ADVENT 9 / It Sucks to be Born at Such a Time

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 24:5 ESV)

Punishment.

I hate that word.

“God will punish you!” I’ve heard it. Not recently, not as an adult, but as a child, from some people who called themselves faithful Christians, followers of Jesus, people who pointed fingers and said, “God will punish you because you do not believe!”

As an adult, I’ve seen the shaking of heads, heard the whispered muttering which suggests that my problems, my suffering, are all my fault. If only I was a better person, more pious, of better character, I would not have suffered, not be poor, not be in such need.

My fault.

God is punishing me. For my faithlessness.

Maybe.

There are consequences for sin. War and penury, defeat and conquest and exile.

But often times, children pay for the sins of their parents. Some pay for the sins of others. The generation of Israel that went into exile was not that generation whose sinfulness, whose faithless idolatry, brought about war and death and exile. It is not fair, and it does not seem right to us.

But it is the way of things.

When we sin, we who God has called to follow, we set into motion things we cannot control, things we cannot see or understand until they are upon us. We may live well, but in that living well, and all that comes with it, are the seeds of our destruction. Israel under Solomon was a rich and powerful state, with a huge army and a sprawling court of ministers and priests and officials and concubines. But that power brought with it the cause of its destruction, as Israelites rebelled against the cost of that army and court, failed to show mercy and forbearance to each other, and rejected the God of Israel as they deliberately rejected the inheritance of David.

The earth becomes defiled. The consequences of sin become bigger than us, seeping into the air and the water — in, with, and under the sky and the soil. Everywhere. The consequences of sin from long ago oozes and poisons everything, wrecking and ruining individuals, families, neighborhoods, communities, even whole kingdoms.

This is not punishment. Those who sin often times live lives of ease. But their sin, that ease, creates conditions that someone will, eventually, pay for. Sucks to born at such a time. To know that once, life was easy and life was good, but now, not so much. Sucks even more to know that ease and that goodness is likely one of the reasons things are so hard now.

Not my doing! I didn’t do this! I’m not the cause of this! The earth is not defiled because of what I have done! I shouldn’t have to pay for this! To suffer for the sins of others! It’s not right! It’s not fair!

But defiled it is. With sins I inherit but did not commit.

ADVENT 5 / Fire

This year, for the four weeks of Advent, we are doing the #RendTheHeavens devotion at both The Featherblog as well as Psalm 10 Ministries.


… when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. (Isaiah 4:4 ESV)

Fire destroys. It doesn’t usually clean.

Unless you consider that fire can be used to clear away that which is unneeded, unwanted, unsightly, embarrassing, inconvenient, and downright troublesome. Think Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism,” which never lets a good crisis go to waste. The upending of the meagre lives of the poor in some kind of calamity — tsunami or hurricane (there we go with the water again) or financial crisis — always manages to be the means by which someone who is rich becomes richer, one more tool the powerful use to get and keep their way.

Fire destroys. It lays waste. And what is left behind … is rebuilt upon. By those who have means. To the exclusion of those who don’t.

Sometimes the fire is set on purpose.

There is also the fire of revenge. For many years, I wanted nothing more than to douse the whole wide world with something flammable and set it alight. I wanted to watch it, and everyone in it, burn. Down to nothing. I wanted to put an end to humanity and my misery and my loneliness and the cruelty of the world. I was angry, enraged at a world that had let me suffer, had made me suffer, at a world that seemed to exist somewhere between a callous indifference and calling all it had done to me righteousness.

Give me a match. Because fire destroys.

The people of God … have sinned. We have worshipped that which has not saved us, and cannot save us. We have sacrificed the bodies, spilled the blood, valued as nothing, those whom God cherishes, those whom God has not asked us to sacrifice — orphans, widows, the weak, strangers, foreigners. We have been indifferent to their fate, to what we have done to them, called our cruelty righteousness so we can enjoy our ease. And God tells us … payment is coming, in the form of a terrible fire which will consume everything. A divine vengeance which will burn to the ground all that we have made with our hands, all we venerate, all we value.

It will destroy. Little will be left. It will clean. And in that fire, we who survive … shall be made right.

HOLY WEEK Facing Death, Trusting God

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

45 And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, 46 saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers.” 47 And he was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy him, 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on his words. (Luke 19:41–48 ESV)

Those last two verses say something powerful.

Jesus was compelling. He was not just praying for this doomed city, but he went in to the temple and he drove out “those who sold.” And he quotes the prophet Isaiah, who proclaims the word of God for all those who are not Israel — foreigners, eunuchs, others formerly refused membership in the camp of God’s people — “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (לְכָל־הָעַמִּֽים)

The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:8 ESV)

Those who having nothing, no promise from God and no way of begetting children, now are included the promise god made so long before to Abraham. Jesus is the fulfillment of that, of all these promises. And all those in the temple were “hanging on his words.” The words he spoke as he taught every day in the Temple, the house of God.

That gathering is beginning. Jesus is getting ready to call the world to himself. He began with the lost sheep of Israel, scattered some crumbs for those as were listening, saw great faith in some of the cohort of the military occupiers of his home. He knew this word of God — that God loves Israel, chose Israel, redeemed Israel, forgave Israel, called Israel to love God and love neighbor — was a powerful word to many who were not Israel. A word to hang upon. Truth. Met in the flesh that was and is Jesus.

But first, he must die. Maybe must is too strong a word. I do not like putting moral imperatives on acts of God, even as Jesus does. He will die. And he does die.

Only in dying and rising does that word begin to really sprout and grow and become something staggering. A church that captures an empire, changes it, and changes us.

And Jesus knows this. Or rather, he believes it might be true. Has faith in it. He doesn’t really know it until he dies, and rises, and ascends. He must face death first, and the deep and abiding uncertainty that may, just maybe, death really is all there is, a final answer, the end of things.

SERMON Not Just For Us

This is the sermon I preached, more or less, this Sunday at First Reformed Church in Chatham, New York.

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 4

  • Jeremiah 1:4–10
  • Psalm 71:1–6
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1–13
  • Luke 4:21–30

16 And [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself. ’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. (Luke 4:16–30 ESV)

I’m honestly not sure what Jesus does that angers the crowd at the Nazareth synagogue the most here.

Sure, they are probably happy that the local boy has gained some renown by preaching and teaching in towns far and wide. Luke writes that following his baptism, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” He’s preaching and teaching the word — maybe exactly what he does today — and the folks who hear what Jesus says like what they hear. Have a lot of good things to say about him.

Because they know the promise of God when they hear it. And maybe they even know the fulfillment of God’s promise when they see it.

Maybe.

So, Jesus finally comes to preach to his hometown crowd, to the people who know him best, who have seen him grow up, know his family, know him not just as a preacher or a teacher, but as a human being, with a life, a character, a past. He is familiar to them. Yes, he is God incarnate — sinless and perfect — but he’s also fully human, with all that means. They watched him grow up, saw whatever problems and issues he may have had (Jesus was, after all, a young man with all that entails), they know him well. Or they think they do.

They’ve also heard what he does. Miracles! Hearings! Casting out demons! Whodathunk that Joseph’s son was so talented? So, they’ve probably come expecting a show. Something they’ve never seen before, and certainly wouldn’t expect the local boy to do!

All they get today, though, are words.

And they’ve heard these words if Isaiah, from chapter 61, words of promise, words of restoration. The promise of God that Israel will be restored, that strangers and foreigners will make their way and — instead of conquering, plundering, and dominating Israel — serve the people of God by, as God says through Isaiah, tending their flocks, plowing their fields, and dressing their vines. God speaks through Isaiah:

Instead of your shame, there shall be a double portion;
Instead of dishonor [the nations] shall shall rejoice in their lot;
Therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
They shall have everlasting joy.

God makes a promise to Israel, that Israel shall rule the nations. And for their part, the nations will accept their “conquest.” They will accept God’s rule. And Israel’s position.

This is what it means that good news is given to the poor, the brokenhearted made whole, the captive are set free, and the proclamation of the Lord’s favor is at hand. This is what it means when Jesus reads from this part of Isaiah.

And if you are an Israelite, barely struggling to live under Roman occupation, this reversal of roles that God promisers is comforting. The conquered shall becomes conquerors, the ruled shall become rulers, the plunderers shall live upon the wealth of those who have plundered. For the oppressed, it is the perfect promise.

However, I also suspect a lot of Israelites, as familiar as they likely were with Isaiah’s promise, probably selectively understood it. Yes, foreigners and strangers will come and serve Israel. And Israel will live off the wealth of the world. But a lot of this passage also deals with the covenant God will make with the nations that come. They get their recompense — a double portion even — but it isn’t wrath. It’s blessing. They shall be blessed.

But then Jesus has the audacity to say: Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise. Not just to Israel, but to the nations, all of the peoples of the world who are NOT Israel.

Still, Luke says they all speak well. Maybe they aren’t mad at all. Maybe they really do think this promise is all for them. And maybe, just maybe, they really do believe that Jesus is setting them free, and that is the source of their wonder. “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

But then … Jesus reminds them exactly what this promise to the nations, to the peoples of the world, really means. The profligate love of God, the double portion, isn’t just theirs. It is not solely the patrimony or the property of Israel. It now belongs to all.

Jesus relates a couple of Old Testament stories. First, he tells of the widow of Zarapeth, a town far north of Israel in what is now Lebanon. It was likely on the northern edges of what used to be Solomon’s great empire. It is not as Israelite town. The land has been struck be a great drought, there is no water, and surely there is a lot of suffering and death everywhere you look. She is ready to take the last of her flour and oil, make a simple meal for herself and her son, and then she will lie down and die. Because it is that hard for her.

Elijah tells her, “Do not be afraid,” and the flour and the oil — enough only for one, final meal — last for weeks. For months. “Many days” is all scripture says, which could even mean years.

There were many hungry widows in Israel, Jesus tells the assembly at Nazareth, but God sent Elijah to feed and care for a foreigner. To be fed and cared for by a foreigner.

And then Jesus adds insult to injury by telling the story of Naaman the leper who was healed by Elijah’s successor Elisha. Now, you need to remember something — Naaman is not just another leper (because Jesus was right, Israel was full of lepers in need of healing), but he was the commander of the Syrian army. The enemy army. What would eventually be, long after Elisha passed from the scene, the conquering army.

And Elisha does this, heals Naaman, not to convert him to the God of Israel (though that does happen), or persuade hime to surrender or even to get him to switch sides (that doesn’t happen), but to show Naaman “that there is a God in Israel.”

This is the profligate promise of God: plenty in a time of drought and famine for someone who is not an Israelite, healing and wholeness for the leader of an army that is the enemy of God’s people.

No wonder the crowd was angry and filled with wrath and wanted to push Jesus off a cliff. They lived surrounded by foreigners, occupiers, enemies, people who could take, could compel, could even do violence — and it was all perfectly proper and lawful. They didn’t want their conquerors and occupiers blessed — they wanted God to smite them and drive them into the sea! They wanted to pillage, loot, and plunder, and make flutes from the bones of their children. They wanted to be free of their enemies. They didn’t want them blessed.

We don’t either.

But that’s what God promises. And that’s what Jesus does. Remember, this promise — this covenant for the peoples of the world — is fulfilled. As Jesus read the words of Isaiah. Fulfilled. His life. His teaching. His healing. His breaking bread and pouring wine with his disciples, all of it is fulfillment. Of this promise.

We don’t own God’s blessing, as much as we might think we do and as much as we might want to. It isn’t just for us, to be kept to ourselves, in a box on a high shelf, within the walls of this place, confined to the community of like-minded believers. It belongs to the whole world. It’s given to the whole world. And we who are God’s people must remember that. In a time when we consider the future of the church, especially in a secular culture that grows increasingly hostile or even simply confused about our confession of faith, we need to remember God’s love and God’s grace are not simply for us. Jesus shows that — in his life, his teaching, his healing, the bread that he breaks and the wine that he blesses, in his redeeming death and resurrection. Jesus lives out this stunning reality of a God who showers his blessings far and wide, not just on Israel and its lost children, but on the just and unjust, on strangers and foreigners and enemies too.

SERMON The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength

I did not preach this Sunday. Instead, I’m working all day. Because I need to work the occasional Sunday. If I had preached, it would have been something like this.

However, I am preaching next Sunday, January 31, at First Reformed Church in Chatham, New York. Worship starts at 10:00 a.m., so if you are in the area, come and hear the gospel. You might even meet Jesus!

Third Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 3 (Year C)

  • Nehemiah 8:1–12
  • Psalm 19
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12–31a
  • Luke 4:14–21

1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:1–12 ESV)

 

14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. 15 And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21 ESV)

Long before today’s reading, as the waning decades of the Kingdom of Judah are related in 2 Kings, the word of the Lord — the teaching of God to Moses — was found. By accident, in a dusty corner of temple. It was being cleaned out so Israel could hold something of a great garage sale to raise money to repair the temple. Hilkiah, the high priest of Israel, has found a scroll while rummaging around. A book. The teaching. The torah.

The law of God, the teaching to Israel through Moses, had been lost in the temple, amidst the banners and the silverware and the broken images of false gods. I suspect King Hezekiah had a few “now where did we put the torah?” moments during his reign. And so Hilkiah tells Josiah, the King of Judah, that a book of the law has been found.

“When the king heard the words of Book of the Law, he tore his clothes,” the authors of 2 Kings tell us. Josiah, a good king committed to following God’s teaching and having his people follow that teaching as well, then instructs his priests to go ask God whites in store next for his kingdom. He’s heard the words of the teaching, and he knows just how much Israel has deviated from that teaching.

“For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” (2 Kings 22:13)

He expects doom, the doom that has fallen upon faithless Israel to the north, which was conquered and resettled by Assyria because the kings of Israel — and its wayward people — worshiped golden calves, and other idols, including the false and foreign gods of the Assyrians. He tears his clothes, and he fears the worst.

But a woman, Hulda the Prophet, tells the king that his faithfulness has saved Judah, and has delayed the disaster forecast in the book:

19 because your heart was penitent, and you humbled yourself before the Lord, when you heard how I spoke against this place and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and you have torn your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore, behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace, and your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring upon this place.” (2 Kings 22:19–20 ESV)

By repentance and a promise to be faithful, the coming disaster has been delayed, but not avoided. Judgment will still come upon Judah, Upon God’s faithless people. But this turning will push it back a little. Those who are faithful, will see a reward — in their lives — for their faithfulness.

I’m telling the story of the rediscovery of the law under King Josiah, and his commitment to keeping the law, to contrast it with both our Gospel reading and the passage we heard from Nehemiah. And with our understanding as well.

We have gathered today, probably not as many as many people here in the place as gathered that day when Nehemiah read the law to Israel in the square before the Water Gate, to hear the word read. Not the whole Book of Deuteronomy — I doubt many today would have patience for that — but our simple and short readings from Nehemiah, Luke, and Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.

King Josiah was sad, and even afraid, when the book of the law was read to him. He knew how he, and Israel, had fallen short — and what God had in store for Israel. In Deuteronomy, God promises famine, disease, conquest, defeat, exile, and slavery in response to Israel’s faithlessness. God does promise an eventual restoration, if Israel remembers its relationship with God. But failure on Israel’s part to live out the covenant meant doom.

And Josiah saw that doom. He’d seen how it overtook the northern portion of God’s divided people. And he knew it was coming for Judah. For Jerusalem.

And so he weeps. He mourns. He tears his clothes.

Nehemiah tells Israel something different. In part, because Nehemiah is reaping something of the promised regathering. Israel has come home from exile in Babylon, has started rebuilding the long-abandoned city of Jerusalem, and has seen the beginning of its redemption. So Ezra the priest reads the law, and if all Israel gathered at the Water Gate is moved to weep, and mourn, and tear their clothes, and fast — remember the king of Nineveh’s command to his people upon hearing the news of Jonah’s short sermon of doom — Nehemiah, the governor of the province of Judea (because remember that Judah is merely a province of the Persian Empire at this point) has told his people to remember that this day is holy, and they are not to mourn. They are not to fast. They have heard the words of the teaching, and while they know the sinfulness and faithlessness of their fathers, Nehemiah understands they live in the promise.

1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. (Deuteronomy 30:1–3 ESV)

So feast, Nehemiah says, east and drink and remember who you are. Remember whose you are. “Do not be sad, and do not weep, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Celebrate. The time for weeping will come — it comes in the next chapter, when Israel as a people tells its and story confesses its sin and its miserable position. Even with the end of the exile, Israel understands, just how precarious and contingent their existence as a people really is. Because they aren’t truly free.

36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress. (Nehemiah 9:36–37 ESV)

Still, even as Ezra reads the law to regathered Israel, Nehemiah tells them to celebrate. To feast. To take joy. They may not be free, may not yet live in the fully realized promise of God. But they have that promise. That is worth celebrating.

In our gospel reading, we have Jesus proclaiming, as he reads from the book of the Prophet Isaiah — the captivity of God’s people is over. Good news has come, for the poor, the blind, and the captive. There will be enough for all, the blind will see, and the captive will be set free. And rolling up the scroll, with all eyes fixed upon him, Jesus proclaims — “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus walks into the synagogue in Nazareth and says God’s promise is real and realized. Because Jesus himself is the fulfillment of this promise. His person, his life, his ministry, his coming death, and his resurrection — this is the promise of God made real. He is the freedom Israel yearned for when they confessed their sin to Nehemiah and Ezra. He is the freedom Isaiah promised.

His freedom is ours. He invites us in to it, makes it part of us, makes us part of him. We are free. He sets us free.

There are times to weep and mourn when we hear to clear teaching of God in the torah, when we know how we have failed to keep our end of the covenant with God and face the very real consequences. Josiah was right to tear his clothes, and Israel was right gather in sackcloth and ashes to confess their sin before their leaders and before the Lord their God. When we hear the teaching that convicts us, reminds us, forces us to go to God knowing that God, his promise, his grace, and his redemption, are all we have.

But Nehemiah reminds us that there are times when we hear the words of God and we are to celebrate, to be glad, to feast, to remember that the joy of the Lord is our strength. God’s own joy is is our strength, our protection! We are to eat and drink, and be glad. We have God’s own good news! We can see! We have been set free! So come to the Lord’s table, eat and drink, and remember God rejoices over you! Our days of living in fear and uncertainty, weeping over our fate, our exile, our dispossession, are over.

Because today, the promise of God is fulfilled in our midst.

Room For All Who Come

Apropos of nothing in particular, these two passages of prophetic scripture are speaking very powerfully to me right now, to this ministry with abused and neglected kids I seem to have been called to.

This passage from Isaiah 54 has long resonated with me, for a couple of years now, and I feel in my bones as if this promise — because my wife and I do not have children of our own — has been made specifically to us:

1 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
2 “Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
(Isaiah 54:1-3 ESV)

And this passage from Jeremiah 31 — a stunningly beautiful chapter that begins with God promising to gather the scattered people of Israel and redeem them from their sin and their exile — describes, I think, with intense beauty this ministry I find myself doing:

15 Thus says the Lord:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.”
16 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears,
for there is a reward for your work,
declares the Lord,
and they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
17 There is hope for your future,
declares the Lord,
and your children shall come back to their own country.
(Jeremiah 31:15-17 ESV)

“For I will satisfy the weary soul,” God promises toward the end of the chapter, “and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

Amen. Let it be, Lord. Let it be.

You Must First Learn to Live With Others

From my sporadic reading of The Sayings of The Desert Fathers:

One day Abba Longinus questioned Abba Lucius about three thoughts saying first, “I want to go into exile.” The old man said to him, “If you cannot control your tongue, you not be an exile anywhere. Therefore control your tongue here, and you will be an exile.”

Next, he said to him, “I wish to fast.” The old man replied, “Isaiah said, ‘If you bend your neck like a rope or a bullish that is not the fast I will accept [Isaiah 58]; but rather, control your evil thoughts.”’

He said to him the third time, “I wish to flee from men.” The old man replied, “If you have not first of all lived rightly with men, you will not be able to live rightly in solitude.”