Not more on the floods!
It's been hard to speak about the recent floods. Any high-sounding phrases I use are going to sound glib to people who were trapped in, who were frightened, who in so many cases lost their possessions, were washed out of their homes and had their families and working lives disrupted. For us up at the vicarage the floods were an inconvenience – a couple of feet of water in the garden and some trouble with the septic tank, but little more. It's hard then to get preachy at people who have lost everything.
On the other hand, to say nothing is tantamount to accepting that Gospel is not relevant to people at times of great crisis. That would fall seriously short of my calling as a minister of God's words. So here goes… Let's start with a Bible passage where Jesus mentions floods. This is from Matthew Chapter 7:
24 "Anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse, because it is built on rock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will fall with a mighty crash." 28 After Jesus finished speaking, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 for he taught as one who had real authority -- quite unlike the teachers of religious law.
Now I'd love it if Jesus said that when we follow him we'll escape it all. The rains will fall on distant hills, the floods will rise on other rivers, and we'll be safe and sound. Unfortunately the Bible never promises this. In the story, the rain falls and the floods rise for the wise person and the foolish person alike. Some people talk as if it were God's job description to make sure nothing bad ever happens to anyone – wouldn't that be great! But we all know that life just isn't like that. The rains will fall, the floods will rise, for the good and bad, the believers and the unbelievers, just the same.
So what's the point? The point is that we can be better prepared for the storms that are bound to come. I picture the foolish man building a house on the beach: great sea views, lovely to be able to run straight out into the sand and the surf and enjoy the sunshine – but the trouble is it will soon wash away. If we build our lives purely on the pleasures of the moment there'll be nothing left after the next high tide. In fact sooner or later we have to let go of every earthly thing – possessions, relationships, achievements, fame – all soon pass away, as we ourselves will have to when our time comes.
But Jesus says he can show us how to build our lives on things that cannot be washed away. The cornerstone of the Sermon of the Mount, of which this story forms the climax, is our relationship with God as children of our loving heavenly Father. And in that relationship is eternity, invulnerable from the storms and tides and floods and rains of time. From it flow more eternal things – peace that passes understanding, joy inexpressible, love beyond limit. These things can never be swept away because they are in God.
So will it still sound glib when I try to say these things to people whose lives have been overwhelmed in the flooding? If I say, the floods are God's reminders that our possessions aren't everything? That they are pointers to the fact that, as far as this life goes, we are just passing through? That they show us our need to let go of what we cannot keep in order to take hold of what we can never lose? I expect it probably would, because good advice never works unless the advisers have been there themselves.