Last weekend three carloads - a total of thirteen members of our parish - went to our sister Parish of St George. It's a long road - not much more than six hours actual driving time, plus stops - and the sign in the main street announcing "Cunnamulla 280" suggests we were a good distance inland.
And what was it like out there? There was green grass and dry burning heat that felt as if it was sucking the moisture out of everything. A little while back there was enough rain to plant some of the cotton crop. But there has been no follow-up - no rain during all our wet days. The Beardmore Dam has been empty. Rain in the Mitchell district has brought some water into the Dam - the guage measured about 1.5 metres! But the total ban on irrigation remains. Blue-green algae has spread down the Balonne and into the town weir. Signs have been erected warning of the danger of contaminated water to both humans and animals. We had made good time and had lunch at the Dam before meeting our hosts. The precious little water in the Dam was being released in an effort to kill and flush out the algae.
The service on Sunday was in the Anglican Church - they don't have their own. Some smaller country services had been closed and the people encouraged to join with the visitors for church and a lunch to follow. I basically shared with them the message of a fortnight ago from Psalm 27 and David's affirmation of faith in the midst of "hard testing". But I began with a story which seemed appropriate to our situation as visitors -
A city teacher was transferred to a country school where she was given a grade 2 class. On her first day she put up a big picture of a sheep and said to the class, "What's this?" The class looked in silence. "Come on. Tell me what it is!" Still silence. The teacher was stunned. "You must know. Surely someone call tell me." After some more silence a boy put up his hand. "Please, Miss, can I have a closer look?" The teacher was just amazed as the boy came out and closely studied the picture. He then went back to his place. "Well, Miss, I'm not quite sure, but I think it's a two-year-old Border Leicester."
We had not come to give "pat" answers, but to listen and to learn - hopefully in that process to give encouragement. The town has been hit by the closure of the meatworks with the loss of five hundred jobs. One farmer, in cotton, commented over lunch, "It's easier for us. It's hardest for the graziers. They are surrounded with death all the time. And that gets to you after a while." That particular farmer has, for many years, been actively supporting three family members in full-time service.
It is easy to be brave in someone else's troubles. There are times when we need to admit that we just don't have all the answers, even though we are confident that we still need to trust God, no matter what our circumstances.
The poet said,
That definition of life is hardly adequate, even though it may have Biblical precedent in Ecclesiastes with the words, "Vanity of vanities... all is vanity!" That can never be taken as more than a partial description of life. But the poet does seem to be affirming that we can expect trouble as part of life. The big question is how we respond to it - whether others' or our own. "Kindness in another's trouble... That needs to be our response. We had some fresh fruit with us - pineapples, pawpaws, avocadoes and passionfruit - as well as non-perishable food and other items for Christmas presents. Thanks goes to all those who have given. It was our privilege to represent that kindness in person.
The prophet Isaiah seemed to have a two-fold message - a warning of impending judgment from God because of their persistent sins and the promise of God's comfort and help in their distress.
Listen to his words - "The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wilderness. The desert will sing and shout for joy; it will be as beautiful as the Lebanon Mountains and as fertile as the fields of Carmel and Sharon. Everyone will see the Lord's splendour, see his greatness and power."
The barrenness of the desert - within them as well as outside - would be transformed by the presence and glory of the Lord. No matter what our situation, there is a world of difference when we know the Lord is present with us - even before we see our circumstances transformed!
Many of us face frustrations and discouragement - sometimes it is through the pressures of circumstances beyond our control, sometimes because our physical body just will not function as it should - "hands that are tired, knees that tremble with weakness." Depression can set in - that feeling that life isn't worth living any more.
The Lord is saying to you, "Be strong! Don't be afraid!" Don't give up! The Lord is here. Put your trust in him! Share your life with him!
The coming days will bring release and healing! "The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy. Streams of water will flow through the desert; the burning sand will become a lake and the dry land will be filled with springs." Healing for the people! Healing for the land!
We have sometimes pictured holiness as remoteness from reality. We have thought of the holy person as someone with his/her head in the clouds. That's not the picture at all. Holiness is wholeness and reality. It is living in a vital relation to our Creator. It is living the life we were designed to live.
To walk that road we must forsake sin. It is a road of grace - to be entered by repentance and faith. It is a road we can all follow. "No fools will mislead those who follow it" - "The simple will not stray from it" (NIV mg).
It is a way of safety and "those whom the Lord has rescued will travel home by that road. They will reach Jerusalem with gladness, singing and shouting for joy. They will be happy for ever, for ever free from sorrow and grief."
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