This last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Kern Rd Mennonite Church in Indiana. It was the first week of Lent and the theme they had chosen for the season was “Restore to me the joy of my salvation” from Psalm 51.
Initially I struggled. How can I talk about joy while grieving for the many who have lost their lives, their loved ones or their livelihoods in Japan? And how can I experience joy when I am still grieving for my friend who died in Christchurch and my aunt who is still displaced following the Brisbane floods? It is not an easy time for many of us as we question how a loving and caring God could allow such disasters to happen. And of course there are no easy answers. But the fact that there are no easy answers does not mean that God is absent from these situations. Nor does it mean that we cannot experience joy in the midst of them.
In the midst of desolations like this, when our world is shaken and our securities undermined it is very hard to trust in the presence of God. But we need to keep seeking, and believing and counting our blessings and the blessings of all who are caught in these tragic circumstances.
As I spent time this weekend thinking about these disasters and thinking about what I could possibly write in my gratitude journal it suddenly struck me. There is a common theme of hope in all these situations that absolutely takes my breath away and makes me want to cry out with thankfulness to God. In the midst of all these disasters complete strangers are reaching out, sometimes risking their own lives to save and comfort others.
My aunt had strangers who had travelled half way across the country suddenly appear at her door to help with the clean up. Friends in Christchurch have been overwhelmed by the help of volunteers who dropped everything and travelled from throughout New Zealand and Australia to assist people they never met. And in Japan more than countries around the world have reached out with offers of assistance.
Strangers have become neighbours. Across barriers of class and race and religion people are showing they care. It is like the parable of the Good Samaritan being lived out in our midst. And suddenly I see this is the God image shining through. This is our loving caring God reaching out compassionately through the helping hands and aching hearts of those who are created in God’s image. Why these disasters happened we do not know but God is there grieving, loving and caring.
And in that moment of recognition I see that this is the joy of salvation bubbling up within as we immerse ourselves in the love of our God and allow ourselves to become his hands and his feet.