A New Thing

Mar 13 2016


The story of the Phoenix rising out of the ashes has been a symbol for many people of the possibility of the human spirit to rise out of the ashes of despair to triumph once again. The Phoenix calls us to focus on rebirth instead of the death of our dreams. It calls upon us, in the face of tragedy, to look beyond the tragedy to a future that holds the promise of a new thing.

Some time ago George Bernard Shaw wrote a play about Joan of Arc. In the epilogue, we find this scene. King Charles VII of France, now aged 51, is spending a restless night at one of his chateaus. Joan has been burned at the stake, the victim of Charles’ and the church’s stupidity. There is a gust of wind stirring in the gardens. The wind blows the curtains and the candles by which Charles has been reading go out. A figure is silhouetted against the lightening. Charles tries to hide, but then peeping out, recognizes Joan.

Fearfully he cries out, “Joan, are you a ghost, Joan?” Others from the previous burning scene appear on stage, including the aging chaplain who, when he sees Joan, says, “Oh, no, it is not you again! My sight is bad, I cannot distinguish your features, but you are not she. Oh. No, she was burnt to a cinder. Dead and gone. Dead and gone.” To which the executioner replies, “She is more alive than you, old man. Her heart would not burn. I was a master at my craft. Better than the master of Toulouse, better than the master of Paris. But I could not kill the maid. She is up, and alive and everywhere.”

Her heart would not burn – what an interesting way to convey the idea that tragedy does not need to kill the human spirit. What an interesting way to convey hope. Her heart would not burn.

Fires can create devastating results – tremendous destruction. When our house burned, fortunately, the external structure remained intact, but the entire inner portion was damaged by heat and smoke. What an interesting way to look at life. The outside is intact, but the inside suffers great loss. The interior of our house was rebuilt to be better than before. An analogy, if you will permit me, that when tragedy strikes, we see the outside effects and feel the inner turmoil. But when the tragedy passes and the rebuilding occurs, we emerge stronger on the inside as well as building a new thing, a stronger thing on the outside. The phoenix does rise out of the ashes, not to reclaim what was lost, but to build a new thing that is stronger, full of hope, and a pathway into the future.

I realize that it is difficult for many people who have gone through a tragedy, whether that tragedy is a burnt home, or a burnt marriage, a burnt job or a burnt relationship. But the fact is that one day things will be better. Around us and within us, God gives us the strength to move on, to hope, to search for the pathway into the future.

In Isaiah 43 God says: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Now all of that is well and good. But if we cannot walk the path or find the river, we will remain in the midst of the tragedy. While God will provide the direction, it is up to us to seek the direction and follow it to create new tomorrows.

History is full of stories of people who have created triumph out of terrible tragedy – stories of people who have been faced with starting over and have produced greater successes than anyone could imagine. J. R. Martinez, who survived an IED explosion while serving in Iraq that burned 40 percent of his body, survived the many surgeries and went on to become a fan favorite and the winner of the 2011 Dancing with the Stars season. Tragedy calls upon the human spirit to survive, to see the possibilities, to make it better. And whether the human spirit of an individual responds will depend solely on the person’s internal framework.

How do we find hope out of despair? How do we find water when the deserts of our souls are sun-scorched and appear to be nothing more than barren wastes? Hope is born out of faith and the belief that things can get better. Hope is born out of a faith that God is with us and will provide us with strength and direction. Sometimes, when we are faced with a tragic illness or a terminal diagnosis, the illness may not improve, but our perception of it and the understanding and support of those around us will also allow us to hope and to move forward.

We find hope in the assurance that Jesus is with us. We find hope because for countless ages, people of faith have shown us that the promises of God are not empty ones. We find hope because we realize that while God will point the way, it is up to us to walk the pathway into the future to find a new thing. May we have the eyes of faith and the courage of heart to find a new thing when the circumstances of our lives demand that we must. Amen.