tampa Bay, and my brother Tim lives up toward Daytona Beach, and both are likely far enough north that the storm will likely be more of a nuisance than a threat by the time it reaches them.
But on CNN they were interviewing people in the Florida Keys where the storm will hit hardest that had resolved to stay put.
One replied that they had considered leaving but didn’t know where they could go with their two daughters, AND FIVE DOGS, so they are staying put.
Some of these people who do not heed the warnings will die. That’s the tragedy.
I have a friend who was talking about the aid that our government will offer to the flood victims from Hurricane Harvey.
His point was that we should help them rebuild. Yes.
But with one condition: that they relocate to higher ground.
But we won’t.
Houston will be rebuilt where it is, just like New Orleans was rebuilt. Never mind that much of New Orleans is below sea level. Rebuild anyway.
Scientist warn us that climate change is occurring and as the world warms up, the oceans will rise because water expands as it gets warmer, and the warmer water will result in hurricanes intensifying, and in the end, the remarkable storms that we are now seeing will become common place.
But we like ocean front property.
So we build on the beaches anyway.
The thing is, we are far enough away from the gulf that when we hear of one hurricane after another, we can’t help but wonder why people don’t move, don’t they understand that hurricane after hurricane will come. Don’t they realize that no matter how often they rebuild, it is only a matter of time before one strikes again?
Of course, when they hear of the devastation caused by forest fires, the lives and homes lost, they can’t help but wonder why we want to rebuild our homes in the middle of the forest. Forest fires happen. Lightning strikes and tinder dry forests erupt in flames.
And when the forest becomes a raging inferno standing out in your yard with a garden hose is not going to stop the fire.
The warnings were there. Yet time and time again we simply choose to ignore them.
Ezekiel was appointed by God to be a sentinel, a watchman to warn God’s people about what was to come.
Throughout the ages, through God’s Word and the messengers he has sent to us, we have received warning upon warning.
“ turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Those were the words God gave to Israel.
Yet they didn’t listen.
We hear a word of warning and we don’t listen.
Are scientists the sentinels that God has sent to us today to warn us about the effect of our actions upon the world we live in?
Some believe so.
But many more respond in one of two ways:
First we simply deny that what they say is true. “It’s all just a conspiracy,” we say.
Or, even if we believe them, we either don’t believe there is anything we can do to avert the disaster, or worse, knowing what we can do, we simply refuse to change our way of life.
If what scientists are telling us about climate change is true, and that our actions are causing it, then the hope is that we can do something to avert the disaster.
The purpose of the warning is not to condemn, but to offer a way out.
In Ezekiel the prophet writes:
“Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
In Ephesians 4:25-27 Paul warns us:
“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.”
Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
What Paul is warning us about is that if we fail to resolve our differences in a timely fashion we will “make room for the devil”.
Jesus offers us a way of reconciliation in the Gospel lesson for today.
We have received a warning, and offered a way out.
There will be things that make us angry, but we need not let them destroy us, either individually, or as the body of Christ.
One of the questions is when we hear words of warning do we hear them as words of judgment or hope?
When the Bible warns us that our divisions will destroy the Church, the hope is that if we practice forgiveness, our unity may be restored.
This is so simple, really. With every warning, there is both a judgment and hope.
The warnings that God gives us, are not a condemnation, but a diagnosis. God tells us what is wrong—and what we can do about it.
The issue for us is will we listen?
And will we act?
Sometimes, though, we simply run from any notion of responsibility. We play the victim.
Even our theology reinforces this notion.
“We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.”
Well, to a certain extent this is true.
But the other side to that story is that we are to live responsibly.
Our actions have consequences. If you want to avoid bad consequences, avoid the bad decisions that bring about those consequences.
“Turn back, turn back, from your evil ways.”
In Romans Paul writes:
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Love is a choice.
This is the thing:
There are situations in life that will make us angry.
There are situations in life that will please us.
Of that, we have no control.
But we do have a choice about how we respond to the good and the bad in life.
We can wallow around in our anger and let it consume us.
Or we can choose to love, and to forgive, and be reconciled to one another.
The choice is between that which will kill us, or that which will give us life.
“turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
Why will you die, O house of Israel, when God has shown us how to live?