Mothers Day, and apparent tragedy

My evening sermon today began with a rant against “Mother’s Day” (at least call it by its original name ‘Mothering Sunday’ when servants were given a day off to visit their mothers).  I objected also to ‘Fathers day’, and proposed a ‘Parenting Sunday’ instead to give thanks to God for both our parents – these days sharing responsibilities (apart from ironing).

I referred to the crucial role people who do not conceive children play, in the care and protection of children (ie Jesus, St Paul, and not forgetting the millions of young people, mainly men suffering their ‘lesser Calvaries’ (Studdart Kennedy) of 100 and 75 years ago.

It was however, apparently random events which God allows and even wills that was my main concern.  We read Psalm 105, with its reference to God over-ruling through the apparent chance events of Joseph’s life, bringing about the survival of Egypt and the Israelite nation in time of famine.  We had also read the verses at the end of Matthew 10 where Jesus speaks about sparrows and each hair of our heads being God’s concern.

I then told of three ‘tragedies’. of children of missionaries losing a parent .

100 years ago, missionary doctor Sharon Thoms died, falling from a telegraph pole he was fixing a phone line to, between two hospitals across mountains, in Muscat and Muttrah in Oman. His little son Wells was at his father’s funeral at a cove near Muscat.  Wells trained as a the United States, then returned to Oman to serve as a doctor all his adult life.

Steve Saint’s father Nate was killed by Auca Indians in the Amazon jungle 60 years ago, when Steve was a small boy.  (It was Nate’s colleague Jim Elliott, killed at the same time who had said prophetically before his death: “He is no fool, who parts with what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” – words originally written by Nonconformist preacher Philip Henry in the 1600’s).

15 years ago, Steve tried to comfort little Cory Bowers at the funeral of Cory’s missionary mother and baby sister who had been killed.  They were in a plane flying over Peruvian jungle, which was shot at, mistaken for drug runners.  One bullet killed his mum and then his sister.  Mission Aviation Fellowship pilot, Kevin was wounded but managed to get the plane down.  Steve said to Cory:

“Cory, my name is Steve. You know what? A long time ago when I was just about your size, I was in a meeting just like this. I was sitting down there and I really didn’t know completely what was going on. . . . But you know, now I understand it better. A lot of adults used a word then that I didn’t understand. They used a word that’s called tragedy. . . But you know, now I’m kind of an old guy, and now when people come to me and they say, “Oh I remember when that tragedy happened so long ago.” I know, Cory, that they were wrong.

You see, my dad, who was a pilot like the man you probably call Uncle Kevin, and four of his really good friends had just been buried out in the jungles, and my mom told me that my dad was never coming home again.  My mom wasn’t really sad. So, I asked her, “Where did my dad go?” And she said, “He went to live with Jesus.” And you know, that’s where my mom and dad had told me that we all wanted to go and live. Well, I thought, isn’t that great that Daddy got to go sooner than the rest of us? And you know what? Now when people say, “That was a tragedy,” I know they were wrong.”

Then Steve Saint looked up at these twelve hundred people and told them the difference between the unbelieving world and the followers of Jesus. He said, “For them, the pain is fundamental and the joy is superficial because it won’t last. For us, the pain is superficial and the joy is fundamental.”

So:  what of the apparent tragedies that God allows?

Like Joseph as retold in Psalm 105?  in Genesis 50:20, Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” When it says, “God meant it,” it says more than, “God used it.”

Then consider the words of Jesus on why missionary candidates should not fear to go to the hard and dangerous places, and why mothers should not fear to let their sons and daughters go — or even take them. In Matthew 10:28-31 Jesus says to his disciples to get them ready for suffering:

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (29). Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (30) But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (31) So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

At the end  of the sermon, I should have emphasised, that:

Jesus knows that people will kill the bodies of his missionaries. This is going to happen. But, he says, “don’t fear those who can only kill the body, and can’t kill the soul” (Matthew 10, verse 28).

Jesus said:  we don’t need to fear hostility because no sparrow falls to the ground apart from God. And you, his disciples, are more valuable than many sparrows. So how much less will you be shot out of the sky apart from God! God governs the flight of a sparrow, and God governs the flight of arrows and bullets. This is the basis of every Bible story about the victory of GodBird flight and arrow flight and bullet flight belong to the Lord. This is the solid ground of our comfort in calamity: God’s sovereign goodness to all who trust him.

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