What's it like to lose everything?
What’s it like to lose everything? Just after my ordination a good friend, an experienced insurance assessor, offered his advice on home insurance. While being aware of ‘averaging’ he suggested I need not include everything I owned. People never lose everything, he explained. Except, it would seem four decades later, in Australia. I’ve been following the bush fire crisis there very closely, not least because we were there 18 months ago. We travelled from Brisbane to Sydney by train, some 12 hours of snaking our way on what was originally a narrow gauge track of the North Coast line through miles of dense woodland, well away from the main roads. Then by car from Sydney to Melbourne using the Monaro highway, spending a delightful day in Bairnsdale, the main centre for East Gippsland, where we had a wonderful Airbnb facing the Clifton Creek. In other words our itinerary led us through all the major fires in the states of NSW and Victoria, a Cook’s tour of this tragedy-in-waiting We’ve been horrified at what has befallen the residents, both human and animal, overwhelmed by fires which can move at 80k per hour. One moment you’re at home, next moment you are fleeing for your lives. The tragedy is made even more vivid through Twitter, which gives an immediacy and urgency. From Brendan, for example: Still fighting bushfires in #mallacoota - situation critical near raheen and radley. Just caught a break in the wind. We’re controlling as best we can to save sister’s place. Tea trees are exploding infernos. One couple interviewed yesterday took refuge in the small lake opposite their home, from which they witnessed their home burned to the ground, everything gone in moments. So what must it like to lose everything in a few minutes? In fact, this was the experience of Jacqui’s family during the Bootle blitz in October 1941. Her grandmother along with her family emerged from the air raid shelter to see their home in Hornby Road razed to the ground. Her response was to simply thank God that her family had been spared. At such times you know what is important and what simply is not. Losing everything was the experience of the residents of Jerusalem and Judea following their defeat by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Archaeological finds from Jerusalem testify that virtually the whole city within the walls was burnt to rubble in 587 BC and utterly destroyed. This included the temple on Mount Zion, the visible sign of the Jewish people’s covenant relationship with YHWH the creator of heaven and earth. (YHWH is the never-to-be-spoken name for God, traditionally translated in English bibles as LORD, using the uppercase) And then those who managed to survive the sword were forced into exile, to faraway Babylon. They had lost everything, everything dear to them – not least their confidence in their religion and their reliance on God’s protection. The Babylonian idols were clearly the winners. It was traumatic at the time but during their Babylonian exile the Jewish people experienced the nurture and restoration of God, speaking tenderly to them through his prophets. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1). And against all expectation, they returned home, refined and restored. In the furnace they found God to be faithful to his covenant promises, literally it would seem for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3). For the reality is that when we have surrendered all to God, he will never let go of us even if we should let go of him. Above all the cross of Jesus visibly demonstrates his faithfulness, whatever the cost. So in an uncertain world he calls on us to build on him and on his promises, he is to be our foundation. So the apostle Paul makes it very clear. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) That’s how we are to build our lives, for the materials we use are going to be tested, even by fire. So Paul continues: “Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done.” (1 Corinthians 3:12f) The Message translation spells it out: “If you use cheap or inferior materials, you’ll be found out.’ For in this uncertain age, we need to prize and prioritise what is important, above all “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) Our risen Lord alone is our security - and everything we do in this new year needs to reflect that truth.