“And Still Life Emerges”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:7-12
Matthew 3:1-12

 

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

 

Romans 15:7-12

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;

and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;

and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

 

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


 

 

I am struck by this image of a branch growing out of the roots of a tree – the stump of the tree of Jesse, scripture says.

I’ll read you this excerpt from the book, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” by Peter Wohlleben.

12'8'19 And Still Life Emerges Insert 112'8'19 And Still Life Emerges Insert 2

It is amazing that a tree felled four to five hundred years earlier would still be alive…at the roots.  As a scientist with understanding of trees, it is even more amazing, because you know that the green color in these roots was only possible by chlorophyll, which this stump could not possibly create, having no leaves.

It became clear to this Arborist that this stump was being fed by neighboring trees…all these many four to five hundred years.

What a mystery!

Understanding how trees are connected by a web of fungi underneath the ground we walk on, is an emerging area of scientific research.  We had no idea before that trees were interconnected.  We had no idea that when we planted a tree in our yards, that we were asking it to survive on its own, without a community, without a support network developed over hundreds and thousands of years in a forest.

 

 

And so we return to this scripture, where we hear of a shoot coming out of the stump of the tree of Jesse, a branch growing from the roots of this stump…

Jesse was the father of David, King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” scripture tells us.  And David’s throne was promised to be forever.  But how could that be?

Over time, Israel falls to the Neo Assyrian empire.  Judah alone remains, the smaller, less densely populated remnant of the Jewish people.  But then there is Babylon, and despite Jeremiah’s warnings, the people are carried away into captivity.  And the temple and the land are laid waste, baron and devoid of life.

 

So far, God’s promise that there will never cease to be a descendant of David on the throne, seems to be a false prophecy.  There is no one on the throne of David.

 

But God calls Zechariah to return to the land and rebuilt the temple.  And after that, the first resettlements of Jews occur to the holy land.

And then there is King Herod, who makes the temple mount bigger and better, and who rebuilds the temple, more glorious and magnificent that it had ever been before.

 

So, Israel seems to have hope again.  But their hope is starting to be placed in the might of architecture.  And their light is dim, with injustice and corruption rampant.

 

How can they be a light to the nations, if they themselves are barely shining? 

 

And this is the Jewish nation into which Jesus is born.

 

Born of a woman who became pregnant by the Spirit of God, out of wed-lock.  Born to a family from the po-dunk town of Nazareth.  Born obscurely, in the shed for animals.  Laid to rest in a feed trough….

This Christ came out of nowhere.  Though a descendant of David, his lineage took turns through the most unholy of places, like the Moabite Naomi and Ruth.  He was, by all worldly means, a nobody of nobodies.

…And yet, no star has shone so brightly, before or since, to mark the birth of this holy child.  And yet, there were those who recognized him and rejoiced greatly in his coming, like Anna and Simeon.   And yet, the wise men of the day traveled from far off places to come and pay him homage.

What mystery!

Indeed, a branch grew from the roots of the stump of Jesse.

 

Though light and hope and justice were dim, GOD was still at work, working all things for good, coming to this world as a little child, that ALL might finally know God’s love.

All along, this promise that David’s throne would have no end – it wasn’t for the sake of Israel alone, it was always for the sake of the whole world.

And despite the many times Israel stumbled and fell…  Despite the times they were defeated and exiled…  Despite the rise and fall of their kings and prophets…  Despite the good and the evil of their religious elite…  God showed up.

 

Even when they had been cut down.  Even when their trunk had rotted away.  Even when all that remained were the roots, even then life emerged.  Even then, hope sprang up.  Even then, God still came, and lived among us.

What joy!  That even when we have made a thorough mess of all God’s good gifts to us, Christ can still redeem.  Christ can still save.  God still makes whole, what has been broken.

 

And so let us come, in our brokenness and incompleteness.

Let us come, with our failures and imperfection.

Let us come, even after death has stolen from us all that was beautiful and good.

 

For our God is not finished with us yet.

And our God can make life spring up, out of death.

Halleluia!!

“From Death to Life, Destruction to Construction”

Psalm 122

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

 

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!


 

While in Jerusalem this past spring, I was amazed at just how many different people actually do flock to that city.  People of so many different faiths come to seek God. It was truly a melting pot, like none I’ve ever witnessed before.   For all the hyper-militant, negative images of Israel we hear in the news, I found it to be one of the most tolerant places I have ever been.

The streets are narrow.  The traffic is immense.  Many of the residents and visitors are devotedly faithful and diligent in following various religious laws and observances.  Jerusalem and all of Israel has a challenge like few other nations have.  The faith of many of its residents prohibits them from eating various foods, dressing in various clothing, associating with various people, working on various days, and even touching folks of the opposite gender.  How does one make room in such a crowded and diverse city for this faithful difference?

Unlike America where we segregate by neighborhoods and suburbs, churches and schools, in Israel there is truly no space to be had between groups.  They also have various quarters of the city for predominantly Christian, predominantly Armenian, predominantly Muslim and Arabic, and predominantly Orthodox, but these exist shoulder to shoulder.  It is impossible to navigate Jerusalem without rubbing shoulders with all these people – many of whom have very widely differing and fiercely held views and ways of living.

Tolerance is not merely an ideal held.  Tolerance is a routine exercised with every passing day.  At certain times you give up your rights to do something, so others can do it in the way they see fit.  And then they give up their rights at other times for you.  There is an ever-present social and ethnic agility in living in the holy city of Jerusalem.

 

We got to speak with a former general who worked on the wall that divides Israel and Palestine.  All my strongly held, uninformed beliefs melted away, as I listened to how this soul sought to navigate what it meant to secure a country so diverse and so despised in the middle east.

Especially fascinating to me was his story of how they designed technology to sniff out explosives.  Their airport is always on high security, as they are viewed by most of their geographic neighbors as intruders and infidels profaning their holy area.  There is a word for this concept, but it escapes me at present.  Since Israel is on so many people’s black list, they have had develop new technologies and to exercise more vigilance to prevent war and their own genocide.

They needed a way to detect non-metal explosives.  But the best way is using dogs, and dogs are widely seen as unclean and offensive in Arabic culture.  If they have dogs walking the airport or manning the check-in locations, they will cause great offense.  And so they developed technology where they funnel travelers through a maze area and vacuum the air from that maze into a room where the dogs are.  And this works!  They are able to flag non-metal explosives moving through the airport – without creating offense.

 

How many of you would go through that added trouble to trying not to cause offense?

How many of us have developed new systems and technologies, all to minimize offense to a minority group?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect that group to suck it up and understand?

Isn’t it more often true that we expect them to bend to the majority’s or the powerfuls’ preferences?

I don’t think we would have designed such technology in America.  Here I’d been judging Israel for so many years as being intolerant, and it was in Israel that I was seeing tolerance lived out more tangibly than I’d ever seen it before.

 

Now I speak of my own awakening and bits of transformation in Israel, while understanding that there is far more at play there than I could ever see or perceive.  No one side of these entrenched battles is wholly correct.  But I found God putting my ignorance and judgement in check.  And it is a good feeling when our facades and false narratives begin to fall away in the light of truth.

 

I bring up my experience in Israel because in the passage from Isaiah today, we read of a time when all shall flock to Israel.  It will be lifted up truly as a city on a hill, and God will make all things right in light of the truth.  No longer will nation be lifted up against nation.  No longer will swords and guns, bombs and missiles, drones and flaming tires be raised against one another.  But rather, all our weapons of mass destruction will be repurposed into generative, life-sustaining, food-growing tools.

 

What hope.  In a land that has not known peace, there will be peace.

Can you imagine?

 

This passage from the Old Testament speaks of a time when Israel will fulfill its purpose and the Kingdom of God will reign in hearts and minds, families and communities, tribes and nations.  It is a wonderful vision, and what amazed me was how much of this has already begun.

People already stream to the holy land.  People come from far and wide to meet with God and be transformed in Israel and the Old City.  And the vast majority of these people of differing faiths and backgrounds, values and ways of life, somehow have learned a way to live in remarkable harmony, for all their diversity, rubbing of shoulders, and bumping into one another.

This prophecy has already begun coming true in Israel and in pockets all around the globe.

And yet, more than ever, we still cry out to God asking, “How long, O Lord!?!”  We still witness injustice and suffering.  We will watch as nation rises up against nation.

 

And so Isaiah’s words are also for us.

 

There will come a time when nation will no longer rise up against nation.  God will live among us and be our judge.  Swords and missiles, bombs and drones will be destructed to create tools for growing the food that sustains us all.

Can you imagine??

On a hill just outside the Old City of Jerusalem is a monument with the verse Isaiah 2:4 inscribed in Hebrew.  It reads,

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

And just below are old iron weapons of warfare that are being misshapen and made into wheels and plows for tilling the earth.

This is the photo featured above.

 

 

I want to leave you with a song.  It is by an American Jew raised in NY.  Though strictly raised, he rebelled against his upbringing and faith at a young age.  But his journey away also led him back, and his faith matured and became his own.  He sings a song with a vision much like Isaiah’s.

I invite you to look it up and listen, reading the words here.  Let us join together in praying for this day to comewhere we shall no longer make war anymore.

 

One Day
Matisyahu

Sometimes I lay
Under the moon
And thank God I’m breathing
Then I pray
Don’t take me soon
‘Cause I am here for a reason

Sometimes in my tears I drown
But I never let it get me down
So when negativity surrounds
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

It’s not about
Win or lose
‘Cause we all lose
When they feed on the souls of the innocent
Blood-drenched pavement
Keep on moving though the waters stay raging

In this maze you can lose your way (your way)
It might drive you crazy but don’t let it faze you, no way (no way)

Sometimes in my tears I drown (I drown)
But I never let it get me down (get me down)
So when negativity surrounds (surrounds)
I know some day it’ll all turn around because…

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

One day this all will change
Treat people the same
Stop with the violence
Down with the hate

One day we’ll all be free
And proud to be
Under the same sun
Singing songs of freedom like
One day [4x]

All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
One day [6x]

“No More Estranged”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Luke 1:68-79
Colossians 1:11-20

 

Luke 1:68-79

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

 

Colossians 1:11-20

May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him— provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.


 

This Gospel presentation by Paul to the Colossians is succinct & full of richness.  In it we learn that Christ was in the beginning – in fact everything created was created through and for Christ.  Christ holds all things together.  And Christ is the firstborn of the dead.  In other words, of all creatures who live and die, Christ is the first to be re-born after death.

So in every way, Christ goes before us – in creation, in death, and in resurrection.

And Christ is the answer to our entrapment to sin and death – for Christ has made peace for all by the shedding of his own blood on the cross.  So that now, we who were once estranged from God and one another because of our own evil deeds and hostile thoughts, we have been reconciled through Christ’s body and death.  Having taken our sins upon himself and overcoming the grave, Christ now presents us as holy and blameless, irreproachable.

 

How can this be?

 

How can we who deserve to be isolated and estranged from God and one another because of our sins and brokenness be brought back into the family of God, claimed and named and presented to God as holy and blameless?!?  This is incredible, almost inconceivable.

We have a clean slate because of Christ.

We have a second chance because of Christ.

We have a fresh start,

We have a new beginning,

And we have the love and forgiveness and companionship of Christ and our loving God, all because of Christ. 

 

Can you take a moment to imagine life without this belonging?  …without this forgiveness?  …without this hope?

 

I don’t know about you, but I racked up a number of sins, just in my youth alone.  And I cannot count the number of times my wife has forgiven me.  I have needed my son’s forgiveness so very many times.  And I am sure we have no hope of a future together unless many more times of forgiveness are given.

I am ever in need of this fresh start.

I am ever in need of forgiveness.

I am ever in need of hope and a new beginning.

 

I am ever in need of wisdom and growth.

I am ever in need of belonging.

I am ever in need of companionship for this hard journey.

 

Friends, let us rejoice in our God who has made a way for us – a way for us to live with hope.  For we have been adopted into the family of God by Christ our Lord, and we are beloved and cherished. 

 

May we let the reality of our adoption sink and settle into our bones.

For all that we do, every breath we breathe, every day we live is a gift from our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Friend.  Indeed as Zechariah proclaims – by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high has broken upon us.  And where God’s light shines, we will never be the same.

 

So Christ, break through our darkness with your light, and cause your beautiful dawn to break forth in all our light-starved places.  We believe, and we receive your gift of life and forgiveness and belonging.  And we don’t want to live estranged from you or one another any longer.  Heal us in your cleansing light, day after day.  Flood our despair with your hope and guiding Spirit.  For we are Yours.

 

“Your Contingency Plan”

By Rev. Katherine Todd
Exodus 14:5-29
Luke 21:5-6

 

Exodus 14:5-29

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

 

Luke 21:5-6

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 


 

 

When I was in Israel, Jesus’ life began to open up to me in new ways.  One of the first places we visited was Ceasarea.  This was where Herod built a bold, nature-defying palace in the waves of the ocean.  Right on the seashore are the ruins of his palace.  It is remarkable, even for today.  It’s ruins are magnificent.  The city has an amphitheater, still standing and used.  It has an old arena.  It makes an impression, and that is what is was made for.

Herod, Israel’s Roman ruler during the days of Jesus, was notorious in many ways, but architecturally he was a wonder.  He communicated Roman strength, longevity, endurance, and ingenuity through bricks and mortar.  He built in places where people had never before built because of extreme and unfriendly natural elements.  He simply overcame them with science.  He built with exquisite and rare stones – imported and distinct from anything the people of Israel had seen.  His buildings were conquests, doing more, accomplishing more, bigger and better than the people ever could have imagined.  His works were impressive.

 

In Jerusalem, the holy mount where the temple was located was expanded by Herod.  Build on a mountain, there was no large, flat location to claim, and so he created one.  And it still stands today.  It is the foundation of holy sites still hotly contested by so many different people of faith.  And in one location, a glass window allows you to peer under the structure to see enormous arches below your feet that support the entire platform.  It is amazing.  The stones themselves were enormous, many the size of a modern-day tractor trailer, hewn from the mountain rock downhill, and rolled uphill and into position.

And this is the wonder of it all, even still.  Jerusalem is on shifting tectonic plates.  The earth there moves.  HOW could anyone build such a mighty structure on it successfully?  Herod overcame that.  He would use sheer gravity to hold the massive foundation stones in place.  They could move with the moving plates.  They would merely shift.  And his mighty arches below the surface of the foundation allowed water to pass through the surface and not weight down it down causing the sides to buckle and fall.

From an architectural standpoint, I stood amazed in Jerusalem.  It was entirely fascinating.  It was truly a wonder.

 

And all this was merely the foundation of the structure Herod was building in Jesus’ childhood.  This was Herod’s conquest and mighty display of power in Israel.  He would build an exquisite and mighty temple in Jerusalem.  To this day it is considered his masterpiece.

 

 

And THIS is the very structure about which Jesus says, “The days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Can you imagine the people’s stares?  Can you imagine them trying to work out how Jesus’ words could ever come to pass?  Each stone had been positioned with hundreds and hundreds of slaves all working together with engineering brilliance.  It was masterful.  WHO could destroy such a wondrous temple?

And it was brand new, state of the art, and engineering masterpiece.  It had been under construction for decades.  The people did not have missiles.  They did not have nuclear weapons.  They did not have guns and fire power.  HOW would anyone destroy such a mighty fortress?

And THAT is precisely what Jesus is saying.

 

It sounds absurd.  It sounds reaching.

 

And yet today, indeed not one stone is left upon another of that temple.  The wailing wall is merely the retaining wall of the that foundation Herod built.

Every word came to pass.

Something no one could have conceived of.

 

And it calls us to perk up and listen to Jesus’ words.

 

Jesus knows we are drawn to shiny, new things.  We love new construction.  We love new clothes.  We love new appliances.  We love new buildings.

And in the end, we put a lot of faith in these things.  We try to surround ourselves with shiny new things in order to give us comfort and security, peace of mind.  And here Jesus is pointing out the fallacy of their sense of wonder and security.

In fact, this mighty masterpiece was destroyed in a mere decades by the same ingenuity and powers by which it was created.  Rome besieged Jerusalem in 70 CE and destroyed it.

 

It didn’t even last a century.

 

And so I ask you.  In what do you place your trust?

Do you place your trust in the work of your hands?

Do you place your trust in the ingenuity of your mind?

Do you place your trust in your social finesse?

Do you place it in the money you’ve stored in accounts and stock and investments?

Do you place it in insurance policies and long-term planning?

None of these things are bad.  In fact, most of these things are wise.  They are responsible.  The Bible exhorts us to plan and to work hard.  God calls us to use God’s gifts and multiply them.  When we invest in our knowledge and skills, when we invest our money, when we work hard and make the most of what we are given in this world, we are in fact following God’s instructions for life!

And yet, the difference somehow comes when we start placing our TRUST in these things.

 

Rome wasn’t the first to conquer territories with their ingenuity and might.  Egypt in fact was also mighty, and they owed much of their success to chariots.  They invented the yoke saddle for their chariot horses, and thus they were able to take the Mesopotamian invention of the wheel and chariot to a new level in battle.

They put a lot of trust in these chariots, which allowed them to overtake their enemies.  And yet, even these could not save them.  When God parted the waters of the Red Sea, allowing the people of Israel to cross by foot on the dry riverbed, the Egyptians who followed them in chariots all got stuck and drowned in the sea as the waters returned.

 

So as we hear Jesus’ words about the temple, may our ears stand alert.  May we rightly assess what we have placed our trust in.

And if it is not in the Lord.  If our trust resides in the gifts of God or the abilities given to us by God, or our endurance and skill as we’ve walked in the grace and mercies of God, may we beware and turn around.  For none of these things can save.  God alone saves.  God alone is enough for every contingency.  God alone is WORTHY of our trust.

 

May we place our TRUST in God. 

 

“Thy Kingdom Come”

Psalm 119:137-144

You are righteous, O LORD,
and your judgments are right.
You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me
because my foes forget your words.
Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it.
I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and your law is the truth.
Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
but your commandments are my delight.
Your decrees are righteous forever;
give me understanding that I may live.

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous-therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.


 

I love Habakkuk. Frankly he gives voice to the cries of my heart: “How long, O Lord!” Why? Why do you make me SEE this stuff? Why does justice never prevail? Why does wickedness have the last word? Why? Why?!?

 

How many of you relate?

How many of you are troubled by the injustice and wrong-doing you see all around you?

 

I love how Habakkuk says he will stand watch and WAIT for God’s answer. He is a bold one. Seriously. He essentially challenging God.

 

I admire Habakkuk because I usually do not feel so bold as to pray like that – to challenge God to make Godself known, to answer me, to make things right.  But I love this because I feel all these things.  I too cry out from the depth of my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world crying, “How long, O Lord!?!?”

And what I love about this verse is how God answers.  What we just read of Habakkuk’s complaint is only a portion of it.  He actually goes on for a while longer, complaining.  But then GOD ANSWERS.  God assures Habakkuk that all will be made well.  God assures Habakkuk that evildoers and wickedness will not have the last word.  In fact, God will have the last word, and God entreats Habakkuk to write this vision big and boldly, so that even those hurrying by will see it.  God will make things right, and we are to wait for it with hope.

 

So what does this say to us?  How does this conversation speak to you and to me?

 

Well, it reminds me to be bold.  If we do not speak honestly with ourselves and with God, we will not find the answers we seek.  If we don’t take the risk of asking, we don’t open ourselves to the possibility of hearing God’s answer to us.

So whatever is on your heart, speak it to God.  Do not be worried about offending God.  God already knows what is on our hearts.  We need to speak it.  We need to hear ourselves say it.  Half the time, our feelings and thoughts are not even real to our own selves until we hear ourselves say them.  Something actually changes in our brains when we give voice to our thoughts.  Speaking them out is an act of vulnerability.  And we need to be vulnerable with God.  In fact, who else can we most trust, and with whom we can be most vulnerable, if not God?!?

I encourage you to feel what you feel and think what you think.  And bring ALL of you, ALL of that to God.  We serve a God who is big enough to handle our anger.  We serve a God who is strong enough to handle our doubts.  We serve a God who is loving enough to see us for all that we are and still love us.

 

Therefore, may we bring our honest and heart-wrenching questions before our God in prayer.

Was Habakkuk chastised by God for his challenge?  What Habakkuk shamed for being angry and discouraged?  No.  Not at all.

When Habakkuk went honestly before God, speaking his truth and opening his heart – complaining to the God of the Universe – God showed up.

God answered.

 

We serve a God who wants to be in communion with us.  We serve a God who wants to be with us.  We serve a God who fashioned us to walk with God in the garden, speaking with God at the time of the evening breeze.  That is what we were made for but our ancestor’s gave up when they chose to eat of the forbidden apple and take things into their own hands.

We are made to be in conversation with God. 

This world is not fair.  It is not easy.  We have no guarantees that good actions will yield good rewards.  Too often we watch as the selfish plunder and pillage the selfless.  Too often we gaze helpless upon the rape of the natural world for our own ends and means.  Too often we watch as systems of inequality leave the vulnerable and wounded, more alone and more unseen.  Too often we watch as the haves get more and the have nots even less…

 

So let us praise God, that our hearts are breaking with God at injustice in the world!

Let us praise God, that we are not blind to the inequity in the world!

Let us praise God for showing us a better way – for showing us that all are worthy and cherished and of value.

Let us praise God for burdening our hearts for the hearts of our neighbors, near and far.

 

In the passage we see Habakkuk on fire for justice.  He is angry because he has God’s heart for the world.  And that is an honorable and good thing.  As painful as it is to look upon injustice, how much worse would it be if we didn’t see injustice for what it was.  How much worse would it be if we were defensive and hardened to the evil in our world.

So as we grieve, as we mourn, as we grow angry, as we are discouraged, as we long for healing and cry out from the depths, “How long, O Lord?!?” may we too hear God’s voice.

May we quiet ourselves to listen for God’s answer to us. 

 

And may we find comfort in knowing that Christ too grieved, Christ too mourned, Christ too was discouraged, Christ too cried out from the depths!

 

We are in good company.  And our discomfort is a sign that we are truly no longer of this world.  God has made us new.  We are in the world, but this world is not our home.  We are made for more, and we know it.  The world is God’s world, and the Kingdom of God is real.

Justice will come. 

If it seems to tarry, wait for it. 

It will not delay.