A year ago this Sunday, the only appropriate thing to talk about was the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The reading today from the Revelation to John struck a chord when we read that the angel “cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.” I guess all of the servants of our God have somehow gotten their seals upon their foreheads, as the earth and the sea were harmed, to say the least.
Even as we all tracked Sandy as she headed up the coast, I only admitted to myself that this was no ordinary storm when my parents decided to leave their home and come here; a couple days later, you couldn’t get to their house without showing a badge at the military checkpoint set up on the river side of town – the ocean side of town didn’t need a checkpoint, the mountain of sand took care of that.
I couldn’t have been any more proud of the way this city and this parish responded to the storm. On the very first day of the storm, even without power and fearing the worst for ourselves, you all and our neighbors were showing up here with donations for those who had it a lot worse. Consolidated and Hope Hose Humane were running to the shore for weeks with provisions, and between the parish, the Elks, and Bordentown Home for Funerals, thousands of dollars were donated to the fire companies in Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright.
A storm like Sandy gets you thinking about the bigger questions in life, a life in which so much can change so quickly, a life in which we are subject to the wind and the water, forces beyond our control.
Several months before Sandy made her way through, Doan and I visited with a friend in New York City, and though I had been through Rockefeller Center many times, I had never really slowed down to look at murals in the lobby. American Progress, the famous mural by Jose Maria Sert, is the big famous one, and it deals with the destiny of mankind, our technological prowess, our mastery of nature.
“Huge, muscular and tawny, (man) pries with the lever, hammers with the mallet on a chisel and turns the great wheels of industry and commerce. (But) amid these many representations of mankind’s glorious achievements stands one mural which at first glance seems out of place. It is a representation of Christ teaching on the Mount. A heroic figure in white, with his hands outstretched in blessing, he addresses a multitude of people of every race, class and condition-the poor, sick, maimed, the rich-who are standing or sitting on the slopes and at the foot of the mountain.
“Alongside the mural is this legend: “Man’s ultimate destiny depends not on whether he can learn new lessons, or makes new discoveries and conquests but on his acceptance of the lesson taught to him close upon two thousand years ago.””1
Isn’t it amazing that even at Rockefeller Center, that great monument to the progress of mankind, those who built and adorned the Center chose to ground that soaring structure with a picture of Jesus standing on a hill, to mark the high point of human progress as the lessons Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount?
Those lessons include the Beatitudes, of course, which we heard again today, just as we heard them a year ago on All Saint’s Sunday. A lot has changed over the course of this past year, a lot has been learned, progress has been made. But the best part of this last year is that we’ve seen the Beatitudes in action. We have seen the poor, the meek, and the mournful, that’s for sure, and we’ve seen them consoled; we have seen people grasp for righteousness and we’ve seen remarkable acts of mercy, a new focus on caring for our neighbor; we have seen the pure in heart and the peacemakers working to bring comfort and grounding to those who literally lost comfort and ground.
It’s been a year since Sandy, since we’ve been reminded that there are forces that we cannot control, that no matter what we have accomplished as a race, we can still be brought low. But it’s also a year since we last heard the Beatitudes, and so we are reminded that no matter what comes, that Jesus teaches us that we can always be blessed; that in knowing Jesus and hearing Him anew, we are blessed already.
1The Rev. Dr. William K. Quick, The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached, Day 1