Grief and Hope for Haiti

[audio]Isaiah 58:1-12

I’m the last person who ought to be speaking tonight about how the church should to respond to the situation in Haiti. I’ve never been to Haiti. I know only the broadest strokes about its history. And it is only since the earthquake on January 12 that I have become familiar with the long-standing partnership our Presbytery has with La Gonave and the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. So to stand before you tonight to offer some word on what the church with a big “C” ought to be doing about Haiti causes me much fear and trembling.

The reported numbers of dead, wounded, and missing are staggering. The photos give us a glimpse; but only that. The work of rebuilding will take far longer than George Clooney or Quincy Jones or Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church can keep a steady spotlight on the place. The truth is that the public’s compassion, our compassion, is limited. The further away we get from January 12, especially for those of us who have no personal connection to Haiti, the less we feel that first sting of agony for people 1200 miles away from us.

But what I know deep down in my bones, in the soul of my very being, is that the Church must respond. And we must do so on our knees, seeking God’s mercy as we respond. It is the voice of God speaking through the prophet Isaiah who drives the point home, especially on this Ash Wednesday, this day where the Church has traditionally begun the fast that leads to the feasting of Easter. A true and faithful fast is one that leaves behind callousness; a true and faithful fast is one that casts aside indifference; a true and faithful fast is one that is willing to let go of our righteous comforts and to be unsettled by the status quo.

Tonight, as we speak of mortality and repentance and grief and hope, we focus on Haiti. We do so because the world is complicit in her suffering, which goes much further into the past than just the January 12th earthquake. And we do so because suffering anywhere is suffering of all. As Paul said, “When one part of the body suffers, all parts suffer with it.” When Haiti suffers, we suffer; or rather, we ought to suffer. If we don’t, we might as well be cut off. To be Christians, to love this one called Jesus, is to be willing to put ourselves in the place of those who suffer and to allow ourselves that incarnate, fleshy agony of those who cry out for help from the Lord.

My hope is that those words of Isaiah will ring in our ears throughout the forty days of Lent, calling us to commit ourselves to easing suffering, wherever it might be, as evidence of our true and faithful fast: loosing the bonds of injustice; letting the oppressed go free; sharing our bread with the hungry; bringing the homeless poor into our house. It is then that light will break forth, that ruins will be rebuilt, that healing shall truly begin.

What more is there to say? I leave that to you. You have come here for one reason or another. My hunch is that there is something about Haiti that draws you here. So let us offer our prayers to God for Haiti. You may have one you wish to say out loud; please do. You may have one you wish to offer in the silence of your hearts. Whatever your prayer, trust that it is the Spirit who helps us in our weakness, even when we do not know how we ought to pray, offering up sighs too deep for words. Let us pray…