Monday, March 15th Psalm 31:1-5

In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. Psalm 31:1-5

I spent this past weekend in New Orleans, a place unlike just about every other place there is. (Folks there are always quick to remind me of that. Maybe they are right, or maybe they suffer from the same “terminal uniqueness” that afflicts so many of us.) This week we’re going to listen to Psalm 31, and to New Orleans.

New Orleans lies on the eastern most edge of the geographical area that comprises our “synod” (a churchy word for a community of congregations that travel through life together, like a Roman Catholic “diocese” or a United Methodist “district.”) In my new job I have the great opportunity to go “visiting” congregations and pastors – which is a great thing to do in New Orleans and actually harkens back to the plantation roots of New Orleans (and the immigrant farmer days of North Dakota) when that was a very popular activity.

As a cost cutting measure, when we from the synod office travel to New Orleans, we seldom stay in hotels. Some of our congregations here have become very adept at hosting the streams of volunteers who continue to travel here as the on-going recovery from Hurricane Katrina is still not over. And one of our pastors and his wife have extra bedrooms that frequently become a home away from home for people like me. I’m writing this right now from their kitchen table.

Hurricane Katrina was a nuclear explosion that threatened to gut the life of this city. While so many of us saw the storm on television, many people here saw their lives float away. Any illusion of safety or security, the bonds of family and neighborhood, the gathered memories of life, the ghettoized isolation of the underclass, all of that was ripped open, exposed for the world to see and then flushed down the toilet of the roiling waters of the flood. People here divide their lives into BK (Before Katrina) and SK (Since Katrina).

Most of the world has now moved on. Moved on to other news and other disasters and other chapters of life. Although the physical and emotional work of recovery is on-going, people here have also been about moving on. Frankly, lots of people have literally moved out. The city is 1/3 smaller than it used to be. We have congregations here that, in the wink of an eye, lost half or more of their families.

The whole region has had to come to grips with one of the great questions of our lives….”Now what do we do?”

New Orleans, like Chicago and New York and many other places, has long been a city of neighborhoods, ethnic enclaves and ghettos of poverty. It has functioned like a collection of islands, everyone seeking shelter in the comfort of their isolation. At the same time, it has also been a major port city, finding purpose along the deep waters of the mighty Mississippi and its muddy reach into the Gulf of Mexico. This is the tension of the place, and of our lives. Will we be an island or will we be a port?

The question that this city is living, the question that our congregations are living, is a question that we all need to ask and answer: Yes Lord, you have been our refuge, our fortress and our strength through the teeth of the storm, but now what shall we do? Shall we rebuild our islands of isolation or shall we become ports of hospitality, freely receiving your many gifts only to send them on to others?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, the storms of life continue to assault us, the many challenges and temptations and struggles that mark our days. We thank you that we find refuge in your love and strength, that you are our port in a storm. Guide us now as we commit our lives to you, today and every day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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