France, Claire, and Isabella lost a father, father-in-law, and grandfather in the Haiti earthquake. France’s mother and sister remain in Haiti, waiting for necessary heart medication and more. This family, like many others, hopes that the government of Canada will do for Haitians what Canada has done for others before, temporarily loosening immigration practices to make it possible for families to be reunited.
Mom, Dad, and daughter are members of my United Church community. They were part of a poignant Service of Remembrance and Hope for Haiti in Montreal’s St. James United Church last Sunday evening. It was my honour and privilege to bring the prayers of their larger community—The United Church of Canada—and to remember aloud that God’s heart breaks today, just as surely as it broke on Good Friday. The Very Rev. Peter Short’s words following the 2004 tsunami guide us in response to the question “Where was God?” Peter describes God being faced with a choice between control and love. God chose love, thereby giving up absolute control. We too, faced with this choice, are called to choose love, in the way of Christ.
This is a call to soul and to community. To make the difficult choice of love over control is only possible, in my experience, with spiritual practices that nourish our souls and soften our hearts day by day and week by week. Without them, confusing and often cruel news has us clinging to our fears. Such news feeds our inclinations to want to take control.
Community makes the risky business of extravagant love more normal and manageable; it gives us good ways to respond in love beyond what we as individuals can do on our own. For example, on Sunday afternoon I spoke with a Concordia University student in a flower shop. She asked if I knew of an organization that would be trustworthy in handling student donations well for Haiti. She was glad to take my card and responded warmly to the invitation to consider the track record of The United Church of Canada. Sometimes we underestimate the great gift that we have as community in a world where many feel alone.
Our home church communities offer us strength as individuals and, in turn, strengthen the rural and urban communities of which they are a part. Nationally, our United Church community multiplies our local efforts. To date we have committed almost $300,000 to our Haiti Emergency Appeal, which, when matched by government funds, will provide $600,000. Our international partners—yet another strand in the rich weave of our communities—will effectively transform these dollars into on-the-ground relief and restoration.
Last Sunday’s gospel reading was from Luke 4, when Jesus quoted Isaiah in announcing his ministry. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of these lines from Luke in The Message were helpful:
To set the burdened and battered free,
To announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
[Jesus] rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
The people of Montreal’s United Churches, Montreal City Mission, and St. Columba House are making history and fulfilling the truth of scripture now, in that place. Even before the offering was taken at Sunday’s service, they presented me with a commitment of $31,000 for our United Church’s communal efforts in Haiti (part of the United Church commitment mentioned above). These good people are, as far as I’m concerned, all the evidence needed that this is God’s year to act.
What evidence persuades you that “This is God’s year to act!”?