“BEAUTY INSTEAD OF ASHES”

“BEAUTY INSTEAD OF ASHES”

“We live in the midst of alarms.  Anxiety clouds the future, and we expect some new disaster with each newspaper we read.”

That pretty much sums up the way we see things today.

But those words were written a century and a half ago by a man named Abraham Lincoln.  He presided over a nation torn in half by a bloody civil war whose death toll was refigured a few years ago from about half a million to perhaps three-quarters of a million – on our own soil!

In our day we peer anxiously across the oceans, wondering when where the next terror attack may strike.  We see a breakdown of common decency that our grandparents could not have imagined – sodomy legitimized as “marriage,” the murder of our unborn children in the name of “convenience,” and polls showing that more and more Americans claim no religious affiliation at all.  Others seek to retain mere membership for special occasions.

Other ages and other civilizations have had similar breakdowns.  Sin and suffering, stress and strain, poverty and disease are nothing new.  As Ogden Nash said about germs, “Adam had ‘em.”    But what to do…and where to take the dark problems of our lives?

The leper who comes to Jesus in this morning’s text has something to teach us. He takes his plight to Jesus.  He falls at the Lord’s feet.  His prayer is short:  “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”

“If You are willing,” he says.  He senses that there is a “will” higher and better than his own, that Jesus knows what is best.  He does not doubt that Jesus can and will do what is best for him – physically, spiritually, eternally.  Confidently, he places his whole life in the hands of the Master.   Christ’s hands are good hands, loving hands, wise hands, almighty hands.  We do not have a view of the whole campaign.    But Christ knows how to turn evil to good and has promised to do so.

In the 14th century, the bubonic plague – “the black death” – spread through much of Europe and Asia.  In a 20 year period, it killed as much as two-thirds of the population.  By 1664-1665, it struck London once again with a vengeance.  Bodies of men, women and little children were stacked in the streets – everyone else too sick to cart them off to be burned.  One would think things couldn’t get any worse.

And then the Great Fire of London erupted, virtually destroying the city!  But the fire destroyed something else – the filthy rats which carried the plague!  And from the ashes rose an even more beautiful city.

So God has promised “to comfort all who mourn…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61).  Count on it!