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“How Long, O Lord?”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Amos 5:18-24
Psalm 13

 

Amos 5:18-24

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

 

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.


 

This Psalm is like a breath of fresh air because it speaks the angst and anger in our souls.  It speaks to the pain and sorrows we bear.  It speaks to our lament and loss.

I have wanted to relate to this Psalm much less than I do.

But in fact, this Psalm has more often than not felt right in line with the prayers and cries of my heart.  So many times I’ve needed to cry out honestly to God, “How long, O Lord!?  How long?”

But the turning point in this Psalm comes when the Psalmist writes, “But I trusted in your steadfast love.  My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”  Even while he is in the midst of pain and sorrow…  Even while he feels God’s face has turned away from him…  Even before God answers his cries…  The Psalmist returns to truth and praise.

 

I cannot tell you how many times this re-framing of life has in fact saved my life.  I don’t know about you, but there are caverns of my mind and heart in which I can lose myself.  As a minister, I choose to walk alongside others, in deepest valleys and highest mountaintops.  As an empathetic person, I feel the pain and suffering of those around me.  And in times like these, when the whole world is lamenting the needless and tragic loss of unarmed black men and women in particular, I feel the heaviness of hearts around me.

And I believe we are called to walk with one another in these heights and depths.  As Presbyterians in particular, we affirm the “priesthood of all believers.”  This means that we believe each one of us has a calling to minister to one another.  And though each of us does it in a different way, we are all filled with God’s Spirit, and we are all given this heavenly calling of ministering, one to another.

 

But as we walk alongside one another, as we journey through the heights and the depths, we need to remain grounded in God’s word, in God’s truth.

For me, this has meant an intentional returning to scripture, an intentional remembering of scripture, an intentional choice to believe God’s word over my own feelings, over my own fears, over my own despair or anxieties.  God’s word has been grounding.

 

And so when I am tempted to think God has forsaken me, I remember Psalm 139 – in which the Psalmist proclaims that there is no where he can go, where God will not be!

And when I am tempted to believe that God does not regard me, I remember Jesus’ teaching of the lilies of the valley and the birds of the air – how they do not reap or sow but how God clothes and feeds them, and how we are of more worth to God than many sparrows.  I remember God’s words through Psalm 63, “For you are precious in my sight, and I love you.”

When I am tempted to despair that the future will be brighter than the past, I recall Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘”For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future of hope.”’

 

Story after story in the Bible, Psalm after Psalm, God’s Word through prophet and all creation continues to speak into my life and the lives of those around me – grounding and re-framing our experiences.  And at this particular moment of our national history, I am moved by the verses we read from Amos.  In Amos, God is rebuking the people for their evil ways.  God goes so far as to say God despises their festivals, will not accept their sacrifices, and will not listen to their songs.

Now you would think God was talking to a pagan people or something – people who were singing falsehood or worshiping an idol, but in fact God is speaking to God’s own chosen people.  Their sacrifices, their solemn assemblies, their praise are all worthless,… without justice.

Read Amos 5:18-24 again.
Can you hear God speaking to us here and now, through this Old Testament prophet?

We as a church body ask that God’s will may be done.  We pray that God’s Kingdom will come.  We sing aloud.  We offer tithes and offerings.  We celebrate special holy days and seasons.  But none of this is pleasing to God and God will in fact no accept these offerings and songs, UNLESS they are accompanied with justice.

And this is not a token act of justice.  God says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

 

Our worship, our words, our proclamations, our giving,…none of it amounts to anything, without justice.  For our actions matter more.  How we treat one another matters more.  And justice is not a one-time event.  We are to let justice roll down like waters.  Waters that roll down are unstoppable.  They cannot be contained.  We are to let righteousness be an ever flowing stream -ever flowing!  These waters of righteousness and goodness, justice and truth, are to flow like waters, on and on and on!  THAT is what is pleasing to God.  THAT is an offering God accepts.  THAT is true worship – worship with our lives, worship with our actions, worship with our policies, our politics, our votes, our civic responsibility.

 

So as we come before God this day…
As we stand before one another this day…
As we cry out to God, “How long, O Lord!?”…
As we walk alongside those for whom tears have been their food night and day…

 

May WE do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

May WE labor and love that justice might roll down like the waters.

May WE invite God into the sacred and the secular, the personal and the political, because the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; there is no place where we can go that God will not be.  And our God calls us to be people of justice. 

 

So BEFORE we see the fruit of our love and labors…
BEFORE we see righteousness cover our communities…
BEFORE justice rolls down like the waters…
BEFORE we see God’s deliverance…

We will remember God’s steadfast love.  We give God our thanks and praise, for our God has dealt bountifully with us.  We rejoice in God’s deliverance.  For though we do not yet see that for which we hope and cry out, we trust that our God is faithful, our God is able, our God is just, and our God is loving.  And so we hang our heads in the hands of the One who loves us better than we can even love ourselves.

 

“Holy Spirit, move within us, stir us and send us like the wind, that we might will and work for your good pleasure – that justice may indeed cover the earth, rolling down like the mighty waters.  Amen.”

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE                    (St. Francis)

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 

“The One God of All”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Genesis 21:8-21

 

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; be gracious to me, O Lord,
for to you do I cry all day long.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
listen to my cry of supplication.
In the day of my trouble I call on you,
for you will answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
and bow down before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God.
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Turn to me and be gracious to me;
give your strength to your servant;
save the child of your serving girl.

 

Genesis 21:8-21

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

~~~~~~~~~~

 

I’ve always found this story rather distressing.  In age-old feelings of jealousy, it appears Sarah decides Hagar and her son should go.  It says she didn’t want Ishmael to inherit with her own son Isaac.

In a land of plenty, in this family with no other heirs, Sarah’s jealousy is most disturbing; why can’t she share?  Does she not trust Isaac will have enough?  …Even though we are told that Abraham is a rich man?  Is this a class war, where she doesn’t want her son playing and associating with Abraham’s son by her slave Hagar?  Or could it be anger and resentment, since – as soon as Hagar becomes pregnant with Abraham’s child – we are told Hagar gloats and looks down on Sarah.  After all, Hagar had surpassed Sarah in her apparent “womanhood” with Abraham, or so the culture would have said.  There was (and even still is) a lot of shame wrapped in a woman’s inability to bear children.

 

But even more disturbing:  wasn’t it Sarah’s idea all along that Abraham sleep with Hagar in order that he might have a descendant that way?  And now she wants to undo what she did?  This feels audacious and cold.  And yet, as judgmental as I feel toward Sarah in this moment, what options did a wife have in those days?  Women were valued by their ability to produce heirs, and this was something she could not yet do.  She was nearing a century of life, without the blessing of having her own child.  Perhaps she turned to her servant Hagar, as her way of trying to fulfill her wifely duties.

 

Whatever Sarah’s feelings or her reasons, we hear that Abraham is greatly distressed by Sarah’s wish to send off Ishmael.  So God speaks into this moment and directs Abraham to do as Sarah wishes.

And so, despite his distress, Abraham does what he has done before.  He believes God.  He obeys.  He sends Hagar off with Ishmael and only bread and a skin of water by which to survive.

But God has told Abraham that God will indeed make a nation of Ishmael also.  So not only will Ishmael survive, but it would seem that he will indeed thrive.  He too will become numerous, having many descendants.  And so Abraham obeys.

 

And this is when we look upon the dire situation in which Hagar finds herself and her son – with no more water, and expecting the end for she and her child.  She leaves Ishmael underneath a bush, farther off, so she might not have to witness the death of her child.

But just as God speaks with Abraham when he is distressed of soul, so an angel of God speaks to Hagar in this moment of deepest despair.  The angel tells her not to fear; that God has heard the cries of her son, and that God will actually make a great nation from Ishmael.  Hagar is to go back to her child and hold him fast in her hand.  And when she obeys, as Abraham had done, God opens her eyes and she sees a well.  She goes and refills the empty skin full of fresh water, and she offers this water of new life to her son.

 

Can you imagine the emotional journey Hagar has been on?  Can you imagine being someone’s servant, their slave?  Can you imagine that someone telling you to sleep with her husband?  Can you imagine the fears that must have entered her mind?

Can you imagine the position in which she finds herself?  Truly she appears at the mercy of her masters.  She does what they will.  She sleeps with Sarah’s husband.  She bears his child.  And when tensions grow between she and Sarah and Sarah wants her gone, she is cast out to fend for herself in lands and cultures where not having a tribe means certain death.

 

But this is not the end of Hagar’s story.  God has a plan for Ishmael as well.

Hagar’s story, tragic on so very many levels, does not end with the death of she and her son in the wilderness.

…For God hears,
God speaks,
And God provides.

 

To this woman, used and abused, God speaks of a future for her son that is magnificent and hopeful.

 

Now I must say that I am still very uneasy with this story.

It seems that, as in so much of life, the rich get richer and the poor poorer, the powerful remain strong while the powerless are jerked around and mistreated.

 

But I am also encouraged by this story.

For God does not treat Hagar and Ishmael as disposable, as trash, as pawns.

For apart from Abraham and Sarah, Haagar and Ishmael will prosper.  Their stories intertwine, but her story branches off here in its own direction.

God is with Ishmael, and he becomes strong with the bow.  He lives in the wilderness, and he marries a woman his mother finds for him from her homeland of Egypt.

They survive.

And they prosper. 

 

This is the character of the God we serve.

Imperfect servants of God, Abraham and Sarah,

They are still used by God.

God remembers that they are made of dust.

 

And yet God’s love doesn’t stop with the family of Abraham who he has chosen.

No God’s presence and love follows Hagar and her son Ishmael,

even into the lonely and vulnerable wilderness.

 

God has mercy on Sarah, who could never bear a child – her one main duty as a wife.  And God works in the life of Hagar, providing for she and her son in the darkest place of their lives, that they may one day form a nation of their own.

 

 

It is a common misconception that God’s choosing of Abraham means God does not love everyone else.  But it has always been for the sake of the whole world that God chose Abraham.  It has always been that THROUGH HIM all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  Abraham is blessed TO BE a blessing…to the rest of the world. 

For God’s love doesn’t stop with Abraham.  God’s love can be shown and grown through a servant like Abraham who listens, believes, and follows.  Through his obedience the families of the earth will find blessing.  But God’s love is for the whole creation, the people of every land and place, all those who wander and run themselves ragged in fear, like sheep without a shepherd.  God has mercy on us, despite our sins, and graces us with undeserved favor and blessing.

 

THIS is the God we serve:
The God who speaks to the rich nomad
and the spurned and abused servant girl,
making them both ancestors of great nations.

Despite all our human-divisions of power and vulnerability, gender and opportunity, wealth and poverty, …master and servant,

GOD is God to all.

 

We are alike,
beloved by the Most High God.

Thanks be to God!!

 

 

 

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

On this Father’s Day, let us speak aloud the names of those who are and were father figures to us. 

                                                (Psalm 72, excerpts)

Give to your Leaders good judgement, O God, and a sense of what is right.  May they govern your people with justice and do right for those who are powerless.  May the mountains bring peace for the people, and the hills bring forth justice.  May they defend the poor among the people, save the children of those who are needy, and crush the oppressor.  May they endure as long as the sun, like the moon through all generations; like the rains that fall on the early crops, like the showers that water the earth.  May justice flower in their days, and peace till the moon is no more. May they have pity on the week and the powerless; may they save the lives of the poor.  May they redeem them from oppression and violence and regard their blood as precious.  Let grain be abundant through-out the land, and wave on the the tops of the mountains.  Let the crops blossom like Lebanon and the people flourish in the cities like the grass of the fields.

(Iona Abby Worship Book)

Liberator Christ, you came into a holy place and read the sacred word about sight for the blind folk and freedom for prisoners.  Come to this place now.  Read these words to us till our own eyes are opened, our faith is unlocked, and we can see the world as it is, and as it could be; till the yearnings of ordinary people are taken seriously, and the visions of the young are valued, and the potential of the old is released; till you Kingdom is celebrated everywhere, and your church is good news to the poor.

Amen.

‘Thanks Be to God”

I still count my blessings grateful that my church search when relocating to Richmond in 2010 landed me at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church (FHPC).  Worshiping and learning in the warm fellowship of FHPC has felt like a series of mindful, nurturing experiences, touched by the Word, feeling the Holy Spirit, all summoning out what I should be as a growing disciple of Christ.

I’ve learned in this decade at FHPC that the mark of an effective church is not how old it is or how many people come, but how many people live differently as a result of having been to that church.  I know God is love, that He loves us, and He wants us to love others, not only in our thoughts and prayers, but also in our actions and deeds.  For all that we have flows from God’s overwhelming love and grace.  And all that we do with what we have flows from saying thank you to God in grateful response for His love and grace.  Feeling the compelling call of Micah 6:8 to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, I know that I’m living differently.  I praise and thank God more, I’ve grown more spiritually as a disciple, I serve more human needs, I pray more, and I give back more of my time, talent, and treasure that God first gave me.

Now in 2020, it is still clear to me that the people of FHPC continue to serve the Lord with gladness, creativity, faith, and perseverance since June 22, 1924.  While honoring our rich history, we are building a new future, taking many small steps toward big visions, for the God who called us and nurtured us in this place still has a role for FHPC to play in His kingdom.  And so we continue to cultivate enthusiasm as disciples for exercising our spiritual gifts both inside and outside the church doors.   What a blessing to have a strong-in-spite-of-small congregation at FHPC ever faithful to the ministry and mission of God in Christ!  Thanks be to God!

 

PM

“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. 

“Shining in the Dark”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Matthew 5:13-16
Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

 

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

 

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.


 

 

We continue following the drama through which Jeremiah and the people of Israel lived.  Indeed they were taken into exile by Babylon.  They were taken from the only home they’d known, a place where they governed themselves and bought and sold land…to a place they’d never known.  None of the former comforts or routines were present.  They were dropped in a sea of different, with no more than the despised prophet’s words to hold onto – that they would again buy and sell in their own land…

But how would that help them now?  What did that mean for them in their present situation?  Do they just hunker down and hold out until that moment?  What were they to do?

And God speaks to Jeremiah who again speaks to his people saying, “Build houses and live in them.  Plant vineyards and eat of them.  Find wives for your sons.  Increase and do not decrease.”

 

God knows that when we are traumatized and discouraged, when we’ve lost everything and been stripped of the familiar, we each respond somewhat differently.  But very commonly, we shut down.  We want revenge.  We want to make our oppressors pay.  We stop living, and we start ruminating on how we’ve been wronged.

So many of us have fallen into these patterns, with far less trauma.  When a wrong is done to us, it is natural to feel ourselves the victim…because we are!  It is natural to focus on the wrongdoing, if for no other reason than to make sense of the wrongful act.  It is natural to want revenge – because we are craving justice.  We too yearn, with all creation, for justice to roll down like the mighty waters.

 

How many times have we gotten stuck – unable to move forward in our lives?

 

The people of Israel are very much at risk of this very same thing.  And God is concerned that they do NOT stop living.  God wants them to keep living.

Now this is hard because HOW LONG will they be exiled away from their homes?  Will it be for 6 months or a year?  Will it be several years or decades or a century?

They cannot see what lies ahead in order to make an informed decision about how they go about their day to day lives.  The answers to these very significant questions would lead them to live very different sorts of lives.  And without that clarity and foresight, they are even more apt to simply stop living, and remain stuck in a kind of holding pattern.

 

God does not want this for them.  God knows the time will be long.  So God sends Jeremiah to speak to them yet again – to instruct them to go on living.  They are to invest in the place where they find themselves.  They are to make the absolute best of it – building up homes for themselves and gardens.  They are to keep living – keep giving their sons & daughters in marriage – keep having children and grandchildren.  God wants them to prosper.  And they cannot prosper if they stop living.

 

Are they in the place God promised to them?

No.

Are they in positions of honor and power and self-governance?

No.

Is there more for them?

Yes.

Is it for now?

No.

 

God explains through Jeremiah that the welfare of their exiled land will be their welfare, it’s prosperity will be their prosperity.

For now, their well-being is tied up with that of Babylon.  And they are not only to keep living, doing their thing, but to also invest in their community, making a contribution to society and praying for the land of their captivity.

Praying for Babylon.

 

Over and over and over again, when we have been wronged, God instructs us to pray.  Time and time and time again, when injustice occurs, God instructs us to pray.  And not just for some, but for all.  And not just for our friends, but for our enemies.

God instructs us to pray.

 

Could it be that this is how we get unstuck?

Could it be that this is how we heal?

Cold it be that this is how we continue to hear God’s voice and follow God’s lead,

Even in captivity?

Even in a foreign land?

Even when our lives know no comfort?

Even when we cannot see a brighter day ahead?

 

The people of Israel – just marched from their home to a foreign land, perhaps never to see their own houses and vineyards again – are to pray for their oppressors.  They are to pray for this foreign land.

It is counter-intuitive.

 

They are to invest in the land, knowing that the welfare of this foreign land will also be their welfare…

It is counter-intuitive.

 

And this is where God’s light shines most brightly. 

In the darkest night of our circumstances, God’s love permeates and floods all the cracks and crannies of our lives and the lives around us when we pray and obey. 

You see, the people of Israel were always called to be a light to the nations.  And here God has them squarely inside another nation.  And here, they can very much be a light.  IF they will continue to live…  IF they will bless their captors and not curse them…  IF they will trust and obey, even when they are bitter and scared.

 

Just like the people of Israel, God has called you and I children and friends.  God has called us light of the world and bread of God.  We are called to be salt, seasoning the earth with God’s light and love.

But we will only do this if each of us keeps living, if we keep praying, if we make the most of our wilderness-land, if we bless and don’t curse, if we invest in the places we are – even while hoping and longing and praying for the places we hope to be.

 

So will we pray?

Will we seek the welfare of the land in which we find ourselves?

Will we make the most of our days?

Will we keep living – building and planting and marrying?

 

Our God is with us, and our God is speaking still.

May we not lose hope amid the darkness.

But may we listen all the more,

Letting God’s light shine even more brightly in the darkness.

 

You are dear.