This last Sunday was Easter. The Gateway Fellowship Egg Smash had been tremendous fun at the Royse City Lake Park, and I was looking forward to attending, and participating in, the church service Sunday morning. However, very early the pager went off. I heard their was a house fire with a displaced family. Though I had significant difficulty finding the location (it was a automatic aid call with the neighboring town), I eventually was able to find the house, with Engine 2 out in front. Clearly the house had been gutted by the fire, leaving only the remaining shell. I had not yet gone to meet with the family, but had only heard on the radio while enroute that they were displaced from the home (thank God they all made it out), and that the Red Cross was on it's way to assist them. When one of the firefighters directed to where the family was, I proceeded down to the neighbor's house to see if I could be of any comfort. Chaplaincy is a strange calling. Often you greatest effectiveness is born of a willingness not to say anything, but instead be a shoulder to cry on. Or, at other times, the mere presence of the chaplain leaves to impression for people that God was with them in their painful moment. This is called the "ministry of presence." In any case, I wanted to find the victims and try to bring grace to them.
The time I spent with the family was an emotional one. They cried and mourned the loss of everything they had. They were numb from the shock of the tragedy. All you can do in such times is weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).
After a while I left them to go back over and be with the firefighters still overhauling the building. I like to stay connected with the firefighters while they go about their work, while not getting in their way. I want them to know that God accompanies them on them call, and that I'm proud of how they participate in God's rescuing work on people's behalf. As I walked around the house, I went around to the back yard to assess what the extent of damage was. Hopefully, it wouldn't look quite as bad from the rear. On the contrary, the picture from the back of the house was just as devastating as the front. The scene clearly showed the full extent of the family's loss. Their entire material life has been taken away from them in a flash of bright light when lightning apparrently struck their roof. I stood in the back yard, wondering why God would allow such as disaster...on Easter morning of all days! Can't tragedy take a holiday? On a morning when millions are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, can't pain take a time off for a few hours? I was angry. I was disappointed and frustrated that nature did not find this morning sacred enough to keep its freak'in lightning to itself.
My anger was compounded then by the sudden realization that thousands in my our country are likely at sunrise service this morning celebrating the resurrection of Christ in air conditioned, plush carpeted, pristine, beautifully adorned and neatly oranged churches. How many in those sunrise services are experiencing any discomforts? Or are they enjoyign relatively easy lives thinking that the resurrection means new life for their financial picture? How many in sunrise services are, right at that moment, thanking God for such comfortable living that they have money to tip the waitress at Denny's after church (even though they probably won't)? How many are singing smarmy old choruses about the Lord's "abundance" and favor? The grief of the family I had just met was catching up to me. I stood alone in the back yard, before the burnt out shell of a house, and cried out to God, "This was not the sunrise service we're looking for."
I was eventually able to pull it together, remembering that others still need my presence (both firefighter and victims). I spent the rest of the time comforting and connecting until it was time to head off to the church service at Gateway.
Normally I have been teaching the kids program for the elementary grades, but on this morning (because no elementary program was given for Easter; the decision was made weeks ago to have families worship together for Easter) I had duties participating in the main service. At the beginning of the service I was to read Psalm 146. This was a beat down.
Psa. 146:1 ¶ Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
Psa. 146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live!
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist!
Psa. 146:3 Do not trust in princes,
or in human beings, who cannot deliver!
Psa. 146:4 Their life’s breath departs, they return to the ground;
on that day their plans die.
Psa. 146:5 How blessed is the one whose helper is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
Psa. 146:6 the one who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who remains forever faithful,
Psa. 146:7 vindicates the oppressed,
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD releases the imprisoned.
Psa. 146:8 The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD lifts up all who are bent over.
The LORD loves the godly.
Psa. 146:9 The LORD protects those residing outside their native land;
he lifts up the fatherless and the widow,
but he opposes the wicked.
Psa. 146:10 The LORD rules forever,
your God, O Zion, throughout the generations to come!
Praise the LORD!
Did I really believe this psalm? Did I really believe that the LORD is a helper, and feeder of the hungry? I just came from a family with no home, and no family nearby, who didn't know where their meals would come from. Did I really believe that "The LORD protects those residing outside their native land" (v.9)? This family had moved here from far away from their family network. They were like strangers. Did I really think the LORD watches over them? Why did I have to read this psalm to a church on this occassion? It was brutal.
Nevertheless, I determined to believe the assertions of the psalmist. I decided to confess that the LORD is indeed a helper in trouble, a deliverer to those beat down, a protector of the stranger and a faithful shelter to those in tragedy. The family had all escaped the fire. The Red Cross did show up with some resources for them to get food and clothes. The insurance company did put them up in a motel to for the next two weeks. Local restaurants did agree to donate some meals for this family. The psalmist is right to confess faith in the Lord, though all the exterior circumstances turn to crap. Sunday morning was a spiritual and emotional rollercoaster, and I need a nap.