Over the course of the day I have received two items of sad news. The first related to a former friend of my early childhood who had died seemingly of a heart attack of the age of 53. That was followed in the afternoon when I learnt of the serious cancer that the wife of a work colleague is battling with, which threatens to leave him alone with their young daughter. I couldn't help, on behalf of those most impacted, to hark back to the heartfelt cries of the psalmist in Psalm 22; "O my God, why have you foresaken me?" that Herbie expounded with us at last Sunday's morning service. If you weren't there, Herbie included (..well it wouldn’t be a Herbie sermon otherwise) the song “It is well with my soul’, written in the midst of experiencing terrible loss both wealth and then his children by Horatio Spafford. It’s an expression of trust in the purposes of God, which mirrors a saying my own father was fond of using whilst in the middle of his own battle with cancer: “It’ll be reet”.
So taken was I by Herbie’s account I sought to find out more about Horatio and his wife. Sadly their own church wasn’t able to offer much support as unhelpfully the Presbyterian church regarded their tragedy as divine punishment. In response, the Spaffords formed their own Messianic sect, dubbed "the Overcomers" by American press. In 1881, the Spaffords, including baby Bertha and newborn Grace, set sail for Ottoman-Turkish Palestine. They settled in Jerusalem and helped found a group called the American Colony. Members of the Colony, later joined by Swedish Christians, engaged in philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem regardless of their religious affiliation and without proselytizing motives—thereby gaining the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities. During and immediately after World War I, the American Colony played a critical role in supporting these communities through the great suffering and deprivations by running soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable ventures.
How brilliant then that such amazing work could be carried out serving humanity, despite the backdrop of acute loss, and also unhelpful doctrine. Of course none of us, myself included may know what life holds in store for us, but may we, this week, this month and this year hold on to the love that God has for each one of us, trusting in Him and his anchor- like nature. And so, as wrote Horatio Spafford;
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.