Whose Voice Will Be Heard (A Commentary on Haiti)


Whose Voice Will Be Heard, A Commentary on the Haitian Earthquake

January 17, 2010

The following was a sermon that was presented the Sunday following the major earthquake in Haiti, which is reported to have taken over 200,000 lives.

It seems if hardly a week goes by, without some major news story capturing our attention.    Every now and then, one captures the attention of the world.   This week, you do not need me to tell you what that story is.

As a pastor, we are constantly reminded of the struggle between speaking of current issues and crises, with not overwhelming our congregations.

Honestly, my first inclination was to take a moment of silence for those in Haiti, and proceed with my original plans for this morning’s service.   After trying to do just that, I realized that I had to speak of this, this morning.   I had to because of two things that I saw this week.

On Wednesday night, I returned home from Bible Study, and I turned on CNN.   As expected CNN was wall to wall coverage of Haiti.    Oddly, my reaction to Tuesday’s events was unexpected.   When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, I was glued to the news.    I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.   With this earthquake, I find myself closing my eyes.

On Wednesday night, I caught a video of two victims.    One was a man, who I would imagine was my age, and unhurt.    The second in the video was a young girl the age of my daughter, lying on some sort of table in the parking lot of a gas station.   She was connected to an IV and obviously hurt.     I assumed the man to be the girls father.  He was sitting behind his daughter holding her and rubbing her head.  It was less than five seconds of tape.   It was five seconds of tape that made tears well up in my eyes and made my heartbreak.

I don’t understand why watching the coverage of this has elicited such different reactions in me, but truth be told, I can’t seem to stomach more than a few minutes of the news.

Perhaps it seems so unfair.    Mind you, I am not saying that New Orleans was fair,…but with Haiti I find myself asking why.    Haiti is already the poorest of the poor.   Here are some facts to consider:

  • Half of the 8.2 citizens are not just considered poor but according to the UN reports that they are “extremely and mortally poor”.   This is their way of saying that before the earthquake, 4.1 million Haitians were likely to die as a result of their poverty.   These people live on less than $1.00 per day.  78% of those that make more than this live on $2.00.
  • 85% of the citizens of this country survive on less than the minimum standard of daily food intake specified by the World Health Organization.
  • Between August and September of 2008, four hurricanes struck Haiti, wiping out virtually the entire agricultural and public works systems in Haiti.   At the end of last year, the UN reported that $1billion dollars was still needed to repair their systems to pre-Hurricane levels.

 

I think of that man, cradling his daughter and cannot possibly imagine what is going on in his head.    Imagine coming home from work, standing in your kitchen and feeling the floor start to shake.   In twenty minutes the world becomes quiet, but your house is no longer.  Your neighbor’s house is no longer.  In fact there are no houses on your street, in your neighborhood and in your town.   There are no roads.   There is no water.  There is no power.   Imagine that in that moment, you have no idea where your family is, or where you will go.

On Wednesday night, Annie and I drove home from Church, she was at choir, and we laughed.   We got into our well constructed house.   We took off our jackets, and enjoyed our heat.    We said goodnight, locked the doors, and eventually went to bed in our comfortable oversized beds.      For just a moment on Wednesday, In that moment with the man and his daughter at the gas station, I realized just how blessed I truly am.    I also realized how, even though I stand up here every Sunday, how often I take my blessings for granted.

Maybe that is why; I have been disturbed by the coverage in Haiti.   In it, I am reminded how much I take for granted.   Maybe I was actually asking why do I do that, right alongside the question why did this happen to Haiti?

That leads into a second reason why I wanted to talk about Haiti, this morning.    This week someone stood up and spoke for you.   Someone stood up and spoke for you and your faith, and declared in the name of God’s Kingdom, that Haiti deserved what they got.    According to his Godly wisdom, he blames this tragic earthquake on the Haitian people’s pact with the devil made by its founders 200 years ago.  

Obviously this is not the place for a history of Haiti, and if it was, I wouldn’t be the person who could deliver it, but a bit of history is needed.    In the late 1700’s the French controlled Haiti and used Haitians as slaves.   A leader by the name of Boukman was a voodoo priest and he lead a group of slaves in a revolt.    Before he started this revolt, he held a religious ceremony where a pig was slaughtered and its blood spread on those who were about to fight.    After many deaths, the French captured him, had him beheaded, and quelled the revolution.    Yet, history remembers him as the man who birthed the Haitian Revolution.

That moment, in 1791, is the moment that Pat Robertson claims that God got mad.     It was that moment, that 209 years later, caused God, in the horrific moments of this past Tuesday,  to get angry and wipe out thousands of poor Haitians.   Some say that number will be in 100’s of thousands.

When I heard those comments I was speechless.  And I was angry.  To say, or even imply, that someone, anyone could deserve this,…or that they asked for it is shameful    Pat Robertson’s moral compass is broken.  Eight hours after I heard his comments, my wife asked me if I had heard.   Even then the anger was so great, I couldn’t put it into words.   What we do here; trying to win the hearts and spirits of people who have lost their way or lost their faith, is hard enough.   I refuse to allow this man to become my voice.

There is no hint of that man’s message in mine.    His faith holds no similarities to mine.   His world is not mine.   This man’s Gospel is not my Gospel.   His God is not mine.   I refuse to let this man speak for me, for you, for this church, of for my God.

Today, in light of these two images; the first of a man weeping and a second of a man gloating,   I implore you to join with me, many in this church, and people all over the world, in becoming a different voice.

With the images of CNN permanently locked in our memory, I ask you to take a moment and to celebrate your blessings.   Look at your life and realize that no matter how dark, how messed up, or how broken it appears to be, there are people who love you.   Realize that even at our poorest, we have a wealth unimaginable in most of the world.    Remember that we possess a treasure that most of the world will never know.   Remember and give thanks.   Give thanks for the blessings you have.

As we celebrate those blessings and the privileges we share, turn to God.   When you find yourself asking Why, turn to God.   When you find yourself asking questions that no one can answer, turn to Him who can.   When you find yourself asking what could I possibly do, remember the first tool at our disposal is the most powerful; prayer.    In the words of Paul, we must pray without ceasing.    In these moments we will hear the answers.

Lastly I ask that you stand up and become a better voice for our faith.   Do not let the Pat Robertsons of this world speak for you.  Let your voice be louder.  

  • Let our neighbors see, in our reaction to this moment, exactly what we believe.   Let them see people who are willing to all we can, do all we can, and pray all we can.  
  • Let us not consider a donation to the red cross as being enough, but let us reach out to our neighbors and encourage them.  
  • Let us not stop with this moment, but let us work towards building the church that can meet the needs of anyone who hurts or who struggles, regardless of whether they live next door or two thousand miles away.   
  • Let’s not stop at one prayer, but let’s find a way to pray without ceasing.   

 

This is the way that we will steal back our voices from the ignorant, the bigoted, the intolerant, or the wrong.

The scripture we heard this morning is one of 13 in our Bible which speaks of earthquakes.    The scripture tells the story of Elijah, who goes off  who meets God at the foot of a mountain.   God tells Elijah to Go and stand on the mountain, because God is going to pass by him.   Elijah wanting to hear, understand, and meet God, scrambles up that mountain.

But what does scripture tell us.

“A Great wind came, so strong it split the rocks in pieces.  

God was not in the wind.

After the wind came an earthquake and fire, but God was not in either.

Then in the silence, came the still small voice.

I remind you, and would love to remind others, that the voice of God was not in the wind, the fire, or the earthquake, but rather in the still small voice, the whispers that followed all three.

  • I ask you today, whose voice will be heard?
  • I ask you today, will you look for God’s voice in the Earthquake or in the stillness that follows.
  • I ask you, whose voice will be heard today?
  • I ask you whose going to be the voice of faith, the voice of the Gospel, and the voice of love for those who are hurting beyond measure.

 

Ultimately there is only one person that can make that choice; Us.  Do not let our silence be our endorsement.  It’s up to us to decide. I have made my choice, and today I ask you to do the same.  Thanks be to God, Amen.

Note:   Credit is due to Sermons.com for their detail on the history of Haiti, and to the United Nations website for information on the current economic and poverty situation in Haiti.

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