Sydney hail: can you hear the trumpet?
People Matter was a regular column by Phillip Jensen in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney.
Jensen, P 'Sydney hail: can you hear the trumpet?'. Southern Cross, June 1999.
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“Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others liVing in Jerusalem?” Luke 13:4
I was en route from Dublin at the time. So I have to rely on witnesses. They all speak of the noise first,—“like a train”, “like a jumbo about to crash”. Then the unimaginable happened. God showed his mighty mercy in a massive hail storm.
“I was in my car, and I thought it was the end of the world,” said Peter. “It was the judgement of God,” agreed Stella.
“Do you think it was a judgement from God?” Spiro asked us.
“It was as if the finger of God was drawn across the face of Sydney’s suburbs,” Jack said.
“I could not believe in a God who would do such a thing” Mary protested.
Was it the judgement of God? Were Stella, Spiro and Jack just superstitious? Was God challenging our materialistic idolatry?
Ours was a very stable suburb. Comfortably well off. Rejoicing in the rising value of real estate. Quietly confident that all was well with the world. Well established lives, families, homes and gardens.
One of the oases of safe, sedate suburbia in the turmoil of city dwelling. But in 45 minutes we moved to the edge of chaos—roofs ruined, possessions destroyed, families dislocated, tenants evicted. Houses occupied for a century, deemed unlivable—emptied of people overnight!
Fire engines, police and emergency services in usually uneventful streets. But that was just the beginning. Amateurs’ tarpaulins flapped in the wind. Fears of further storms returned in waves of insecurity. Then came the professionals. Swarms of volunteers from all over Australia: Government officials, Salvation Army, Bush Fire Brigades, SES, the Army, Red Cross—giving generously of their time and labour—and everywhere reporters and helicopters.
Despite the attendance of all the kings soldiers, Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again. The locals are treated with the public relations politeness that produces cynicism rather than solace or satisfaction. Builders, glaziers, tilers knock on doors, but insurance assessors warn against using unapproved workers.
The local community could not rally itself, not because everybody is affected, but because there was no local community. We have lived in contiguous isolationism for years. We have no town hall, community centre, public square—just continuous housing. Each family in its own castle, privately living out its own dreams. Since the storm, more neighbours talk in a day than have conversed in a decade.
The smug sense of security in our own sovereignty was smashed by a single storm. We are not in control, we never were, it was an illusion.
We cannot now make a phone call and get things fixed, or write a cheque and all will be well. It is not over in an instant. It will take time to get back to something called ‘normal’.
Was the storm a loud message from God? A message of love—warning of the greater danger of impending judgement? A trumpet message heralding the news that all is not right with a world which ignores its creator?
As a trumpet blast, it was gentle—property not life was damaged. A well aimed trumpet blast at materialism. For what people hold most dear—their home with its false sense of security, meaning and achievement—can be destroyed in a moment of God’s power.
Will we listen? Will we hear and take no action other than a semi-superstitious fear? Will we rage against God: “it was not fair, we are no worse than other people, why hurt families and widows?” Or will we shoot the messenger who dares to articulate God’s demonstration of power as judgement?
Pharaoh did not repent when God devastated Egypt. The Israelites did not repent when God repeatedly sent catastrophes in Amos’ day. Jesus used human tragedy to call for repentance. John wrote of the warning signs of the judgement of God in seals and trumpets and bowls of wrath. Vet people cursed God’s name rather than repented.
Sometimes some people repent. But these are unlikely times, such as Nineveh in the days of Jonah. Maybe now will be our neighbours’ time? Please pray for us. Pray for the Peters, the Stellas, the Spiros, the Jacks, and the Marys.