Remembering Sandy and Marathons

Marathon Runners Helping with Sandy Recovery (Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times)

Marathon Runners Helping with Sandy Recovery (Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times)

As I reflected yesterday on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, I thought about how our church community tried to stay connected and be helpful around this time last year. Sandy hit on Monday, and by the following Sunday, our church had power again. We held our regular worship service that day, but many of our members were unable to get to church because of the shutdown of the subways and many other hindrances. So we gathered those who were unable to get to the West Village on a conference call at 9:30am that Sunday to check in and pray. What follows is the meditation I prepared for that conference call. 

We’ve been hearing so much about the marathon that was scheduled for today that I thought of that old marathon runner analogy from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.

I Corinthians 9:24-27

Today we were supposed to have a marathon, as we all know. But I have felt that we have been having the sort of marathon Paul is talking about all week. The kind of race Paul is talking about is not a foot race, but a much more profound race toward the goals of the Christian life. I’ve had a sense this week that this is what we’ve all been training for. We train our hearts, develop our spiritual muscles, practice the stories of faith over and over again—the story of the Good Samaritan, the story of Christ’s incarnation as an oppressed and vulnerable child, the story of God liberating slaves in Egypt. And we have hydrated ourselves with the baptismal waters of God’s grace and eaten the healthy food of Christ’s table of forgiveness and love.

But we haven’t been just running aimlessly, as Paul says. And we haven’t been doing all of this for ourselves—so that we can feel good and comforted and spiritually grounded. Feeling good and comforted and spiritually grounded is so important, but what we are after is even greater than that. As we say all the time, we are called to nothing less than the transformation of the world. If you are in this church, then you know that this is our ambitious mission, and we are aiming at nothing less.

And transforming the world into what we understand to be closer to God’s reign starts with weeks like these. In a world where we are taught to look out for ourselves first, transformation starts with a single phone call or email to someone before or after a hurricane to let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them through the storm. In a world where we value privacy over community, transformation starts with walking up a dark stairwell to check in on an elderly neighbor. In a world where we are separated into neighborhoods of haves and have-nots, transformation starts with trekking for hours on crowded buses from the upper west side to walk food and water up into lower east side public housing buildings.

This is what we have been training for. All the prayer, hymn singing, scripture reading, peace passing, communion sharing—It has all been training for moments like these. Weeks like this. Months like this. Years like this. When our communities burn to the ground, neighbors lose homes, friends lose power, strangers need food and water. These are the moments when we clock in and reveal to the world, to ourselves, and to God just how hard we’ve trained, just how prepared we are to respond to the world’s suffering—as individuals and as a church.

I must say that—though our response and our time is not yet perfect—I smile when I think of how our community has responded so far. We have tried as much as possible to keep up with each other with phone calls and Facebook messages. Our members have taken people into their homes. Our church folks have walked into high rise buildings to provide food, and water, and companionship to people. We have donated money to the Red Cross and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. One of our staff took it upon himself to actually stay overnight in the church in pitch dark lower Manhattan to protect it from looters after opening it to the community to provide bathrooms and shelter to those who needed it during the day. And, of course, we have prayed…a lot. We are running the race in these days, and I think we are doing well.

But there is more to do. I ask you to continue to pray, to continue to make phone calls and send emails to people you haven’t heard from yet. Continue to check in on your neighbors and to volunteer and to donate and to receive help if you need it. And, on Tuesday, vote for leaders who will do this work with you. Our community’s recovery is truly a marathon and not a sprint, and I am honored to lead such a practiced community.

The last thing I want to say is this. The transformation of the world starts locally, but when you are feeling cold because you have no heat or when you feel upset at images of your neighbors losing their homes or their children, let those emotions stay with you and move you when it’s not your neighbor next time, when it’s someone in another land. When it’s a family without food and water, not because of a hurricane, but because of poverty or conflict. Allow the way you are transformed today affect how you look at the rest of the world tomorrow.

Join us anytime for our weekly conference call ministry, every Wednesday morning at 7am. For about 25 minutes, we have a time of devotion and share prayer concerns. All are welcome. Call in at (559)546-1200, Code: 533-689-191#.