Sermon
November 22, 1998
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Reading

Luke 1:68-79 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of his servant David,

70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.

72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

and has remembered his holy covenant,

73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness

before him all our days.

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people

by the forgiveness of their sins.

78 By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace." (NRSV

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Sermon: AF2025 JRAPIDS

In my childhood I lived in large apartment complex in Sunnyside, Queens. It covered two square city blocks with gardens in the center. The buildings themselves were either six or four stories tall, connected to one another like a fortress around the gardens, and they were built of red brick. I cannot tell you the sense of security we had in that place, and the sense of satisfaction I had as a child hearing the story of the Big Bad Wolf. Yes, the silly, frivolous, thoughtless, unprepared little pigs might build their homes of straw or sticks, but the smart, industrious, hard-working, diligent, prepared pig built his home of bricks - just like my home! The smart pig knew what to expect from the Big Bad Wolf, and he was ready!

Of course this sense of satisfaction was somewhat diminished by the maps that would appear every year in the newspapers in the 1950’s showing the circles of destruction that would result from a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Sunnyside, Queens, being only a few miles from Manhattan, was always in the center circle - not one stone left upon a stone, total destruction. Even with bricks, there was no way to be ready for that disaster. It was unthinkable.

And yet, we have many people whose job it is to think about the unthinkable and to plan and prepare for a whole host of worst case scenarios, to make sure that no matter what kind of Big Bad Wolf comes knocking on the door, we are ready.

I’ve taken my sermon title this morning, AF2025 JRAPIDS, from the work of such a group of planners. Led by Lt. Col. David Snyder and Maj. Penny Dieryck, this group prepared a research paper for the Air Force entitled Joint Readiness Assessment and Planning Integrated Decision System (JRAPIDS): Combat Readiness and Joint Force Management for 2025. Let me read some of the executive summary:

Leaders who organize, train, equip, command, and fight with the air and space forces of 2025 will require a new view of readiness…The nature of the world will demand an integrated system for measuring, adjusting, and forecasting readiness and training. This system, called joint readiness assessment and planning integrated decision system (JRAPIDS), will automatically update the readiness status of individuals, units, and forces while providing decision makers a comprehensive measure of readiness and sustainment. The final product consists of a time-variable, mission-scaleable matrix depicting capability available over time in a given theater for a given task or mission.

Now, I may not know exactly what they are saying, but I understand what they are trying to do. They are trying to be ready for the Big Bad Wolf. And they seek to accomplish this task with a deep sense, from their perspective, of what is at stake - which is human freedom and human lives; and they are determined to be organized and not caught flat footed, unprepared, with their house blown down around them.

We have all heard about the terrible devastation in Central America, Honduras and Nicaragua in particular. The Big Bad Wolf, in the form of Hurricane Mitch, came and stayed and blew all the houses down. And what didn’t get blown down got washed away. And what didn’t get washed away got buried in a sea of mud.

People, in response to this disaster, have undertaken massive relief efforts. I’ve read in the paper about local drives to collect money, medical supplies, and clothing. But, I want to ask you, who was ready for this? Who had built their house of brick?

You may be surprised at the answer because I want to tell you that you were ready - you are the ones who had in place an "integrated decision system to update the readiness status of individuals, units, and forces while providing decision makers a comprehensive measure of readiness and sustainment."

Do you know how you did this? You did it because you are the church, and because the church is organized and ready to bring relief to those in need. You did it because every time you put your gift in the plate a portion of that gift goes to the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ, and a portion of that goes to the Wider Mission of the United Church of Christ, and a portion of that goes to Church World Service, and Church World Service has working partnerships with people on the ground at the eye of the storm, people like the Evangelical Reformed Church of Honduras, like Salvadoran Lutheran Relief, like the Christian Mission of Nicaragua, like the Christian Commission for Development.

The cover of our bulletin today shows the kind of readiness that you make possible with your gifts. Here is Noemi Expinoza, president of the Christian Commission for Development, looking over a shipment of relief cargo which is being airlifted to Honduras in the early days after the storm cleared. The money that you gave last year for Mother’s Day Blankets and Father’s Day Tool Kits, your offerings to One Great Hour of Sharing, our monthly gift of 7% of collections to the UCC are all on that plane. The church did not have to wait for new collections or scramble to make new connections. The church was ready, and they knew what to do and how to do it.

Have you read in the news about the number of people mobilizing to collect used clothing in response to this disaster? Sadly, that is an example of how good intentions can go astray when they are not coupled with readiness. This message came over the internet just this week:

Right about now, people are thinking that collecting clothing and other items is a good way to help survivors of Hurricane Mitch. However, according to some who have suffered through disaster and some who have helped, clothing can be "a second disaster".

Clothing takes up valuable space needed for essentials like food, medicine and water. It does also takes up valuable time. It takes 20 people three whole days to unload, sort and prepare a truck load of clothing, and then maybe half the things are useless.

After Hurricane Hugo in 1989, a convoy of huge semi's was sent with spontaneously donated goods. As power company workers tried to restore electricity, the convoy clogged the road and the work had to be halted. Everything in the convoy had to be dumped.

Some people are afraid to send cash because they fear it won't reach those in need. When you give through your church, NO administrative costs are taken out at all and ALL of your contribution goes directly to help disaster survivors.

Collections of clothing, canned goods, and other kinds of materials make for good photos in the newspapers, but the truth is that the week in, week out unglamorous giving of church members in every denomination goes a lot farther to assist the victims of disaster than can be imagined. It goes farther because it creates a system of readiness and a capability to respond in appropriate ways to the real needs of those who have suffered. This is one case where organized religion is far better than unorganized.

I want to relate these thoughts to the theme of Thanksgiving. I’m sure you’ve all heard sermons where that word is broken down into its two parts - Thanks being an attitude and giving being an action. The point usually made is that gratitude without action is hollow and that action without gratitude is powerless. Such a sermon challenges us to make our thanks more than words, often recalling the question first asked almost two thousand years ago in 1 John 3:17 How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Your pledge, your offering is an act of worship and thanksgiving. It makes Thanksgiving Day a fundamental theme of each week of the year. You have helped - You continue to help. So I want to express to you a word of thanks for your giving. And I want you to know that because you are giving to the church, you are part of a great network of people who are ready, willing, and able to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters in even the most unpredictable of disasters.

This is not to say that we can’t do better. Like that team of officers who put together the Air Force 2025 JRAPIDS report, we in the church have to be diligent in seeking new ways to serve, new partnerships for witness, new levels of readiness and commitment. We have to understand what is at stake - human life, dignity, and freedom. We want to make our thanksgiving a glory to God and a blessing to our neighbors.

We can do better, and we will do better, but first let’s acknowledge that we build on a firm foundation. We build on the rock of Christ and the work of generations of faithful people whose thanks were more than words and whose giving was sacrificial. We build with neighbors here at home and partners around the world, with organizations and institutions that have stood the test of time and weathered the storms of change and adversity. And we do not build a house of straw or twigs, but of bricks. We are ready!

Amen

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