The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Left behind

Editor's note: This week’s reflection comes from Larry Trachte, campus pastor and professor of religion and philosophy at Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. Written the week after Hurricane Katrina, this reflection remains relevant as we contemplate the destruction wrought by Hurricane Rita and hold those affected by that disaster in prayer. This article is adapted from a sermon Trachte preached Sept. 7 at the Wartburg College Chapel.

This week's feature: Left behind

The night the levees broke and the tragedy in New Orleans was beginning to take shape, I was listening to a local radio talk-show host, who boisterously proclaimed he “had no sympathy whatsoever for those idiots standing on rooftops waiting to be rescued” as the floodwaters rose around them.

He was angry at them (as were those who called in) for the inconvenience they were causing others, for the taxpayers’ money being wasted on them and that they were risking rescuers’ lives.

Who did they think they were anyway? They had had ample warning—which they chose to ignore! They could have gotten out if they had really wanted to!”

They were arrogant words spoken in ignorance. Now we know the rest of the story.

They had no way out. No way out of New Orleans. No way out of their imprisoning poverty. Now even the little they had, the meager belongings they possessed, the splintered families they depended on, were also gone, washed away in Katrina’s aftermath.

It’s only human that our first thoughts are for ourselves—the implications of $3 per gallon gas for our lives: What will it cost me to commute to work, to my internship? What might this do to my insurance rates, my tuition or my stock market investments? And then, what will be the long-term political and economic fallout from such a disaster?

Then it finally hits us. What it means to be the church.

The church isn’t a collection of loose-knit acquaintances. The church isn’t just a social gathering of friends. The church is the very body of Christ, the family of God. These are our sisters, our brothers, our parents and grandchildren, our children, our own body. Our own body knit together by God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ. A body possessing gifts that differ according to the grace given us, but a body united by the One Grace we all share.

After a week of horrific images and heartbreaking stories, we now know that the majority of those who had been “left behind”—an apt apocalyptic image—had been “left behind” before. Thousands were already homeless. Most were African American. Many were part of the 28 percent of New Orleans residents living below the poverty line.

All of which reminds us that our prayers must begin with the realization that God has always been with those “left behind” by the human structures and earthly circumstances of life.

It’s we who have abandoned them. It’s we who need the change of heart—God’s compassion and forgiveness. It’s we who need to reaffirm that by the grace of God in Jesus Christ we are one with them.

Their suffering is our suffering. Their weeping calls forth our tears of compassion.

It’s also a call for us to find ways to invest our lives in theirs. Paul, in Romans 12:13, calls us to “contribute to the needs of the saints, give generously, even sacrificially. Extend hospitality to strangers who are no longer strangers.”

In Romans 12:2, Paul calls for a “renewing of our own minds (a change of our own hearts).” He urges us to live in harmony, to not be haughty, to associate with the lowly and to not claim we are wiser than we are.

So as we join together in prayer, may our petitions have a dual focus. Naturally, a focus of care and concern is for all who suffer and for all who serve them. But let us also pray for ourselves, for a renewal of our minds, for a humbling of our hearts, for a broadening of our vision that we might see our neighbors through the cross of Christ for an outpouring of God’s grace within, among and through us.


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