Last week's thoughts concluded with the assurance, "God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas." (Psalm 46.1-2) These definitely were God's words for me, for I had no idea what the week ahead would bring. How comforting it is to know that, though we do not know what the future will bring, our God and Savior not only does, but he also is doing advance work in preparation for our safe travel through all the sudden, and unexpected changes, we face.
This week opened with the horrific shootings in Las Vegas. Senseless ... inexplicable ... crazed psychotic ... indefensible ... unsettling ... evil ... whatever terms you use to describe the scene on Sunday night, it certainly caught all of us off guard. And it has been the topic of every home visit I have made this week. How fortunate (blessed) it is that last week the plans had already been laid for me to take Psalm 46 and the singing of "A Mighty Fortress is our God" to each of these homes.
And then, yesterday morning, at 8:37, as I sat in my usual fashion at Tim Horton's, my phone rang. It was my brother from Wisconsin. Since he has become semi-retired he has started calling at times other than Sunday evenings - but never in the morning like this! I answered, and trembled. His news was sad, and totally unexpected. His wife, Nora, had been taken to the hospital the night before, but she did not make it. She had died at 5:00 that morning.
In the midst of our sorrow, and these sudden changes, the promise holds true. "God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble." And he goes on to assure us, "There is a river - its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High. God is within her; she will not be toppled. God will help her when the morning dawns. Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when he lifts his voice. The Lord of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold." (Psalm 46.4-7)
Many appointments for the week have been cancelled. Plans have been rearranged. Our bases are covered. We will be driving to Wisconsin in the afternoon. But the sudden changes we are experiencing are nothing like those my brother and his three daughters are experiencing (Or our sister in law's 95 year old mother, either). Nor are the challenges I face anything compared to what is faced by the families of the 59 who were killed in Las Vegas.
What were the words for last week? RELAX ... knowing that nothing takes Jesus by surprise (and he has plans - good plans - for us all). REFLECT ... remembering all of the blessings received (that is certainly what we will be doing as a family in the days ahead). REFUGE ... in ways seen and unseen, our Savior's arms will be wrapped around us (and, yes, his promise is that he will bring good things out of even the most tragic of deaths ... we dare not forget the third day after Calvary).
To these three words I am adding a fourth this week. REJOICE ... for the sudden changes those who die in the Lord are experiencing. John describes them this way: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. ... He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, 'Look, I am making everything new.' He also said, 'Write, because these words are faithful and true.'" (Revelation 21.1-2, 4-5)
Life in this fallen world is filled with many sudden, and sorrowful, changes. But Jesus - the Word made flesh who chooses to dwell among us - laces our lives with the constant we need - his grace and love. And then he makes sure that the final sudden change we experience ... contains no sorrow, for he introduces this change by saying, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25.34)
Until then, we live in the refuge of his care, and say by the power of the Spirit, "I believe in ... the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." Amen.