For the past few years, we have had theological themes for sermons each month. This year, Hannah and I are doing something a little different. Rather than themes, we are using texts. In October, Hannah reflected on Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” This month the text is Psalm 23. In December, it is King Lear, Act 3, Scene 2. Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” will be the text for January.
The 23rd Psalm is assuredly the best known of all the Psalms. It is a beautiful piece of poetry, and has been set to music in many styles – you will hear some of those this Sunday.
I imagine it is a Psalm heard often in the Philippines right now as they have certainly walked through the valley of the shadow of death during and in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. The devastation is numbing and brings to mind the terrors of Hurricane Katrina, Super Storm Sandy, the tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma, the tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia. Nature is much larger than we are, and as much as we try to prepare, sometimes forces are simply too great. There is obviously a lesson about climate change in this – the predictions of more extreme weather should give us pause. Maybe those who deny climate change and the science behind it will finally wake up – we can only hope.
Where is God in all of this some ask? Why do the innocent suffer so? How do we comprehend the enormity of the power of natural forces and our insignificance in the face of them? Does the storm mean something? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do believe that natural disasters are just that – natural. They are not caused in the sense of happening to teach a lesson or to punish or to reward. There is no God in the wind and rain.
There is meaning, of course, in how we respond, and if God is anywhere in this, it is in our response to suffering. Our 7th Principle states “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” Being a part carries some responsibility for caring and for repairing. What we can do, in the short run, is to be generous with our help and so our offering this Sunday (the 17th) will go towards Philippine relief funds. Make your check payable to Neighborhood Church and we will send on check in from the congregation to an appropriate relief organization, perhaps the UUA/UUSC relief fund.
There is an indigenous UU movement in the Philippines. Starting as Universalist, there are about 1000 UUs in the archipelago (over 7000 separate islands). “To teach the hope that is for all, proclaim the Universal call” wrote Rev. Toribio Quimada, founder of the Universalist Church in the Philippines, later becoming a part of Unitarian Universalist. We can provide a little hope with our generosity.