So it has been just over a week now since the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the already poverty-stricken nation of Nepal. And in that time over four thousand people are now dead across southern Asia. But perhaps in this day in age of so much news being streamed across computer screens and over radio waves and hand-held devices, including all the numbers that are supposed to somehow connect us to the immense gravity of a catastrophic disaster; perhaps four thousand dead doesn't even phase us anymore, especially when it's half-way across the world away from us.
Perhaps the story grabbed our attention for a moment, maybe a day at most, but then we said, "that's too bad," and went on about our lives, all the while people across southern Asia were screaming at the top of their lungs looking for their loved ones through the tons of rubble. Nevertheless, we are dealing with our fair share of problems in this country as well: there's still a drought in California, there's hatred rut amuck in the streets of Baltimore, not to mention there are plenty of people in our own communities who need our help dealing with job loss and their own loved ones dying. All of the pain and suffering from right outside our doorstep to a continent half a world away makes us feel so overwhelmed to the point that we are convinced we can absolutely nothing to change it.
But thanks be to God this Gospel story comes to the forefront this morning: a vine and its branches bearing fruit regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the immense pressure for supply to meet demand in this broken world; Jesus remains hard at work in us and in people half-way across the world to produce the fruit that will indeed create the change we never thought was possible.
One of the stories that came out of Nepal shortly after the earthquake was from a reporter for The New York Times who had been living there for two years before the nightmare of a weekend began. She writes,
On Saturday, about 11:45 a.m., my 10-year-old son, Lucas, and I were driving down a steep hill on our way to a pizza lunch at the Roadhouse Cafe in Patan, a city known for its rich cultural heritage...At first I thought that we had blown a tire, or maybe a motorcycle had hit us from behind. Then I lost control of the car as it was tossed right and left as if by rolling waves.
I lost track of time. Women ran across the road screaming. A nearby wall collapsed...I stopped in the middle of the road, turned off the engine and unlocked the doors. I told my son to lean over and cover his head as best he could. "It's an earthquake," I told him, and noticed my hands were shaking. The rest of the day was fueled by adrenaline. I managed to drive home, navigating around broken bricks scattered on the roads and houses that had collapsed.
In the evening, Lucas and I walked down our street and into a village, [one of] the oldest communit[ies] in the Katmandu Valley, a place where goats often live on the ground floor of homes and women wash their pots and their hair on the stoops. Making our way along the town's narrow, medieval paths, we passed building after building that had collapsed. Residents, police officers and Nepal Scouts were digging through the debris with their hands, trying to rescue those who had been buried. Others were setting up temporary shelters in any open space. Blankets and cushions were laid out in the middle of roads.
Neighbors were helping neighbors. Many people stopped us and asked if we needed food or water. Several invited us to spend the night with them. This is why I love Nepal. People here help one another because they know the government often cannot. They reach out to one another, and they persevere. They open their shops, because what else can one do when the world is upside down?
My heart aches for Nepal and what has been lost. But I am buoyed by the generous spirit of its people. My son and I know that life here will get worse in the days and weeks ahead as fuel and water run low. But we also know we are in this together.
A powerful reminder that the fruit from the vine cannot stay on the branches: they have to be dropped down to others, to a world around us that's often dirty and filled with grime. Yes, there are far too many people who need that precious fruit: from Nepal to California to Baltimore to here in Baroda and everywhere in between. There are more and more charitable and non-profit organizations calling us begging for assistance. And we most certainly cannot help everyone while also making sure that our own families are taken care of, but one thing is for certain: the fruit cannot stay on the branches. They have to be dropped, sometimes with our very own hands into a rubble of bricks and sadness and worry and fear and hatred and anger and outright depression, and oftentimes the most satisfying fruit of all is revealing that there are people who care enough to pick them up from the depths of this life.
The fruit cannot stay on the branches. The Holy Spirit doesn't work that way to only stay inside us, just like this God refused to stay in the heavens. This God most certainly had a right to keep the fruit of everlasting life to God's very self, witnessing first-hand from the beginning of time a despicable selfishness amongst human beings, an ugly drive to be right as opposed to doing right, an embarrassing obsession for power and wealth; and yet this most beautiful God decided we were, somehow, worth the only Son's very life, out of nothing more than the purest of love and the unimaginable holiest of grace. The fruit of everlasting life was unleashed on us through a Resurrection that has saved us all, from Nepal to Baroda to Baltimore and everywhere in between; and in the process formed us into the branches from that life-fulfilling vine, so that the fruit from God's very self may keep on being unleashed on this world for the rest of our life and beyond. And for that sacred privilege to be part of God's life-enriching ministry for the whole world, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon