The summer of 2023 saw the hottest July in history as climate change is warming up the planet faster than scientists had feared, and now we are dealing with some of the most devastating wildfires in the U.S. and Canada. In Maui, we have the biggest wildfire in history, as 111 people have been confirmed dead so far, and only 30% of the burnt area has been examined carefully for the bodies. The governor of Hawaii has listed more than 1,300 people as missing. We hope that most of them will be safe, but just that their family has not been able to contact them.
This past week, I was at the Clergy Convocation of the California Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church, which includes Hawaii. There I learned that a UMC church building was destroyed, and the pastor and most of their members lost everything. The pastor of the church and most of their members were able to escape with only the clothes on their backs. The District Superintendent of Hawaii brought the message from the pastor and the congregation that they were praising God because not one member lost their life in the fire.
Much like every other pastor at the Convocation, I was glad that no lives were lost, but the fact that it takes a disaster as such to remind us what is important in life was not lost on me. We have heard about how a pastor of a church meets with people in a crisis, then every time a spontaneous praise service breaks out, they are thankful for God’s grace, thinking about what they still have and not focusing on what they lost.
These are the moments when the genuineness of our faith is tested. Do we know the grace of God so deep in our hearts that when we have nothing but our lives, we are able to thank God? At those moments, no one cares about theology, hermeneutics, or church polity. They only care about the real presence of God that comforts and gives hope. At those moments, no one cares who is allowed in the church or who is allowed to serve in leadership. People only care about their neighbors being safe.
The irony is that while Hawaii is burning, there are hundreds of UMC congregations across the country who are saying that they cannot be in fellowship with certain congregations, even the Hawaii church on fire because they welcomed the LGBT community. How sad God must be.
Friends, let our faith be genuine and real, even if our houses are not on fire. Let us focus on what is important and not get caught up in the snares of the devil by getting caught up in whose theology is better. We all know that in the end, God will not give us a theological test, nor will we be quizzed on the polity of the church. I believe God will only ask, “Did you give me food when I was hungry? Did you clothe me when I was naked? Did you give me water when I was thirsty? Did you welcome me when I was an alien?”
Let us not wait for another disaster to remind ourselves what is important, but let us focus on the Way of Jesus and love our neighbors as ourselves.