33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, 14 November 2010)

The wells of salvation


Readings
Isaiah 65.17-25
Luke 21.5-19

The phone call came in the early evening one day in October 1990. We were living in Biloela, Central Queensland, about six hours’ drive away. My dad was ringing to tell me he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer.

In a sense, it wasn’t surprising. He’d been a heavy smoker since he was fourteen. He was an asthmatic child; when my grandmother found out he was smoking, she took him to the doctor to find out if it was a good idea. The doctor told my gran that smoking would strengthen his lungs.

Dad was only diagnosed because he had secondaries. Things were pretty advanced by the time he found that he had cancer.

We were thrown into a spin. We were a long way away, and didn’t know how to help. We brought the kids down, and spent some time staying at a motel near mum and dad’s place. It was hard, and harder still going back to Central Queensland.

Another phone call came in late January. Dad wasn’t expected to make it. I arranged a flight early the next day. I arrived too late to see him alive.

It was a difficult time over the next few months, partly because we weren’t close enough to be of much help to my mum. Most of the people in the church were lovely. Not all, though—one woman asked me how I was going after my dad’s death. I was pleased that she asked, because she’d previously made it clear that she didn’t rate me as a minister. I told her I was doing ok. ‘I should think so!’ she retorted. It seems that in her universe ministers are made of sterner stuff than ordinary mortals. Let me assure you that this is not the case.

I found a Brisbane placement for 1992 to be closer to mum.

Life sometimes throws up some pretty hard things sometimes. We’re going through a hard time as a congregation. G died last Sunday. He had a form of cancer, but he wasn’t expected to go so soon.

The following day, L broke her arm. Very spectacularly. So, on top of her other troubles, she has been in hospital this week for orthopaedic surgery. Her arm’s doing quite well, but we wish she didn’t have to put up with that as well.

Jesus spoke about going through difficult times, in quite another context:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues…they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons…You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

There are places in the world where this is more literally the case than for us. I think of the struggles of Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, and of Christians in West Papua who have undergone torture.

For us, the struggles are more about how we are to be a faithful community in our situation.

One of the things we need to be aware of is right there in our Old Testament reading and psalm reading today. From Isaiah 65:

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping
be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.

And in Isaiah 12, our psalm reading for today:

Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God is my strength
and my might;
he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation…

Sing praises to the Lord,
for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.

None of these words was written in easy times. When times are tough for the people of God, they remember that God is faithful, and that God will remain faithful. They remember that God’s promises do not change, but in fact they are fulfilled in new and glorious ways that are beyond our imagining.

So the Gospel reading tells us that life can be hard; the Old Testament reading tells us that God has a future for us. Not only that, but God’s future is greater than we dare to think.

So what is God’s future for L? Before I address that question, I want to talk about G. And my dad. And I want to take Isaiah 12.3 as the theme:

With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation…

Let’s start with my dad. Dad had a very mixed reaction to my being active in the church. He made it clear that it wasn’t for him, and didn’t want me talking about it. At other times, he was proud of my life in the church. When I was ordained, he was really proud. It was hard to work him out. It made more sense when dad told me he had wanted to be a Methodist minister when he was a teenager. He’d told the minister of his church, only to be told it wasn’t possible because he didn’t have a secondary education. Dad had only left after primary school because his own dad was dead, and the family needed a breadwinner.

Dad didn’t go back to church.

While he was dying, dad and I had some good heart-to-heart conversations. A miracle occurred. While my father was dying, his body becoming thinner and more frail, his spirit came to life. His eyes shone with a life that I had never seen before as he recovered his childhood faith. He got me to buy him a bible, and a copy of William Barclay’s The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers. He wanted to get mum linked to the church.

He became a new man in those last few weeks:

With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation…

G also drew water from the wells of salvation, though his was from another well to dad (notice: it’s ‘the wells of salvation’; we don’t all draw water from the same salvation well).

God worked a related kind of miracle in G’s life. We saw a great change in G after his amputation eighteen months ago. He became concerned to pray for others in hospital. He was far more outward-looking. He was a kinder, gentler bloke who loved his Lord. His experience of being on the brink had transformed him. He became an example to us of Christian discipleship.

With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation…

L is also looking for a miracle. L being who she is, there are no half measures! L is asking us to stand with her in praying for healing from cancer. She says, ‘I know that on paper it looks bad, but I need my church family to stand with me in prayer.’

Can we do that?

With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation…

The well that L is drawing water from is deep. Some of us may wonder if our buckets can reach down far enough. She asks us to let our buckets down with hers at this well. Can we do that? I pray we can. I know we can.

Let’s not be too polite here. Life’s pretty crappy sometimes. It can stink. We have a God whose main ‘thing’ is to bring beauty out of brokenness, hope from despair, life through death. God does it all the time, but we only notice it when we’re on the receiving end of the brokenness, the despair, the dying. Then we wonder if God can do anything!

Let me say it again: God’s doing it all the time! When we face difficulties beyond our control, we need then to recall that we are not the Creator. The good God has made us and given us life; but more than that, God is our heavenly Father and we God’s beloved children.

Life can be hard; but God is good. The victory is ours in Jesus Christ!

With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation…

Sing praises to the Lord,
for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.

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2 Comments

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

2 responses to “33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, 14 November 2010)

  1. Craig Mitchell

    Paul
    After the year that I have had, including the death of my dad, and still struggling with tomorrow’s text (!), your words go quite deep into me. thanks. Craig

  2. Thanks Craig, I appreciate your feedback.

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