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The echo of God's love in the midst of tragedy - An address by the Australian Primate

Posted on: January 22, 2011 9:33 PM
Related Categories: Abp Aspinall, Australia

An address by Dr Phillip Aspinall, Primate and Archbishop of Brisbane, at the All Saints' Church Service Sunday 16 January 2011.

We come together this morning to a certain extent still in a state of shock about what’s happened in the past week. Though it’s not the first flood to hit Ipswich and Brisbane with such devastating force, and may not be the last, that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the grief and pain and heartache of what’s happened this time.

Stories are emerging that are just heart-breaking. I find those involving children hardest to cope with.

Young Jordan Rice, just 13 years of age, was a non-swimmer himself. But when rescuers came to save him, his mother and his younger brother Blake, who was 10, as their car was being pummelled by a torrent of water, Jordan insisted that they take Blake first. Blake survived, but Jordan and his mother Donna were swept away.

I can’t get out of my mind the story of the four year old boy who had been rescued, was in the rescuers boat with a life jacket on and yet toppled overboard and couldn’t be found.

Two children had been sent away for the day to their grandparents. While they were away their home and both their parents were washed away in the torrent.

When we hear these stories, and many others, we can’t help our throats choking up and ours eyes welling up with tears.

And those of us who are people of faith find ourselves confronted with hard questions and can feel the foundations of our faith shaking.

Where is God in all of this? Why does God allow floods and other natural disasters to wreak such destruction and cause such pain and grief?

After all, we say we believe in a God who is almighty, all powerful; and we say we believe in a God who is all loving and compassionate and merciful. How is it then that God does not act to prevent floods and earthquakes and tsunamis from causing such suffering in the world.

Well these are tough questions that people have wrestled with for centuries, and there doesn’t seem to be neat, tidy, convincing answers.

But thoughtful reflection on today’s readings gives us a couple of clues at least.

Both the reading from Isaiah and the reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians assures us of God’s concern for people and that God is faithful and can be trusted.

Isaiah speaks about God knowing us even before we were born and that God is concerned not just for his people Israel, but for all the nations of the world. God wants salvation for all people, everywhere and by salvation is meant the Hebrew idea of shalom – peace, well-being, prosperity, justice, harmony – people at one with God and with each other.

St Paul writes to the Corinthians about the way they have been strengthened by God spiritually so that they will be able to persevere and assures them that God is faithful and will persevere too.

Then in John’s gospel we get a radical insight into this whole dilemma. John sees Jesus coming towards him and says ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ And a bit further on says ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.’

Now for all the funny imagery and language, John is saying that God is somehow uniquely present in the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. If you want to understand the way God relates to the world, look at the person of Jesus.

When we do that it makes us rethink what we mean when we say God is almighty, all powerful. Jesus was mighty and powerful but in a peculiar, unusual kind of way. In fact people often mistook Jesus’ strength for weakness. When you look closely at Jesus’ life you see that his strength and power and might are expressed chiefly in the way he shows mercy and compassion and gives himself in risky, sacrificial service. That’s what the presence and power of God look like.

Now that puts a whole new slant on the way we look at what we’ve been through in this last week, because we’ve seen an enormous amount of that kind of thing.

Just think of the selflessness of the rescue workers who risked their own lives to save others. Or think of the sacrificial service of the ‘Mud Army’ yesterday as the clean up got into full swing. In some places so many thousands of volunteers turned up to help that organizers struggled to use them all. Think of the outpouring of care and generosity and assistance we’ve seen: it’s been called the second flood – a tidal wave of love and care.

And I’ve been amazed at the messages of goodwill and care and support that have come to me from all around the world. It’s been a glimpse of what Isaiah wrote about all those centuries ago – an expression of all the people of the world being one family under one God.

For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote

My dear Phillip

This is just a quick line to let you know that we are all deeply concerned here about the terrible floods locally, and are keeping you in our prayers. …

With every good wish
As ever

Desmond Tutu sent a message in his inimitable style:

Dear Archbishop

I just wanted to reassure you that this decrepit creature is piercing heaven with his feeble prayers for you and all the people of your beautiful land who have been victims of the recent floods. …

God bless you and all your people
+Desmond Tutu

The Archbishop of Melanesia wrote –

Dear Archbishop Phillip

We are conscious of the flooding which has caused death and destruction in Queensland …

While we seem helpless and powerless in the midst of natural disaster, I on behalf of the bishops clergy and people of the Province of the Anglican Church of Melanesia wish to assure you of our prayers at this difficult time.

Our prayers are with those who have lost loved ones and also for those who are still waiting to hear [about] those who are missing.

We share with you and your family in prayer at this time and we wish all flood victims speedy recovery.

With all good wishes and God Bless

Yours sincerely
David Vunagi
Archbishop of Melanesia

The Dean of Waikato Diocese in New Zealand sent a message telling me that the Royal School of Church Music meeting in his Cathedral had a special evensong last week praying for us all.

The General Secretary of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Church in Japan has been in touch as has the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion in London, and bishops from England and Wales as well as from all around Australia.

The Diocese of Bunbury is having a special day of prayer for us today in all its parishes. The Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn has called his people together in Goulburn Cathedral this afternoon to be with us in spirit.

Is this not amazing.

You see, God has created the world out of love, in such a way that a love that echoes God’s own love might emerge. And in the past days we have heard that echo.

Why do floods happen? Well, we’re discovering a bit more about things like El Ninja and El Nino and all that. We wonder whether what we’re experiencing has anything to do with climate change. But some things we still can’t fathom. Why does God allow floods to happen? There’s no clear satisfying answer.

We do know that the echoes of God’s love shown to us in Jesus Christ are all around us at present. And those echoes are a sign of God’s faithfulness to us, a sign of hope for what the world might be, and an inspiration to us to do our bit, to give ourselves generously, sacrificially in love and care for others that that vision of one global family in peace with each other and with God might become a reality.

And so we come together to feed on Christ and to pray ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’