Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creston Tornado Assessment - Rev. Jonathan C. Watt - Trinity Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

What Can I Do? 

(Updated April 20, 2013, 7:50am)

Most important we are very grateful that the death toll was so low (1 was the last 'unofficial' count that I heard). There were NO deaths attributed to the storm. The most serious person was upgraded from 'Critical' status to 'Serious'. There have, thus far been no deaths attributed to the Tornado in Creston.

Here is my impression of the effects of the disaster on Creston. Please understand this is from my perspective based on information I have gained by talking to members of Trinity, and others, and my short time (almost 4 years) of living in the community. My assessments could be wrong.

The storm hit with no warning. Without the normal signs either in radar or by spotters. Some witnesses said there was no "train" sound, only an extreme change in pressure. One of our members was near the city park and said all the branches of all the trees stood straight up for several seconds. I was returning home from a member's birthday party and saw the tornado passing to the north. It was a huge upside down pyramid, with lots of little fingers. It didn't look like it was on the ground. The news reports say it was an F2. Others say that the storm is begin underrated. The official report called it "Rain Shrouded" which means you can't see the actual funnel only the envelope of rain surrounding it. The strongest part of the storm was when it passed through town.

The long term economic impact on our community is going to be quite large, especially in the long run.

The major damage was to public facilities. Hospital, South West Community College, Elementary school, AEA, although a good number of homes were destroyed along with several apartment complexes, and several businesses.

The hospital is completely destroyed and will take 30milion dollars to restore. It is a center point of economic activity here. We are (were!) a healthcare hub for the whole area all the way into Missouri. Our retail will suffer now that that care is going somewhere else. There is a huge question as to all the jobs that will likely be lost (even if temporary) through the loss of the hospital. All that said, we (Trinity) have a good number of families who are wondering about their income. The hospital was in the very final inspection phase of a 3 year renovation project. Two members of my congregation have been in charge of that project. All the work they have done for all the time I have known them is now gone. All of the hospital employees have been placed on indefinite unpaid leave. The OB will be converted to a 6 bed hospital. The ER will be converted to the Dr's clinic. The number of employees will be drastically reduced from the current. A more full service hospital could be up and running in about a year.

South West Community College sustained significant damage, including the total loss of the newly completed dormitory. Once again only God's protecting hand staved of serious casualties. The school will be closed 'until further notice'. I do not know where the displaced students will stay when school resumes. Some 150 students will now be housed at the Super 8, 4 to a room until the end of the term. Many students have been invited to live with residents including members of Trinity.

Creston Community School District (the public Elementary & High School) sustained damage to the Elementary school building. There is a whole in the commons area roof. The bus barn was severely damaged. Many of the out buildings connected to the athletic field buildings were destroyed (almost all of them were build by a member of Trinity). School should resume sometime this week.

The AEA building is completely gone, it serves most of the schools in the surrounding communities, they are a hub for computer support for most of them, I heard today that 30 some schools have no access the education specialty database that was hosted at the building.

The apartment complexes that were destroyed housed mostly low income families. Again only God's grace saved these folks from death. We will see a severe housing shortage, especially for those of low income. Union county has one of the lowest average incomes in the whole state. (I am the VP for Union County Habitat for Humanity, we use these figures to determine eligibility for the projects we do. When we build a new house it is very difficult for us to find families that qualify that can actually make the minimum payments that are needed to live in the house.) News reports say 16 multifamily units were destroyed.

Directly affecting Trinity: Sunday morning we held our regular worship services at 9:30am. (I also led worship at First Lutheran, Mount Ayr earlier). Our attendance was a bit low, but considering that travel in town was a bit limited, and the second Sunday of Easter is a low attendance Sunday anyway, it wasn't too bad. I instructed members to give to our newly established Christian Care Fund. The fund is managed by an elected board and funded by donations, our entire Thanksgiving offering and a line item in our budget. The church is several blocks south of the damage area. The only damage we received was a few shingles off the parsonage (I was not home when the wind went through). We have three members of the congregation that are department heads at the hospital. A good number of members are employed or retired from the hospital. Members are also employed by the elementary school and the high school. And a few members are employed at the city. One is the manger for Creston city public works. Two of our members lived directly in the path of the tornado. One home received significant damage, the garage was destroyed and the roof. Other members have reported damage to their homes and property. Our members have been helping them to clean up. Houses on either side were left at ground level by the storm. Several of the preschool families (not members of the church) lost their homes. The Red Cross reported to me that there were a total of 60 living units that were severely damaged or destroyed. I do not know if the 16 multi-family units were part of the total 60 that were damaged. are separate from or included in this figure.

Our Mission Board (also responsible for human care) is compiling a list of community needs by contacting all the members of the congregation, and we are beginning to collect food and clothing for longer term needs. The Red Cross is using our fellowship hall for its center of operation. They will be here for about a week. (The Red Cross finished their work on April 19.) The Union County Health Nurse gave immunizations at the fellowship hall on Tuesday.

Trinity Lutheran Church has taken over the staffing for distributing items for Disaster relief. This will all be done out of one location the Stage building near HyVee in Creston. Thus we have received a steady flow of gifts from the community and beyond. As of yesterday (19) only about 6-10 (a very small portion of those in need) families have come to the center for items. Those who have come were in desperate straights and still shell shocked. They need to be helped to get what they need. Even though most of them only had the cloths they were wearing they were still concerned that they were taking too much. We believe that a large number will come in on Saturday.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

John.20.19-31; The Second Sunday in Easter; April 15, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:19–31, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Jesus barges in on the disciples, doors locked, huddled in, hunkered down, in quite hiding. They are afraid of the Jews. They are afraid of the cross. Afraid of being discovered. You can imagine them in the pale darkness of dusk, doors and windows locked, not wanting to light the lamps for fear of being found. At that moment, everything Jesus taught and did, didn't mean a thing. After all he was dead. The establishment has won. All of their master's accomplishments were locked in the darkness of the tomb, where Jesus lay.

Jesus beaks in...

He interrupts their fear, their sorrow, their doubt. He appears behind locked doors. He passes through walls. He doesn't need an invitation. He doesn't need the key. He is the key. He is alive. His first words to them bring them what they need. Peace, shalom, and end to turmoil, anxiety. He shows his fatal wounds. His hands and feet and the spear. He is the one who was dead. He is alive again. It was just as he said,

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22, ESV)

They were 'glad' when they saw Jesus. They did rejoice in their hearts. And there is more there than realizing that Jesus isn't dead. I'm sure it took time for it all to sink in. Jesus is alive. He was dead. He is alive. He conquers his enemies. He conquers his cross. He conquers his grave. He is alive. They are full of fear. They are full of sorrow. All fear and sorrow evaporates in Jesus. He offers peace, shalom.

Do you see how he gives is?

“Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

The cross is it. Forgiveness is it. When we look at the cross and see a dead Jesus on in, we are seeing forgiveness. We are seeing the peace that he brings. When we look at the risen Lord with nail prints in his hands and feet, and a spear hole in his side we are looking at forgiveness. We are seeing the peace that he brings. That's what Jesus means when he says peace, shalom. He connects it to the cross. When Jesus barges in he is interrupting doubt, and pain, and sorrow and fear.

Jesus breaks in...

Through all your barriers to bring peace. You may be huddling behind pain and sorrow, loss, or facing death. You may be huddling against your enemies, sin, death and hell, viruses, fellow employees, family members who ridicule, neighbors, or even God himself. In the midst of all this Jesus breaks through all these barriers and brings peace to your fear. You have good reason to fear. All hell has broken loose. It comes from inside of you. It comes from the world around you. It comes from the old evil lion who stalks around seeking someone to devour. This is the "Unholy Trinity", our mortal enemies, our sinful nature, the world, and Satan. And these all threaten. These are evident in your life. Sin, death and evil are there daily. And you are the target, to be dragged to hell.

But Jesus breaks in...

This is what God does. We have it in spades in Jesus. He breaks every barrier. He defeats every enemy. He shows you his hands, and his feet and his side. These are the marks of God's great love. These are the testimonies to you of what he has done for you. The pain and death of the cross break through to life and freedom. This is the forgiveness of sins...

Sin is the big barrier, the mother of all barriers. Sin bears itself out inside of you as you struggle to do the right thing and fail. Sin bears in the world out in the world as it pressures you to deny all that God says is right. Sin is what the Accuser holds against you as he whispers the truth of it in your ear, trying to get you to believe that God has no way of restoring you. Sin is the barrier between you and God. And sin bears death on its shoulders and delivers it to you as just punishment.

But Jesus breaks in... with forgiveness.

Forgiveness of sins is what God delivers through Jesus, his Word and his Sacraments. Peace. Shalom. His hands and feet, and side show you what is yours, what should be yours, but what is now his. Fear is no longer necessary. No more hunkering down in the dark. No more listening to the inner voice, or the outer voice or the satanic voice for false comfort. Forgiveness of sins restores the One True Voice.

Jesus [says to you], “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one [not sin, death nor the power of the Devil] will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27–28, ESV)

Jesus breaks in... with forgiveness.

He breaks in to the world. Your neighbors, your friends, your enemies are huddled in fear behind barriers. Jesus breaths on you The Holy Spirit. Through him the way, the truth and the life are with you always. The forgiveness he gives to you is given to give away. All you do is take your finger and point to the hands, the feet and the side of the Savior. All you do is point to the place where the Word of God dwells. All you do is speak the truth.

Jesus breaks in... Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Good Friday Devotion, Vom Gotslestern. Andreas Musculus.

Good Friday Meditation
“And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (Zechariah 12:10, ESV)
“They look on him whom they have pierced.” Just look at the men standing around the cross of Jesus. Like spears their tongues reach out and cut Jesus’ precious flesh. You can hear their words. “Come down from the cross Jesus, if you’re so great.” “If you do that we’ll believe in you.” How sharp are their words. And yet, there’s more. A man on a horse pulling a wagon curses their slow progress raising a whip against them. His tongue flies through space finding its mark on Jesus. Two men locked in mortal combat spit curses at each other and the words on their lips slash the Savior’s side. They mock Jesus at his dying breath. The cuts produce great drops of blood from the Victim on the cross. And the demons howl in delight, rattling the chains of human slavery to sin.

You and I have done it. We are in the picture here. No we don’t speak the same words but we say words that cut Christ just the same. How often our lips are weapons against our neighbors and friends and family. How often our lies seek out and puncture a reputation. How often the promises we speak are left to nothing. How often we repeat what we know is untrue to tear down a friend. We think that because our target isn’t Jesus that the spears from our lips haven’t found their target in him. And yet he bleeds on the cross from our sin, just as if we were there thrusting the point of the spear with our own hands. We mock all that Jesus has done and our cuts cause great drops of blood from the Victim on the cross. And the demons howl in delight, rattling the chains of our slavery to sin.

But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5, ESV)
Wounded, pierced he was. He hangs there to receive our chastisement when we tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him and hurt his reputation. It is our sin He bears on the tree of the cross. And yet, look at Jesus face. It shines with the Glory of God. It is the peace of God that is there. The blood pouring from the wounds cleanses the tongues that pierce him. That body broken heals the hearts that are the source of sin. The demons mouths are shut. The chains of sin are broken. We are free to soften our speech. We are free to defend our enemy instead of cursing him. We are free to speak about our neighbor in only the kindest way. Jesus on the cross is our forgiveness. Jesus on the cross is our healing. Jesus on the cross is for me and you. Amen.