Last Sunday night, the sky opened like a faucet over my neighborhood, and my first thought was, “Oh no, Old Ellicott City (OEC).” That morning, I preached a message from James 4:13f. on the uncertainty of our lives and the caution of presuming on our plans. Watching the footage of the flooding, I felt the weightiness of God’s Word in a new light.
While certainly not claiming any sort of “prophetic” voice, the sheer power of nature and the unpredictability of life should make us consider how fragile our lives actually are. There are always things beyond our control no matter how much technology, how many policies and regulations, or how much money we put into something.
OEC’s second flooding in three years reminds me to submit my plans to the Lord and to remember that ultimately He orders my steps. With that short sermon reminder, let me also offer a few pastoral thoughts on how we can respond to the needs yet again.
We will stay committed to caring for the specific needs of Gracers affected by the storm and for any pressing needs that God brings to our attention. We’ll keep listening in on the conversations about rebuilding OEC. This second flood just after the historic district was restored reveals that there are more infrastructure and systems work that needs to be done. It brings to light motives and policies that need to be examined. These are complicated waters to navigate. We’ll ask God for wisdom to wade into it.
I’m sure in the coming days (if not already), there will be plenty of blame-shifting. People will post opinions about redevelopment, zoning, even global warming. Political agendas will especially seek to leverage this disaster in an election year. Remember Aristotle’s political use of the Greek word for “selfish ambition” in James 4:14? There will be plenty of accusatory questioning. I wonder if the, “why couldn’t we prevent this?” reveals a presumption that we can control nature, the mistaken belief that when God called us to make something of the world, he intended us to be god over it. We must remember there are some things we can’t control all the while living in the tension of being good stewards over it.
As a church, we’re not going to engage in those conversations. We’re going to love on people, asking God for wisdom as to how to be good neighbors to the neighborhood of OEC. I’m sure there will be lots of opportunities to help and serve in the coming days. Let’s do our best to be involved, and to care for our affected neighbors.
Church, don’t let cynicism or suspicion weary you in doing good and showing compassion. In many ways, the second occurrence of a disaster like this tests our hearts. We can become hesitant to fully engage because we just did this two years ago, and we have no assurances that what we do this time will last or make a difference.
But do you see that that’s always the case? We don’t have any guarantees that our loving acts will bring about lasting change. James reminds us that we are a mist here today and gone tomorrow. Our actions will always be finite because our lives are finite. God calls us to do good today as best as we can, as wisely as we can.
So we will love the person and/or respond to the situation in front of us – plain and simple. That’s an oversimplification, I know. At some point, we have to ask the deeper questions of justice and broken systems. Why does it keep happening? If a “thousand year storm” happens twice in three years, what does that mean? There will be opportunities to do that. In the meanwhile, let’s not let the questions keep us from loving our neighbors. Let’s choose to err on the side of being too compassionate, too loving. I think that will honor the Lord and make a difference, deo volente.