Who would have thought we would ever hear this phrase spoken on a radio news report in America: "Today, about 25,000 refugees were moved from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston."
For days, we've watched the tragedy continue to unfold in Mississippi and Louisiana and, if you are like me, you've wrestled with feelings of shock and disbelief... feelings that, over the last five years, have become all too familiar.
We were barely into the new millennium when we saw towers falling in New York City and planes crashing into the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania farmland.
We saw bombs over Baghdad and witnessed the ancient land of Abraham become a war zone for his descendants. You'd think we had seen enough, but then came the tsunami--a roaring wave that sucked life and innocence out to sea.
And now the fruits of Katrina. A city sitting in twenty feet of water. Citizens hacking their way onto roofs and helicopters hovering over neighborhoods. Optimistic rescuers, opportunistic looters, grateful people, resentful people-we have seen it all.
And many have seen it up close. Katrina came to San Antonio in the form of 12,500 evacuees. Many of you are meeting them, feeding them, writing checks, and manning shifts. And you, as much as any, have reason to wonder.What is going on here? 9/11, Iraq, tsunami, Katrina. And I didn't mention nor intend to minimize Hurricanes Dennis and Ivan and Emily. Jesus criticized the leaders of his day for focusing on the weather and ignoring the signals: "You find it easy enough to forecast the weather-why can't you read the signs of the times?" Matthew 16:2-3 (MSG).
What are we to learn from all of this? Is God sending us a message? I think so. And, I think we'd be wise to pay attention. There are some spiritual lessons that I think God would want us to learn through this tragedy. The first lesson we see is.
I. The Nature of Possessions: Temporary
As you've listened to evacuees and survivors, have you noticed their words? No one laments a lost plasma television or submerged SUV. No one runs through the streets yelling, "My cordless drill is missing" or "My golf clubs have washed away." If they mourn, it is for people lost. If they rejoice, it is for people found.
Could Jesus be reminding us that people matter more than possessions? In a land where we have more malls than high schools, more debt than credit, more clothes to wear than we can wear, could Christ be saying:
"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions" (Luke 12:15)?
We see an entire riverboat casino washed up three blocks and placed on top of a house in a neighborhood. You see demolished $40,000 cars that will never be driven again, hidden in debris. And in the background of our minds we hear the quiet echoes of Jesus saying, "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26).
Raging hurricanes and broken levees have a way of prying our fingers off the stuff we love. What was once most precious now means little; what we once ignored is now of eternal significance.
A friend and I attended a worship service at Antioch Baptist Church last Sunday night. Several African-American church leaders had organized an assembly to pray for evacuees that have ended up in San Antonio. Many of them sat in the front rows dressed in all the clothing they owned: T-shirts, jeans. Their faces were weary from the week. But when the music started and the worship began, they came to their feet and sang with tears in their eyes.
"Tell those rich in this world's wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage-to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they'll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19 MSG).
Through Katrina, Christ tells us: stuff doesn't matter; people do. Understand the nature of possessions. Be equally clear on:
II. The Nature of People: Sinners and Saints
We see the most incredible servants and stories of selflessness and sacrifice. We see people of the projects rescuing their neighbors, we see civil servants risking their lives for people they've never seen. My wife Denalyn and I toured a shelter supervised by one of our neighbors here in San Antonio. We met a family of some twenty cousins and siblings. One six-year-old girl told Denalyn about the helicopter man who plucked her off a third story porch and lifted her to safety.