Less than a year after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast (Gosh, what doesn’t hit the Gulf Coast?) a group traveled down to Mississippi from the parishes that I served in Maryland to help in the rebuilding effort. We drove down, partly because we were on a tight budget, and partly because I love a good drive. As we reached the coast we could feel the humidity in the air, and we could begin to smell the salt hanging in the air.
Growing up on the shore in New Jersey, I felt like I was going home. I had a Pavlovian response to being by the water again, and I just wanted to see it. So, I proposed to the group that before we headed for our guest quarters, that we go over to Biloxi and grab a bite to eat and have an extended pit stop.
I wondered aloud that ‘maybe we could see some of the damage.’
As we drove across the causeway to the barrier islands, I was completely unprepared for what I was about to see.
There was no place for a pit stop. There was no place to grab a bite. There was nothing.
And I mean nothing.
As we drove along the coast with the quiet, calm Gulf waters out our left side windows, there was nothing but destruction and devastation out our right side windows.
Foundations without buildings atop them. A Walmart with no walls. A bank vault with no bank surrounding it.
If we had to use a bathroom, or if our bellies were aching, we were out of luck – but, honestly, we all forgot about our temporary bodily needs for a while. We sat in our seats stunned into silence, gaping out the open car windows.
The power of water is awesome.
It can destroy in a day what humankind took a century, or more, to build.
Water can wipe anything and everything completely off the face of the earth.
It can carve a Grand Canyon. It can pummel Southeast Asia with one large wave. It can turn boulders into sand.
And, people have known that for a long time. Water isn’t anything to mess with.
When the people in biblical times lived, if they wanted to poetically describe something that was totally out of control, dangerous, and chaotic they recalled the Sea.
In the ancient Babylonian creation myth Chaos/ Sea was a primordial God (Tiamat) who was torn in two by the upstart warrior god, Marduk. And out of her corpse the earth was made.
In the creation story from the Book of Genesis, when the earth was formless and void there was only water. And across the face of the water was the Spirit of God. And the water was ordered. Water below. Water above. The sea. Dry land.
When God heard the cry of his people Israel who were making bricks for Pharaoh in Egypt, and seeing their baby boys slaughtered out of fear, God sent Moses. And the waters of the Red Sea were turned to blood.
And then they were split in two, so that the People of God could walk through on dry land.
The message: God is so awesome in His power that He even controls the water. In fact, it is only God who can rule the water, and tame the chaos.
As the Psalmist says, in Psalm 95: the sea is His, for He made it.
And so when Elijah takes off his mantle, rolls it up tight, and thrusts it into the Jordan… the waters are parted. And when Elisha, with his newly acquired mantle does the same… the waters are parted.
The message: God is with them. God gives His power over chaos/ sea to his people, to his chosen.
This is one of those stories that reminds us, that God not only calls us, but equips us with what we need to fulfill our calling. It’s a powerful reminder that we’re called to great things – that God expects great things – awesome things – from us, but that God doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. Not because we’re lazy, but because the things God asks us to do are oftentimes outside the realm of human possibility.
Except with Him.
With Him the blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, the dead can rise, the hungry can be fed, walls of water move from side-to-side, and mountains can crash into those very same waters.
Whatever God is calling you to do, whatever God is calling your parish, or school, or family to do, it can be done.
With God’s help.
It’s time for the Church to think small no more.
Find your mantle. Roll it up tight. And strike.