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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 9:56 pm | A Few Clouds 57º

 
 
 
 
Faith

Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett: Even Amid Wildfire, What a Great Time It Is to be a Christian

[Noozhawk’s note: The following is the sermon that the Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett had planned to deliver to her congregation at All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito. As the church is in the heart of the Thomas Fire evacuation zone, she released it electronically to parishioners. Click here to listen to her sermon online.]

“What a great time to be a Christian.”

Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett Click to view larger
Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett (All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church photo)

This was the Rev. Steve Haas’ final message to a roomful of Montecito Christians. Haas, chief catalyst and vice president of World Vision, had come to speak to the four Montecito churches — All Saints, El Montecito Presbyterian Church, Montecito Covenant Church and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church, collectively known as M4 — about the global refugee crisis, specifically Syria.

Now, internationally recognized as the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, conflict has devastated Syria since 2011. Syrian children and families have witnessed unspeakable violence and bear the brunt of the conflict. Hundreds of thousands of people have died, 5.1 million Syrians have fled the country as refugees, and 6.3 million Syrians are displaced within the country. Half of those affected are children.

And yet, according to the chief catalyst of World Vision, this is a great time to be a Christian.

“In light of the greatest migration of refugee people in our lifetime,” Haas says, “the Church is standing in a critical gap, showing the love and compassion of Christ to their neighbor.”

In the language of Advent, they are testifying to the Light ...

Of course this Advent, a different kind of light is drawing our attention, kindling our anxieties, feeding our fears. As fire lights up the ridges and hillsides above Santa Barbara, we find ourselves in our own crisis. And while our crisis pales in comparison to the devastation brought about by the global refugee crisis, it is still wreaking havoc on our lives.

Evacuation alarms have caused us to cancel Sunday services two weeks in a row ... Most of us are among the tens of thousands of people who have been evacuated as the 2-week-old Thomas Fire consumes more and more acreage. We don’t know if our homes are safe; our children and pets are overwhelmed; our community is scattered; and we adults are becoming weary, at best.

More than 8,000 firefighters — from as far away as Salt Lake City (and likely beyond) — continue to battle this monster wildfire, while people throughout the country collectively mourn for Cory Iverson, the San Diego County-based firefighter killed last week, and mourn for his family.

And yet, here we are, on the third Sunday of Advent celebrating a season of hope and expectant joy. The cognitive dissonance is confounding.

What a great time to be a Christian ... because our faith offers us such real sustenance in this time of need. Rather than calling us to deny the anxiety of our present reality, there is, instead, an entire category of scripture devoted to lament.

Our sadness, confusion, uncertainty, anxiety, even anger, is an understandable response to the crisis at hand, and there is nothing wrong with adding our lament to the catalog already contained in the Bible. Our lament won’t answer unanswerable questions, but we are joined to others and to God through our lament.

The Christian story urges us to seek God not above tragedy — controlling the fates of nature and humanity — but rather amid tragedy, suffering with us and for us.

This is nowhere more clear than in the incarnation, in which God breaks in to the pain and suffering, joy and pleasure of our fragile human flesh. In the incarnation, God is joined to the fullest human experience of love and loss out of love for us.

God is present — not causing chaos but entering into it, not sending calamity but suffering through it, not standing over us but holding tightly onto us and promising never to let go. Wherever there is human tragedy and pain, the incarnate God is there.

God is with us, not in theory, but in flesh.

What a great time to be a Christian ...

Because God does not only suffer with us, but also works through us. St. Paul’s assertion that we are the body of Christ is a bold and profound statement of faith. We who are broken, fragile and finite are those people through whom Christ is active in the world. God sends us into the world to bear and to be Christ’s healing and helping presence.

Even in the face of a calamity this immense, we are not helpless. I wonder what signs of Christ’s helping and healing presence you’ve witnessed or enacted in the midst of this disaster?

In addition to the acts you have called to mind, we can donate to Episcopal Relief & Development, which is already actively engaged in areas affected by the Thomas Fire, or to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles’ Wildfire Relief Fund, which is being made available for ministries serving the homeless and most vulnerable affected.

Of course, once the smoke clears and needs are clarified, we can assist in multiple ways with the restoration and rebuilding of lives. For we are the body of Christ and agents of God’s redemptive and restoring love in the world.

What a great time to be a Christian ...

Now, in this season of Advent, this season of hope, let us bear witness to the Light of Christ that shines continually in the darkness of our world.

Amen.

— The Rev. Aimée Eyer-Delevett is rector of All Saints By-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Montecito. The opinions expressed are her own.

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