I grew up in earthquake country! In fact, the road into my little town of Holtville, CA had a big dip in it where it ran right through the San Andreas Fault! I lived less than a mile away from this active fault and we had earthquakes often. So, as an adult, I should have been better prepared on October 17, 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit my home in Northern California. It was just after 5 p.m. and I was standing in the kitchen, making cheese sauce for my scalloped potatoes to go with the lamb shanks which were already in the oven. When the shaking started, I grabbed my Border Collie, Rachel, and sank to the floor so that I wouldn’t fall down. I heard glass breaking throughout my house and worried that the whole house would collapse.
The quake only lasted 15 seconds, but it felt a lot longer. I knew, from a lifetime of experience, that aftershocks were sure to follow. I should do serious things like make sure the gas line was OK, secure objects which might fall, I knew that I should prepare for more damage. This shaking had felt so bad, was so scary that I was very afraid. So I focused, took a deep breath and I did the most logical thing: I got up off the kitchen floor, got a big spoon and ate the cheese sauce right out of the pot. If my house was going to fall, if I was going to die, I didn’t want to waste that delicious sauce!
That quake changed my life. To this day, I always sleep with shoes right next to my bed so that I don’t have to worry about cutting my feet on broken glass. For years following that earthquake, I had a special bag filled with the things I would want to grab in an emergency. I learned how to turn off the gas in the house and began to keep big containers of water. Even though I’m patting myself on the back here, I know that I’m not as well prepared as I should be for the next emergency.
The Lord is telling Moses and Aaron to get the Jewish people prepared to flee Egypt. He gives them very clear, very specific instructions about what to do: find a perfect lamb and kill it at twilight. Take blood from the lamb and spread it on the doorposts then roast it and eat it with flat bread and bitter herbs. Eat all of it and eat it fast, standing up, dressed for travel. The Lord will then pass over those houses with blood on the doorposts while the firstborn of every other house in the land will be killed. Remembering this story, Jews celebrate the feast of Passover to this day.
There is such urgency in this story. Hurry, hurry! Get ready, eat fast, be ready to run! These people are lucky. God gives them a little warning so that they have time to gather their belongings, eat well and prepare themselves.
We watched on TV last week as people raided stores on the East coast, preparing for hurricane Irene to come. Still, Irene took people by surprise, especially the people in Vermont. No one forecast the disastrous rain and flooding that would come to many communities there. Our warnings don’t come from God. Weather forecasters do their best but they can’t be 100% certain about what will happen.
Paul is also trying to prepare people in his letter to the Romans, telling them that the time to get ready is now. He writes: “You know what time it is, how it is NOW the moment for you to wake from sleep. ... The night is far gone, the day is near!”
I think there is great intensity to this writing. He is practically shouting at the Romans that now is the time to follow the ancient commandments, most of all, now is the time to start loving your neighbor as yourself. Like Moses, he is giving the people warning that they need to get their lives together right away.
If Paul wrote a letter to the Montesanoans telling us to prepare, to love one another, urging us to change our ways, would we heed his warning? Or would we act like so many people do when warned of disaster, not listening, staying in our homes despite evacuation orders, refusing to prepare?
So what do we need to do? Here is the answer, right here in today’s scripture. We need to follow the commandments. We need to love our neighbor as ourselves. How do we do that when we’re angry at our neighbor? Here is the answer, right here in today’s scripture: We need to go and talk to that neighbor alone. We need to hear his or her side of the story. We need to work to resolve conflicts. Because, ‘if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you our father in heaven’. Because, as Jesus tells us; ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’. I think the key to this sentence is the sentence which precedes it: “two or three of us need to agree, THEN the Lord will listen to us!!”
Paul writes: “The night is far gone, the day is near.” I’ve noticed that when people are dying, life can become awfully clear, kind of boiled down to its essence. Money, possessions, accomplishments no longer seem to matter very much. Often, all that really matters are family and loved ones. How would it be if that clarifying process started sooner? What if we sat down today and figured out what really, really matters to each of us? If we determine our deepest priorities we can live our lives according to these priorities. We don’t have to wait for illness or disaster to do this deep, soul work.
When I stood there in my shaking house, I didn’t do a very good job of thinking about important things. I didn’t prepare for aftershocks. For God’s sake, I could only think about cheese sauce! I hope I can do better in the future.