ELCA NEWS SERVICE
August 31, 2010
ELCA Synod Bishop, LDR Director, Preach at Katrina Events in New Orleans
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) were guest preachers at services in New Orleans Aug. 29, commemorating the fifth anniversary of the devastation Hurricane Katrina brought to the city and the Gulf Coast region around it.
The Rev. Michael W. Rinehart, bishop of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, spoke at an interfaith prayer service at New Orleans' historic St. Louis Cathedral. Rinehart focused his comments on generosity, transformation and hospitality.
Rinehart began by comparing a potentially career-ending shoulder injury suffered by Drew Brees, quarterback of the Super Bowl-champion New Orleans Saints, and what happened as a result of Hurricane Katrina. After reading Brees' book, Coming Back Stronger, Rinehart said he was struck by this phrase: "The truth is you don't learn much from winning, but losing can make you a lot stronger."
"Sometimes when we're flat on our back on the gurney, devastated, wondering if all hope is lost, what good could possibly come of this, with nothing left to give," Rinehart said in his sermon, "that's when faith kicks in. These are our defining moments in life. People have them. Teams have them. Cities have them. Nations have them. And we know we will never be the same again. This changes everything."
More than 1,500 lives were lost in the storm and flood that followed the hurricane, atrocities were committed, systems failed and half of New Orleans' population left town, Rinehart observed. "But we also experienced something utterly life-changing -- shocking, shocking acts of selfless generosity, unprecedented cooperation between religious groups, business and government. Volunteers from all over the country, all over the world appeared out of nowhere. . . . We saw the heart(s) of the people of this country with new eyes."
Rinehart said adversity unleashes spiritual power, "a power that is made perfect in weakness."
"Rejoice in your sufferings for we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope will not disappoint you," he said. When people are suffering, they are transformed, he said, urging those not suffering to find someone who is, and prepare for a transformation experience.
"You will see the face of God in the eyes of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the prisoner," he said.
At the heart of every great faith is hospitality, Rinehart told the congregation. The people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast experienced hospitality in many forms. "At some point in our lives, we all find ourselves in a place where we are utterly dependent on the hospitality of strangers. You have experienced the kindness of strangers, and you will never be the same again. And you have also had the opportunity to offer hospitality to thousands of strangers, from everywhere. Because of your courage and kindness, and (the) unique gift of (New Orleans) hospitality, they will never be the same again. You will never be the same again," he said.
Rinehart said the measure of a great city is not its economic output or towering buildings, "but in its caring for the least, the last and the lost."
"Brees was the Comeback Player of the Year. The Saints are the Comeback Team of the Decade. New Orleans is becoming the Comeback City of the Century. But we will not come back to the past. We will come back to a new future," Rinehart concluded.
LDR director: people were 'serving Jesus'
The Rev. Kevin A. Massey, director, Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA Domestic Disaster Response, preached Aug. 29 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, New Orleans. Massey focused his sermon on the two ways to interpret the phrase, "serving Jesus."
Serving Jesus can mean providing for his welfare and the welfare of people in need, he said. Another interpretation is to share Jesus and his teachings with people who need him to satisfy a hunger for God, Massey said.
"In the acts of hospitality and accompaniment that have followed all over this city ever since Katrina, people have been 'serving Jesus' everywhere," he said. "When the storm struck, people from here fled to or were evacuated to distant cities such as Denver, Chicago and Las Vegas. There they found Jesus and were cared for, and Jesus was present in the serving."
When people returned home to restore and rebuild their neighborhoods, they again found Jesus and his presence in serving, he said. When people from other parts of the United States and the world came to help, they too found Jesus and his serving presence, Massey said.
"Something miraculous has been happening all over this city for five years," he said, adding that through human interaction in rebuilding and restoring, "everybody has been both served by Jesus and has served Jesus, and through it all, Jesus has been more evidently and visibly present then probably any other time or place in all our lifetimes."
"We have all been changed forever by what happened, and we have never been closer to Jesus than we are today. Thanks be to God for giving us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," Massey added.
The full text of Bishop Rinehart's comments are at http://bishopmike.com/ on the Web.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org