Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message: 1 Peter 5:6-7; Date: 5 February 11
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Toowoomba Region Flood Recovery Service
(At Alford Place, Toowoomba)
What happened four weeks ago on Monday 10 January is hard to put in words. It was so extraordinary and devastating that it prompted our Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson and media outlets across the world to make up a new word for this kind of disaster: inland tsunami. And this is what we had. According to our Premier Anna Bligh the flash floods here in Toowoomba were the darkest hour since the Queensland flood crisis began a complete freak of nature, an extraordinary deluge that almost came out of nowhere. By some estimates up to 7.5 billion tonnes of water [that is:] fifteen times the water mass of Sydney harbour overwhelmed us (in Southeast Queensland) in the space of 72 hours.
People died (35 since the Qld floods began in Nov 2010) not only here but even more so down the range: Withcott, Murphys Creek, Grantham. On Monday 10 January a wall of water up to eight meters high rushed down the range and tore through houses and communities without warning. There are now bare concrete slabs where houses used to be. How do you put the scale of the disaster into words? Flooding in three states, now cyclones and do you remember? on the day of our inland tsunami when we watched the evening news we saw bushfires in WA. How do you find words for all of this?
This is difficult but in preparation for this service eight pastors from across the churches in Toowoomba agreed on the appropriateness of the following Bible verses 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under Gods mighty hand Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
God was still God on Monday 10 January and, therefore, we have to say that somehow his mighty hand allowed the flood to happen. But then the immediate question is why? Why did God allow the devastation? The Bible verses in 1 Peter 5 do not answer this question (they only make reference to Gods mighty hand) and this morning I do not want to speculate either. Some say that these kinds of floods (and cyclones) are simply part of Gods design of our ecology natural weather patterns in Australia. Others point to the fact that our current disaster-prone world was not Gods original design but came about because of us rejecting him. Our first human ancestors and subsequently all of us have rejected and in some measure keep rejecting the creator of this world which leaves the world in a corrupt place where Gods reign is contested by evil including hostile storms.
There may be further viewpoints but with your permission right now I will not so much pursue the question of why Gods mighty hand let this happen to us. I want to pick up on the way forward for us. Our first reaction according to the Bible what we are meant to do first in response to the inland tsunami is to humble ourselves before God. I read again the opening words of the Bible verses in 1 Peter 5: Humble yourselves, therefore, under Gods mighty hand Humble yourself.
However, is this what we are doing? I would say that even in the church this is not what comes natural to us. I have seen it many times that when misfortune comes, people are not drawing closer to God but pull away from him even further. They vent their anger on him, shake their fists and blame him for their suffering, saying: How could you do this, God? I may not have been the best Christian before but now, God, I despise you. Strong words! Proud words! As a pastor I am familiar with them and to a degree I understand them but they lead us nowhere.
Humble yourself and draw closer to God and in the midst of all the devastation around us you will make an unexpected discovery. He loves you. He loves the Toowoomba Region and all of its people. Whatever happened, God has never stopped loving us. The Bible verses of 1 Peter 5 encourage us to position ourselves before God. They say: Humble yourself. But then these same verses immediately continue with the assurance that we have a loving God. They say: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. He can get us through anything.
If we only trust in the goodness of God, then this can be the best time of experiencing more of his love. Before the flooding of our city I was on holidays and remember that one of the more striking news items was the upcoming marriage between the 84-year-old founder of a mens magazine and his 24-year-old playmate. I was thinking about this story and then I was thinking about our culture. The newspaper that I was reading was not critical of the marriage and today it is not for me to make any further comments either.
But who are we? Are we without God and, therefore, our life is meaningless? We live a few years, get as much money as possible as quickly as we can to make our existence as pleasurable and as comfortable as possible, amuse ourselves and just not think too deeply about the day that we will die.
Yet when the flash flood came, another set of values was resurfacing: mateship, the courage of volunteers, people making sacrifices for each other. We rediscovered and are rediscovering community and family which was and is a blessing. (If you want) God gave us an opportunity to reassess what we all need the most and what builds and sustains a community our city and the region that is: love, making sacrifices for each other.
Then, the inland tsunami the dramatic pictures of cars and people hurling down a torrent of muddy water the endless repetition of these images on TV shocked us. I was in shock. People came here for some shopping and the next minute they were swimming for their lives. The unexpected wall of water shattered our sense of safety. Life was not safe not even in Toowoomba and then we further panicked in our super-markets, stripping the shelves of milk and other necessities often without considering others. Maybe we did learn that we are not in control. God is and this is the time to reconnect with him and discover that he is love. I read again what 1 Peter 5 promises to those that humble themselves before God. The words say: Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
I dont know what you are going to make of all of this but I want to close by spelling out the most compelling reason why we can trust that God has never stopped loving us. I want to speak about the cross of Jesus Christ. If we were honest, we would concede that God does not owe us anything. We are not that keen on seeking him and we are not that keen on submitting our lives to him. When Jesus came, he introduced himself as the only Son of God who had been with him from the beginning (in heaven) and Jesus was holy as God the Father was holy without sin perfect in love. He also told people to humble themselves before God (like we want to do today) and he demonstrated the goodness of God by healing the sick and driving out demons. He loved them. Yet, the people around him were like us and ended up killing him by nailing him to a cross because human pride does not want to submit to anything not even God.
Only, this did not stop God loving us. In fact for this very reason Jesus came. He knew that we would kill him but he purposed to die for us. He purposed in agreement with God the Father that his death would be the sacrifice which would grant forgiveness and the unwavering favour of God for all of us. Jesus died so that we would not have to die. He died so that we would live with him, whom God the Father raised from the dead after three days in the grave.
Do you understand his love? In our current world the reign of God is contested by evil and according to the Bible anyone that is not prepared to humble themselves before God will remain in the realm of evil even after death. Yet, Jesus loved us and keeps loving us. He came to overcome evil including the evil in our own hearts. Trust his death. Trust the blood which was holy and poured out for you on the cross. On his account we receive forgiveness and the assurance that Gods love will never forsake us. Then, when we die, we will come to a place that has been prepared for us by God where no disaster will ever touch us again.
Can you humble yourself? Can the people of Toowoomba and the region humble themselves before God? I dont know. You may have to answer that but there is a God and he loves us in Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 5:6-7: Humble yourselves, therefore, under Gods mighty hand Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Amen.