The stories in the media have not been good in Hobart recently.
Fires have been tearing through our tinder dry state for over a fortnight. Crews from across the country have been arriving to help the local firefighters. The island has been covered in smoke. Even the Melbourne air quality has dropped as smoke drifts from us to them, across the Strait. This morning fresh emergencies are being reported.
And then on Friday, Hobart woke to the horrific news that at 1am that morning a 24 year old pregnant woman was dead after the car she was driving was hit by a stolen vehicle in the city. The woman had dropped her husband off at his workplace, a bakery, and she was on her way home. Their 2 year old son was a passenger in the back seat. He survived. Her 32 week old baby was delivered, alive, by doctors at the Royal Hobart Hospital. He is in a critical but stable condition.
The driver of the other car is alleged to be a 15 year old boy. He has been charged with motor vehicle stealing and manslaughter. His three teenage passengers, including a 12 year old girl, are also expecting to be charged.
A number of organisations have begun collecting money for the family. To date, more than $150,000 has been raised.
Later that day a truck driver was killed in a single vehicle accident on the Midlands Highway, north of Hobart.
All of these events have hurt us. Christians have spoken to me of their anguish, and despair, and their longing for the return of Jesus. For some, anxieties of their own have been exacerbated. The information sign near the bus stop 150 metres from the place where that poor woman died reads, Hobart: The way life should be. I’m surprised the Council hasn’t ordered its removal by now. I’d be shocked if there is a more misleading sign in the whole city.
And so as I prepared my pastoral prayer for Sunday morning I knew that I had to say something that would help us all in our sorrow, and our anger. I needed to say something that would remind us of the hope we have in the gospel of Jesus, and of a coming kingdom where life really will be as it should be.
I am becoming more and more convinced that the intercessory prayer is a really important part of our weekly corporate gathering. Not just for the children of God, but for those who may wonder how the children of God speak to their Father. If preaching involves listening to God and then speaking to the people on behalf of God, then, for me, leading corporate prayer involves listening to the people and speaking to God on behalf of the people.
I want to get it right.
In God’s kindness, on Sunday morning my wife showed me a reading and prayer from Tim and Kathy Keller’s book, My Rock; My Refuge: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. The reading, for 23 January, was from Psalm 16. It was a huge help.
And so, here is what I prayed
Our Father in Heaven
The news from Tasmania this week has not been good. We have seen the smoke from the fires burning in the north and west of the state. There have been senseless deaths on the roads. Families have been torn apart. Communities have been plunged into deep grief. It has been a week of sadness and tears and anger and confusion.
And as the newspapers continue to print all the news. And as relief funds are set up to help those in anguish. And as 100 firefighters arrive from NSW. And as we wait for the criminal justice system to deal with youths who have behaved so very badly, we look to you and we cry out … How long, O lord.
How long will you stay away?
How long must we endure this world of sorrow and pain and violence and death.
How long, O Lord
We read in the Psalms that you are at our right hand. That we will not be shaken because you are with us. That you will not abandon us.
But O, our Lord, it’s so hard for us to be joyful when there are homes in Hobart this morning that are so full of tears and anguish and sadness.
And yet, our Lord, we believe that the Lord Jesus died and rose again. We believe that our sins are forgiven because of his sacrifice in our place. And we believe that he will one day return. We believe that there will be a day when we won’t just read about him in your word. We won’t just sense him at our side. We will see him face to face. In our resurrected bodies we will enjoy endless unimaginable pleasures that we will never grow weary of.
O Lord. We cry out to you. Lift us up out of our sorrow. And help us to see that by your grace there is a day coming when every tear will be wiped away and every sadness will evaporate. When anxieties will be gone. When panic attacks will be no more. When broken hearts will be mended. When families torn apart by death will be reunited. When mothers and children will embrace, perhaps for the first time.
All of this will happen. And Jesus himself will be the one who comforts us and embraces us and lifts us up.
Please help us to never forget the pain he went through for us. And may his resurrection fill us with hope even as we are in mourning.
Thank you our Lord that there are people here in this building today who know this to be true about your Son. And we pray that you will give them wisdom and the strength so that they can speak words of hope and comfort into their workplaces and into their families and into their homes. We pray that that they will proclaim the message of love and victory and joy that is ours in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In whose name we pray