The first thing I noticed about him was his walking stick, a rather crooked looking stick, with a small handle on it. He was asking for the pastor, and judging from his walking stick, I assumed that he was one of the many people who traveled along the river each year, looking for some kind of assistance.
I asked him what I could help him with, fully expecting him to tell me he needed lodging or food. Instead, I was startled when he said, “I bring you a word from the Lord.”
There are not many people who begin a conversation with me, in quite that way. “I bring you a word from the Lord,” he said. “The Storm of the Lord is coming. There is going to be a vast flood that will cover this valley. It’s going to be a winter flood, because I saw snow on the river banks. God’s judgement is on the American People because they have not cared for the hungry, the poor and the homeless. God’s judgement is on the church because the church has not cared for the hungry, the poor and the homeless.”
I learned he was going up and down the Mississippi River Valley, warning the nation, communities and churches to repent, because the “Storm of the Lord was coming.” As he left, he told me that I should “Flee from the ‘Great Storm of the Lord.’”
I thanked him for bringing this word of the Lord to me. But, afterwards, I was unsettled. What if he wasn’t just one more disturbed and confused man? What if God had really given him that word to share with me – as a word from the Lord?
The following winter was mild. Rains came in the late spring. The river rose to just below the levees. People were on edge, levees were checked for leaks. But the levees held. The city was safe and at least for a time, “The Great Storm of the Lord” held off.
In our year of wildfires, hurricanes, floods, drought, rivers drying up, coastal cities increasingly vulnerable, Covid cases overrunning hospitals, and open hostility to each other . . . I think of this prophet who wandered the Mississippi River valley twenty years ago, telling me to share “The Word of the Lord” and tell people to “Repent.” He may not have been right on that particular flood, but he was right about repentance. We do need to repent, to repent of our “me centered” values, our selfishness, our arrogance and our refusal to hear one another. Without repentance, and a clear turning around in the way we understand our world and treat each other, we are doomed. Now, more than ever, God needs us to work together, to meet the multitude of challenges we face, not only as a nation – but as a world.
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” Romans 12:9-12