Over the last few weeks, across the Caribbean from Barbuda to Tampa, the biggest
Atlantic hurricanes in recent history ripped through homes, communities, and lives.
First hurricane Irma, and then hurricanes Jose and Maria left millions of people
displaced, and caused billions of pounds worth of damage. Many were left without
power, without homes, and some are left with little more than the clothes on their
back. The same story is told in Sierra Leone, India, Nepal and especially Bangladesh
as they struggle to support so many Burmese refugees during the monsoon season.
As the winds settle, the waters subside, and the media covering ceases, people are
left to come to terms with the devastation, returning home to the destruction to
start rebuilding their lives. I can't imagine what it must be like, to lose everything,
overnight, and to have to start again.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to those who also faced a similar reality some 2,500 years
ago, as they return to the devastated city of Jerusalem and towns of Judah, to this
land they were exiled from, their home.
Speaking to a people who may have felt abandoned by God, Isaiah's vision brings light
into the darkness of their circumstance, "Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick
darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over
you." (Isaiah 60:1) These are wonderful words, alive with possibility and promise,
filling the imagination with hope in the midst of the despair.
The Lord had not abandoned or forgotten His people, He is not paralysed by the darkness,
or helpless amidst the ruins. God calls His people today, as He did then, to arise,
shine and to be the people that "will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places
long devastated… renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations."
It is such a vision of hope that has inspired and empowered all people of faith –
indeed it is this vision that Jesus draws on at the start of his ministry in Luke
4, when he spoke about being good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners, and
sight to the blind.
Jesus lived out the hope that erupts in Isaiah 61; he is its true fulfilment, he
is the rebuilder of lives, the restorer of relationships.
As followers of Jesus, we may not have answers to suffering, we may not have a quick
fix to society's problems, or be able to wind the clock back, but we have hope in
a God that has a track record of rebuilding lives from the ruins of their circumstances.
A while ago Pope Francis said in a TED talk, "To Christians the future has a name,
and its name is hope... feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naive
and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing... Hope is a virtue of the heart that doesn't
lock itself into darkness, that doesn't dwell on the past, does not simply get by
in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow." God desires His people to be those
who see a tomorrow where others cannot. To be those who have the prophetic imagination
to see what could be, in the light of the God who can create from dust. To be a people
who find the words to articulate such hope, the faithfulness to pray for it to become
reality, and the courage to share in His work of rebuilding with those amongst the
Here in Church Lawton we have been thinking about what our Church might be like in
the future – are we fit for purpose for what God is calling us to? We need the Holy
Spirit to give us vision and courage as a people to imagine what kind of church we
can be. I pray that as the people of God in this place we will be able to pray for
this to become a reality and to all get involved in the hard work together – because
we are all needed.
Our community has been thinking of the future for Church Lawton as part of the Neighbourhood
Plan – you may have even filled in a questionnaire from the Parish Council. It's
tempting to want to just keep things as they are or turn the clock back – but I hope
and pray that the Neighbourhood Plan will help us capture a vision for our parish
to grow into the future.
So as many people across the world set out on rebuilding their lives, in an everyday
experience that can seem so far from God, whether it be in the aftermath of a hurricane
or a flood, or after the devastation of a diagnosis, redundancy, divorce or loss,
may we, by the power of His Spirit, play our part in the rebuild, in the restoration
and renewal God started in Jesus, and longs to continue in His world.