Even When Steeples Are Falling
The pictures of devastation in Joplin, Missouri, tell the story better than words. And for those of us who have personally witnessed the aftermath of a mega tornado, they bring back vivid memories.
Years ago I had the opportunity to witness the devastation suffered by the little South Dakota community of Spencer after one of these tornados had torn through the town, leaving almost nothing but rubble. It was eerily quiet as I walked into what had been a small but active rural community. On the far end of town, National Guard heavy equipment was gathering together a depository of destroyed cars and trucks. Relief efforts were underway.
The most remarkable thing for me was my own confusion, as I tried to figure out where I was in the small town. Although I had been there numerous times before, I couldn’t tell where anything had been. The once-familiar pattern of streets had become a gridwork to separate piles of rubble left by the storm. Even the town’s water tower was no longer standing. I realized then how important landmarks are, and the landmarks were gone.
Only when I came upon the site of our LCMS church, its sign still half standing, and only when I looked out on the surroundings from the floor of the church swept clean except for a few randomly strewn hymnals–only then could I finally make some sense out of the community. Now as I looked out on the landscape of shredded trees and splintered wood and basement holes I could see where things had been. It was the church that helped me to get my bearings.
It was a teaching moment, a poignant reminder of the role of the church in our lives, especially in times of tumult, “even,” as our hymn proclaims, “when steeples are falling” (“Built On the Rock,” st. 1). There were four churches in Spencer. There were no steeples left standing. But still left standing was the role and presence of the church to help those left confused and suffering and mourning to begin to find their way.
Our LCMS pastor serving the congregation at Spencer understood this very well. He pastored the entire community after the storm. Later in the week at the town’s athletic field, he provided a worship service of thanksgiving for the entire community. His message was clear: The steeples may be down, but the church and its message of unfailing hope and life are present. This will be our landmark during the confusion and struggles of the weeks and months to come, to help us maintain our bearings, even though most things familiar will be gone.
We have learned again these past weeks that we never know when our lives will change dramatically, even to the point of losing all things earthly. We may be left to wander in confusion among the wreckage of once well-ordered lives, unable to recognize much of anything. But there will always be a landmark to help us get our bearings. We will still have the church, its even-when-silenced bells still “chiming and calling,” its Gospel assuring us of God’s love despite all.
For five people in Spencer and 125 people in Joplin, the storm was their time to leave all behind, a time that will come for all of us in due time, in one manner or another. What a blessing to know that even then, as we pass from this turbulent world into “rest everlasting,” we will not wander or wonder. We will have the words of Christ articulated in the hymn to provide all the direction we will need: “I know my own and my own know Me; You, not the world, my face shall see. My peace I leave with you.” To which we will gladly say, “Amen.”
|Print article||This entry was posted by Ray Hartwig on May 29, 2011 at 11:58 am, and is filed under Ray's Posts. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.|
about 3 years ago - Comments Off on Sons (and Daughters) of Nones
“Who were the three people who never had parents?” Answer: “Adam and Eve,” of course, and then also “Joshua, the son of Nun” (Josh. 1:1). The riddle came to mind with all the talk these about “Nones,” the 30 percent of our population today who, when asked for their religious affiliation, answer “none.” A goodly…
about 4 years ago - Comments Off on FOEs
My contributions to this WMLT blog are often less than inspiring. While they address matters of our “life together,” in the minds of some they might better be called “blahgs,” for they usually have to do with life together according to bylaws. But life together according to our Synod’s Bylaws is important, for this is…
about 4 years ago - Comments Off on Some Basic Questions on Witness, Mercy, Life Together
Some years ago I was working with a small congregation in a small town during a vacancy in the pastoral office. The congregation, never large, had been declining in recent years. The previous pastor had left for a more attractive position in another state. When I asked them why they had no Sunday School, they…
about 4 years ago - 2 comments
So you want to improve your pastor? He’s not done anything wrong for which he can be removed from office in your parish, but you think he could do better, be a better pastor. More than that, you also know just what he needs to do to improve! Should you tell him? How do you…
about 4 years ago - Comments Off on Religious Liberties and Prohibition
Recently I have spent time skimming through some of the historical convention proceedings of our Synod. I found an interesting report in the 1917 Convention Proceedings that is very similar to current events. Back in 1917, President Pfotenhauer established a committee to look into the impact of recent federal legislation that made it impossible for…
about 4 years ago - 1 comment
We remember on this day, 70 years ago, when the Japanese attacked the United States naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On December 7, 1941, the country was devastated by the surprise attack by the Japanese, the loss of 1,177 crewmen of the USS Arizona Battleship, and the many more who were injured. A year…
about 4 years ago - Comments Off on Koinonia Is Incarnational
Sermon preached by LCMS Vice-President Herbert Mueller on Thursday, September 22, 2011, at the National Mission Conference of members of the COP, District Mission Execs and others, for opening devotion.
about 4 years ago - 3 comments
You already know that Witness, Mercy, and Life Together describe what we, as the Body of Christ, do for the sake of the world. Each of the three depends on the other two. If our witness is separated from works of mercy, both are truncated. When we live together in the fellowship of the Gospel,…
about 5 years ago - Comments Off on Presidential Election "Heads-Up!"
Some of us remember life together on school playgrounds when different games overlapped with a softball game, when cries of “heads up!” alerted rope-jumpers and four-square players that a fly ball was on its way. This blog will sound similar alerts in months to come, calling readers’ attention to in-coming changes associated with LCMS conventions.…
about 5 years ago - Comments Off on A Picture of Possibilities
Last week I attended the Lutheran Services in America Annual Conference (www.lutheranservices.org) held in Milwaukee, Wis. It was a good conference, many learning opportunities and lots of fun! I don’t say that just because Milwaukee is my hometown and it was fun to be back in my old stomping ground. It is always good to…
Comments are closed.