Good Friday 6-26-15


I know.  I know Good Friday has passed.  Already, we memorialized Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection for the sins of the world.  John’s gospel declares that Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection is the most crucial act of divine love creating abundant life for all God’s children.  June 26, 2015, I experienced a little “good Friday.”  Acts of mercy and love were evoked by a natural disaster.    

Head of IGRC Communications Paul Black picked me up at the Episcopal Residence.  We headed for Coal City, Illinois.  A tornado had pummeled Coal City and environs twice in a period of 19 months.  En route, monsoon-like rains pelted the car.  Rain came down so fast and furious that visibility was nearly reduced to zero.  To cope, motorcycles stopped under viaducts and cars on the northbound side of I-55.  Rescue personnel attended victim(s) of a car that landed on its side in the median strip.  Undaunted, Paul and I drove on fully aware that we had experienced “traveling mercies,” a routine expression of divine love but no less real.    
Arriving, Coal City resembled Grand Central Station.  Inside and out, countless volunteers were at work helping people recover.  Food for three meals a day, IGRC tool kits for home recovery, information for relocation, clothes, water, companionship, three golden brown retrievers comforted the crowd.  The “Least” and the “Best” of these served and were being served. 

To enhance acts of love and kindness, resource persons like IGRC Coordinator of Missions and Outreach Bunny Wolfe; Conference Lay Leader Ken Miller (a member of the Coal City congregation); Vermilion River District Superintendent Leah Pogemiller and interim pastor Wally Carlson, helped where needed.  Local Church Disaster Coordinator Lori Cora rejoiced that the relief effort had gone well.  Coordinating the disaster response  19 months ago had equipped Lori and the church for such a time as this. 

Then, I left to visit 137 children attending a Cooperative Vacation Bible (VBS)   School at a nearby Presbyterian Church.
Up to 150 kids had come to VBS in spite of the after effects of the tornado. Second, United Methodists and Presbyterians worked together and conducted a successful VBS program led by Marsha Vaughn and her team.  Third, the children joined the bishop in singing Jesus Loves Me, Joy to the World, and Silent Night.  When 137 children’s voices stood up and sang another song, the bishop was most impressed.  “My God is powerful.  He stands invincible.  I will hold on to Him,” they sang by heart.  God’s love helped our children see the world with eyes of faith.  In essence, tornadoes don’t win.  Love and faith in Jesus Christ win as well as holding on to God.  Oh, it was good Friday!!     

Our visit to Coal City ended with a sharing/prayer meeting. Summarizing our conversation, we concluded that our pastoral message ought to emphasize that “we are not alone.”  Think Emmanuel or “God with us.”  If we ever doubted God’s omnipotence, members of a family who sat with us proved otherwise.  One of their daughters read scripture at the 2015 Annual Conference.  Eight days later, a tornado ripped their house off its foundation.  As the house collapsed, it fell on the family.  They were trapped under piles of debris.  With bright lights combing the debris of their house, rescuers searched for survivors.  Hearing voices, the father dispatched his young son with the command “Go to or toward the light.”  And the rest is history.  They were rescued. 

Jesus, the light of the world, saved them from serious hurt, harm and danger.  Pastor Bennett Woods, DS Leah Pogemiller, incoming pastor Bradley Shumaker and outgoing Interim Pastor Wally Carlson offered thanksgiving and sending forth prayers.  Paul Black and I left to Coal City with the words   “Go toward the light” ringing in our ears.  In the presence of the unseen Guest, IGRC added it glow to the flame of Coal City UMC and the community to “let our light shine.”  I won’t forget good Friday 6-26-15 for a long time. 

“God is good all the time…”              
 Bishop Keaton