Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Reflection for the Service of Thanksgiving for the end of the Fire Season

Romsey Uniting Church, 27th of March 2011

Psalm 121; Mark 12:28-34; ‘My Country’ by Dorothea MacKellar

Psalm 121, which we just heard read, is one of my favourite psalms. Living in the Macedon Ranges, I spend a lot of my time lifting my eyes to the hills, and appreciating the incredible beauty of God’s creation. And I love the reassurance that “The Lord will defend you from all evil: it is he who will guard your life.” It’s a beautiful affirmation. But sometimes, like this summer, it’s hard to believe.

We have been incredibly lucky this summer – the Macedon Ranges weren’t threatened with fire. But other places have been horrendously unlucky. We’ve seen mudslides in Brazil; floods in Queensland and Victoria; fires in Perth; Cyclone Yasi; the earthquake in Christchurch; and, most recently, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. For some people this past summer has been the worst time of their lives, and the impact of these natural disasters, the damage done, will continue for years.

Whenever natural disasters happen there are always some people who try to explain them by saying that they are God’s will, that God is punishing the people for something. That’s just not true. God does not send natural disasters to punish some people, while protecting others from disaster. Charlton was not flooded, while Mount Macedon escaped fire, because God decided that the people of Charlton needed to be punished and the people of the Macedon Ranges needed to be rewarded.

In the story of Jesus’ temptations we’re told that Satan tempted Jesus with this very theology. “Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’” Jesus himself didn’t demand an escape from natural consequences, in that case the force of gravity.

So in what way is Psalm 121 true? I believe it is true that God watches over us, neither slumbering nor sleeping. I believe that God is with us, in life, in death and in life beyond death. God does send us help in times of disaster, in many different ways.

One of the ways in which God’s help is shown is in the work of volunteers in times of danger and despair. I spent a fair bit of time this summer sitting with people in the Victorian flood zones, just listening to their stories, and one thing that they said over and over again was how much they appreciated the work of all the volunteers – CFA, SES, Red Cross, VCC, people who’d come for a day or a week to help clean up and garden. When they saw these volunteers they knew that they hadn’t been forgotten, that people cared about them. And whether they knew it or not, I believe that in the help they received from other people they were receiving help from God.

The practice of the Christian faith, like that of the Jewish faith, can be summed up in two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. This is what it means to be Christian. One way of showing our love for God is by loving our neighbour. The Apostle John said: “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sister also.” Loving others is a way of loving God.

Loving others is also a way of sharing God’s love. Some of the volunteers who have responded to this summer’s natural disasters might be surprised to know it, but by caring for others they were and are doing God’s work. Their work is one way that help comes from the Lord who has made heaven and earth.

We live in a beautiful, opal-hearted country which is also a land of flood and fire and famine. That’s just the way Australia is. We live on an incredibly beautiful, fragile, vulnerable planet that is at times rocked by natural disasters. God does not desert us when these things happen – the God who willingly died on the cross is with us in suffering and pain and death, as well as in triumph and joy and life. And one of the ways that God is with us is in the work of volunteers, who love their neighbour as themselves. Thanks be to God for them. Amen.

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March 28, 2011 - Posted by | Ministry | , , ,

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