Back in 2008, a group of us from this church flew to New Orleans to help in the recovery following the devastation of the two massive hurricanes…Katrina and Rita. The hurricanes had hit the Gulf Coast with tremendous fury in 2005 and had wiped out a retaining wall, which held back the ocean. Three years had passed but the signs of destruction were still present. FEMA mobile units still housed some of the many who had lost their own houses in the storms. But there were others, many others who had been forced to leave these temporary structures and had either left the area to relocate in other states or found themselves as semi-permanent house guests in the homes of friends and family. Still others were like the woman my team of five were sent to help. She had not abandoned her home; it still stood but was badly damaged and, now three years later, was still unlivable. When we arrived this simple, hard-working woman had been forced out of the toxic environment of the FEMA unit, which had served as her residence for the better part of a two years and was now in a small RV, the kind pulled behind a car or truck, which a kind friend had lent her. She worked at an hourly job in a fast food restaurant, drove a beat up old car, and had little money for extras but she also had an indomitable spirit. When the call came to abandon her home, to run for her life, she simply didn’t have the means to do so. So she stayed, cared for her pets, and she prayed.
Her prayers were answered. When we arrived to offer a week’s worth of help to get this woman into her home and make it livable again, we were coming as Volunteers in Mission. We were one of hundreds of mission teams coming on a short-term basis to join the more permanent UMCOR staff already on site. The tools and materials we used, our housing, the food supplied, all this came from a combination of our own out of pocket cost and the generosity of thousands of United Methodist Churches and their parishioners who responded to the needs of this and so many more worldwide disasters.
Long before I went to New Orleans, long before I served as a Volunteer in Mission team member, I’ve had a soft spot for the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. I’ve believed in the work it does worldwide and I’ve taken pride in the fact that every dollar given for a mission through UMCOR, every single dollar goes to the aid of those in need. That’s only possible because of the offering we take today…One Great Hour of Sharing. [Let’s watch this]
As the world becomes more diverse and more and more interchange happens nation to nation, people to people, the local United Methodist Church, a church like ours has the opportunity to reach out well beyond our limited local efforts. We can join with other United Methodist Churches to make a difference in the lives of people worldwide. What I’ve found, as I’ve served churches over the last 25 years is this: many in our pews are unfamiliar with the workings of our church structure and our mission. There are more and more people joining our ranks coming out of other denominations and thus are unfamiliar with our United Methodist polity and the tasks and vision, which are important to our beliefs as Christians. So, a Sunday like today can help all of us, whether we have grown up in the church or come out of other church backgrounds learn more about our mission efforts. We can feel good about what we do in the name of Jesus Christ for the lost, the needy, the hungry, the homeless here within our country and beyond our boundaries.
Just knowing we are represented through UMCOR in every need worldwide should give us a good feeling. It means we are living out the command Jesus gave us as his disciples to love our neighbors wherever we might find them. Together, we have the amazing power of oneness in Christ to accomplish more together with United Methodist churches and agencies worldwide than we could ever do on our own. Wherever there is need, the United Methodist Committee on Relief will be on the ground and actively fulfilling its mission and ours. We help with our support and with our prayers. Together, we live out Christ’s dictate to reach beyond ourselves, heeding the words of Christ when he said: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…, you did it to me.” If you’d like to read more about what UMCOR is and does, go online. The stories are fascinating; the lives of those who have rendered help and those who have received help are inspiring. It makes one feel good about being a Christian living out Christ’s love and compassion through the United Methodist Church. Amen.