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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Sunday, September 4, 2005
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to dedicated to the dead and to the survivors from Hurricane Katrina and always to the glory of God!
God's Kingdom, Power, and Glory Forever
Part V of V in the sermon series: "Teach Us to Pray: The Lord's Prayer in our Daily Lives"
Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20

Today's sermon was to be the conclusion of The Lord's Prayer sermon series. So, allow me to say a few words about the final phrase of our Savior's prayer, "for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen." This phrase appears in neither Luke or Matthew's gospel.  It was either a later addition, or lost in translation. Whichever the case, this
concluding doxology has been a critical part of the prayer in the Western liturgies of the church for centuries. It places an exclamation point on the message of the entire prayer, simply this: God's kingdom, God's power, and God's glory are everything and forever.  This final clause points us to understanding the very heart of God.  In the end, it is the prayer of
mission and commission; the prayer of incarnation and empowerment; the prayer of confidence and commitment.   As an article pointed out in yesterday's Columbus Dispatch, one woman desperate for hope was praying this prayer as rescue workers came to her side.  This
prayer defines, delivers, and describes that we need, all that we are called to be as people who follow Jesus Christ. We discover, this prayer is about the very reign of God now and forever.  Amen.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.

With 145-mph winds leading her ashore, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the
Gulf Coast just outside New Orleans early Monday morning, August 29th.  Her
power and destructive winds and rains submerged entire neighborhoods twenty
feet below the sea which she brought to the shore.  She swamped Mississippi'
s beach front towns, blew out windows in hotels and high rise buildings.  In
all of her horror,  Katrina was "The Perfect Storm."  She was a hurricane of
biblical catastrophic proportions as she devastated 90,000 square miles of
the Gulf Coast - more land than is found in England.   Katrina became "The
One" that everyone living at or below sea-level feared.

Even as the brunt of Katrina seemed to barely miss New Orleans and the city
appeared saved, the levees, which were built only to withstand a Level 3
hurricane, broke in two places and lake water surged into the city on
Tuesday.  The worst case scenario has come true.   South Mississippi,
Alabama, and Louisiana were swamped by the storm surge.  80% of New Orleans
was leveled by levee failure.  The price tag of loss is running around 100
billion dollars.

Katrina's cruel devastation was only the first wave of horror. What
followed on Tuesday, Wednesday and up to this weekend seemed to us like
scenes out of the film "Apocalypse Now." Bizarre and surreal images brought
"live" from the Gulf Coast of people isolated, suffering, dying, looting,
and shooting on the streets with no emergency relief in sight filled our
nation's and the world's television screens. Stories of teenagers in their
own boats and medical workers in helicopters being greeted by gunshot fire
while approaching to save the lost and suffering, are beyond comprehension.
My wife and I are still trying to grasp the meaning of this.

The slowness of response, particularly to the poorest of the poor, stranded
in the heart of New Orleans was not lost on the American public.  Many noted
that the National Guard simply aren't strong enough right now to respond in
crisis such as this one.  With 35% of Louisiana's national guard now in Iraq
(where 40% of all soldiers are National Guardsmen), the Guard was unprepared
and unable to move in with the speed, effectiveness, and efficiency we have
come to know as their mark in national disasters.  But, not only is the
Guard gone, large chunks of their resources needed for disaster response are
gone as well.  Dozens of the Guard's high water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers
and generators are in the desert terrain of Iraq.  Why high water vehicles
are needed in Iraq is beyond comprehension.

All of us know that the relative silence in reporting the dead and
missing can only mean the worst.  As with the Tsunami in late December 2004,
those reports may never be fully known.  It is fair to say, thousands are
gone.  God rest their souls.  Now, we are called to quickly reflect upon and
just as quickly respond to this disaster.

Today's passage in Romans 13:8-14, Paul declares "love your neighbor as
yourself" is the only commandment which matters.  Beyond the "not's"  which
often tie us up and bind up to lives well-lived (not committing adultery,
not murdering, not coveting, not stealing—although stealing food and water
from stores for survival in a disaster such as this may be necessary), Paul
says, "putting on the Lord Jesus Christ" will always be demonstrated by
works of love and righteousness for our neighbors in need.  Likewise, Jesus
reminds us in Matthew 18:18-20: "a 'yes' on earth is a 'yes' in heaven; a
'no' on earth is a 'no' in heaven. Whatever you say to one another is
eternal.  I mean this.  When two of you get together on anything at all on
earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action.  And
when two or three of you get together because of me, you can be sure that I'
ll be there" (Eugene Peterson, The Message, pp. 1798-99).

We are gathered here because of Jesus.  Because of Jesus' promise to us, we
are sure that Jesus is here as well.

"Jesus, we know you are here!  Since you are here, Jesus, help us out with
something.  What would you have US do in the aftermath of Katrina?  What
"yes" should we offer today, in this little section of your planet, to
assist our neighbors in need?  I've been pondering this question, Jesus.  I
have been piddling in prayer, waiting for this moment for the past seven
days.  Since you are here, and we are finally together, I ask you once
again: "What should we do?"

I have heard, via emails, conversations, and phone messages from staff and
our Church Council, the UCC leadership in Cleveland, and even the President
of Heidelberg College.  I have been drawn into the citywide and county wide
conversations with Mayor Coleman and Dewey Stokes of the County Commission.
Also via email, I have heard from Shari Prestemon, the Exec. Director of
Back Bay Mission, our church's mission station in Biloxi, Mississippi for
the past 100 years.  Also, via email, I have been blessed to have our own,
Heather Biggers, a FEMA disaster relief expert weigh in with her insights.
Because she has been on the ground in the aftermath of the four Florida
hurricanes last Fall, I trust her insights most of all.   But, Jesus you don't
use email.  You offered your insights 2000 years ago and left us to sort
it all out.  What should we do?

Having posed this question, having listened with discerning ears to the
cacophony of voices offering sights and determined goodwill, here are my
thoughts Jesus. What do you think?  Here are ten action steps.

1. Take an offering today for Katrina Relief.  Take more offerings in the
coming weeks, as well. These gifts will go through Church World Service and
the United Church of Christ to care for the poorest of the poor stricken by
this storm. The Executive Committee will meet this Tuesday to decide more
about this. Please share your thoughts with me and Reggie Cannon, Donna Coe,
Jim Kyle, Diana Kutschbach, and Rick Henderson and Mission Commissioner
David Wyatt today, Monday, and Tuesday.  Perhaps we will offer Major
Projects money or Mission Endowment grants for the rebuilding process.

2. Offer our homes, if possible, to house individuals and families who have
lost everything in the storm. 
Susan and I have committed to house and care
for Zulma Portilla, a Salvadoran woman needing eye surgery.  So, our one bed
is taken right now.  But, Helen Spears has offered a place for someone.  How
about the rest of us?  Can we make that commitment?  If you cannot do this,
what do you have to give to victims of this hurricane when called upon.

3.  Check with your college or university to see if they can take in
from Gulf Coast Universities who might need a place to matriculate
in 2005-2006.

4. Plan, when called upon, to go to the Gulf Coast to assist in cleanup and
rebuilding lives.
  I want everyone to be thinking about this now.  What
skills do you have?  Could you take time to go?   When the call comes for
our response, we will not have time to think about it then.   I hope we
focus especially on The Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Back Bay
has been the greatest nonprofit social service provider on Mississippi's
Gulf Coast for a long time.  Biloxi needs Back Bay to function, if they are
to survive.

5. For the children, go on-line to the Church World Service website and
find out the ingredients needed for disaster relief kits. 
The kids can go
to the store with parents and use their money to provide buckets for help
needed for cleanup and care.

6.  Write letters, send emails, make phone calls to our US Senators and
people and President Bush to raise questions and ask for action on
issues such as: why the levees failed, why the Federal Government was so
slow to respond (In the 1920's, when the last terrible storm hit, Herbert Hoover
had federal troops in the Gulf Coast within 24 hours. Why did it take us up
to 96 hours to get people on the ground in much of the region?) Ask how we
are going to pay for this disaster and the war in Iraq simultaneously.  Do we
have enough resources to do it all?  Where are our priorities?  Where are the
resources and people we have to combat this current crisis in homeland security?

7. Plan ahead. This Tuesday night at 6:00pm, there is a meeting
scheduled here at our church for the religious and civic community to gather
with city and county officials to consider our next best steps in response
to Katrina relief.  I invite you to come to this meeting.

8. Next Sunday morning at 10:00am, between services, I am asking all of
you to come to this sanctuary
for two purposes.  First, we will receive the
working draft of the Long Range Plan for 2005-2010.  Tom Stewart and the
Long Range Planning Committee will be prepared for that presentation.
Second, we will discuss and decide what our congregational response to
Katrina will be going forward.  We are a congregational church, I expect us
to act like one.

9. For today, I encourage you to come to coffee hour and meet in the west
transept of the parish hall (near the coffee pots) to share your thoughts,
feelings, and ideas on how to help.

10. Pray that Jesus will speak to us about how, when, and where to best
reach out and serve our neighbors in need. 
A heart of compassion for giving
is a heart for Christ.  May God guide our feet. Amen.