Thank you Pastor Garris.
To the families of those who were killed and injured. To the families of those who are still unaccounted for. To the people of Joplin who've endured this terrible tragedy. To the thousands of Missourians and citizens across the nation, who have opened their hearts to help us heal. To the hundreds of firefighters and emergency responders who came without hesitation to climb over piles of rubble in search of our survivors. To Pastor Garris, Pastor Brown, Father Monaghan, Lt. Colonel Kilmer, and the wonderful choir from First United Methodist Church of Joplin. To President Obama, who is with us today. Thank you all for coming.
It is an honor to be here, joining the thousands of Missourians observing this special day of prayer. We stand on hallowed ground, to bear witness to the destructive power of nature, and the invincible power of faith. We have come to mourn what the storm has taken from us. To seek comfort in community, and to draw strength from God to build anew.
It seems inconceivable that just one week ago, the people of Joplin were going about their daily lives, doing the ordinary things that people do on a Sunday evening. Cooking supper, watching TV, walking the dog, attending their sons' and daughters' graduation. And then came the whirlwind. Nearly a mile wide, and six miles long, with its 200 mile an hour winds, churning and roaring. Tossing cars and toppling trees, pounding homes, businesses, schools, and churches to rubble.
But that storm, the likes of which we have never seen, has brought forward a spirit of resilience, the likes of which we've also never seen. What our nation and our world have witnessed this week is the spirit of Joplin, Missouri. We were humbled by it. You have given "love thy neighbor" new meaning.
The parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke, Chapter 10, verses 25 through 37 begins with a conversation between Jesus and a student of religious law. It starts with a legal question, and ends with a moral imperative. The student asks Jesus, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus turns the question around, and asks, "What is written in the law?" And the student, who is well versed in the Talmud and the Torah replies, "Thou shalt love the lord, thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength, and with all thy mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self." And Jesus replies, "Thou hast answered right. This do and thou shalt live." But then the student, wanting greater clarity then the law provided, asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" And Jesus tells him the story of the Good Samaritan.
From that parable, our charge is crystal clear. Good Samaritans do not pass by those who are suffering and in need. They show their compassion with action. In Joplin you see Good Samaritans everywhere you turn. You see them over in the gym at this university, where hundreds of volunteers make sandwiches each and every day. You see them passing out blankets, pillows, sunscreen, and flashlights, to our neighbors made homeless by a whirlwind. They need a flashlight – because it gets pretty dark here at night. Especially when you're standing in the street, staring at the lonely pile of matchsticks that was once your family's' home.
If you had been at the ER at St. Johns Mercy Medical Center last Sunday evening, mere moments after the tornado struck, you would have seen Good Samaritans rushing frantically to reach the wounded and the dying. Shattered glass and bleeding patients everywhere. Water and gas spewing from burst pipes. One doctor stumbled through the darkness with a flashlight in his teeth, following the wail of a wounded child.
You see Good Samaritans at every checkpoint in the destruction zone, where police officers and citizen soldiers of our Missouri National Guard keep watch over wet socks, teddy bears, cherished wedding photos, and crumpled wheelchairs - all that is left of our neighbors' worldly goods. You see them in the churchyard. Men sleeping on cots, under the stars, after driving all night to get here from Tuscaloosa. These men were so touched, so moved by the kindness of strangers in their hour of need, that they just had to come to Joplin. Good Samaritans on a mission from God.
God has chosen us for a mission too. To grieve together. To comfort one another. To be patient with one another. To strengthen one another. And to build Joplin anew. Not just to build it back the way it was, but to make it an even better place. We know that all those who perished here are already in an even better place. But for us, the living, there is work to do. God says "Show me… Show me."
The people of Missouri were born for this mission. We are famously stubborn and self-reliant. Practical, impatient, but whatever may divide us, we always come together in crisis. And once we set our resolve, no storm, no fire, no flood, can turn us from our task. In the pale hushed stillness before dawn, when the chainsaws have fallen silent, if you listen very closely you can hear the sound of that resolve. Like a tiny silver hammer, tapping… tapping…tapping… inside each of our heads.
In the days to come, the satellite trucks will pack up, leave town, and move on. Joplin's story will disappear from the front pages, but the tragedy will not disappear from our lives. We will still be here in Joplin, together, preparing for the long journey out of darkness into light. And we will need more hands, more tools, more Good Samaritans, every step of the way.
This tragedy has changed us forever. This community will never be the same. We will never be the same. The grief we share at this moment is overwhelming. That sorrow will always be a part of us, a stone upon our hearts. But those we love, those we lost, are safe with God, and safe in our hearts. And in our hearts, the joy they gave us lives on, and on. Nothing can take that from us. We can, and we will, heal. We've already begun.
Together we can and we will rebuild, upon a granite foundation of faith. What we build on this hallowed ground will be a living monument to those we lost. Mothers, fathers, our precious children. It will be a monument to the will and determination of the hundreds of men, women, and yes even children, who helped their neighbors dig out of the ruins. A monument to the search and rescue crews who came swiftly to aid the quick, and the dead. By God's grace, we will restore this community. And by God's grace, we will renew our souls. One year from today, Joplin will look different. And more different still in 2 years…and three…and five. And as the years pass, the moral of our story will be the same: Love thy neighbor.