Monday, November 29, 2010

Jeremiah 23:1-6 - Christ the King

Jeremiah 23:1-6
I. Coming to an understanding of the text
The people were disenchanted. Things did not look good. They looked to their leaders and their leaders lead them astray. Where they had been promised prosperity, they found only want. Where they had been promised peace, they found only turmoil. Where they had been promised better times to come, they found that things only seemed to get worse and worse. They had been promised so much had dared to dream of change but all they saw was more of the same or worse. They were defeated their future looked bleak. They had looked to their leaders to give them what they needed to survive and their leaders lead them astray.
It is to these disheartened, disenchanted, distraught people whom God speaks this morning and whereas the people are lost in the misery of the chaos and turmoil of their day, God is infuriated. God is livid. How dare the leaders of God’s people do this to those whom God loves! God had warned the people when they had called for a King, so they could be like all the nations around them, that having a King would be no end of heartache for them and the people, like a child who desires to eat the whole cake all at once and finds a way to eat it in spite of repeated warnings from the loving adults in her life who all told her that eating the whole thing will give her a bellyache, Israel demands to have a King. Now the King and the other leaders of the people of Israel, having not heeded the repeated warnings which God has given to them, have ensured the beginning of the end for the nation as a whole. The nation is in a mess and the people have nobody to whom they can turn. Their King has failed them, and their leaders have failed them. They are lost, they are sheep without a shepherd, actually worse they are sheep with shepherds who have lead them astray, taken them directly into harms way, have turned on the sheep and scattered them. And God pronounces judgment on them for doing so.
God will not stand by and continually allow this to happen to the people whom God loves. God stands up and says, “This will not continue to happen, not on my watch, not while I am still God around here.” And God speaks to the people and makes a promise to them. God promises that all though the flock will be scattered to the nations, God will gather them back up and bring them back to the land. Although they may go into exile, God will not allow exile to be the final word, they will be returned to the land which God had given to them.
God will bring them back. God will gather them up and bring them back to where they belong. Although, they may be few when they return they will be fruitful and multiply. “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is a phrase you may recognize from Genesis. In the beginning after God sat down in the dust of the newly formed earth, reached in to the earth and formed the first humans, looked at them, blessed them pronouncing them good, set them in the garden, the first thing God told them was to “be fruitful and multiply.” God is not merely restoring them but God is promising to restore them back to whom they were created to be. Things would not simply be better but thing would be completely, absolutely and finally set right.
But not only does God promise to set things eternally right, but God promises to give them a real shepherd, a shepherd who shepherd’s the way a shepherd should. God will not mess around with these shepherds who take the sheep into harm’s way. God will not longer allow for shepherds who instead of gathering and protecting, scatter and neglect. God will not tolerate shepherds who destroy when they should be protecting. Instead God will raise up for them new shepherds. But God will not just raise up any ole shepherds, but “the day is coming,” God says, when God will raise up a righteous Branch the stump of the grand tree which once was the house of David. This will be a new kind of King, not just a shepherd who knows how do to his job but this will be a ruler who will save the people, and allow them to live in safety. There will be peace, there will be prosperity, and things will be set right. Not merely made better, not merely made tolerable but right, once and for all truly right.
II. Applying the Text
Today as we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, we are thinking about the kind of King Jesus is, we are thinking about the rule of God, about the reign of Christ, the kingdom of Heaven which is and which will one day be. Today is a big day in the yearly life of the church. Today marks the end of the church year, next week; the first week of Advent is the first Sunday of new church year. This next week is the week in between times.
It kind of reminds me of Lewis’s wood between the worlds. Many of you may be familiar with Chronicles of Narnia, especially since the first two books have already been made into movies with the third, coming out in just a few short weeks. I have read the books of this series more times than you all would care to know, that is the way I am with books I like, I read them over and over again to gaining new and deeper insight into them each time I read them (I know I am a nerd). Anyway, my favorite of the books since I was four years old and my parents read it to me for the first time, has always been The Magicians Nephew. What has always fascinated me about this book is the Wood between the Worlds. Via magical means the two children of this book find themselves in a wood which is really nowhere. It is place which is in between places, once there, if you know how, you can get from there into any world you want, but the place itself is both apart of all those worlds and not a part of any of them at the same time. It is nowhere and everywhere. It is quite simply and plainly in between everywhere. It is both here and there and at the same time neither. Not hard to figure out why such a place would capture the imagination of a four year old and continue to have a hold of that same girl’s imagination three decades later.
The week we are entering is very similar. It is the week between years. It is both part of the year which is just ending and a part of the year which is about to begin and at the same time a part of neither. We begin this week celebrating the Kingship, the lordship, the eternal reign of Jesus Christ and end the week celebrating the anticipation of the coming of Christ. So in many ways it is a week of the already and not yet, where the end of one year has come but the next has not yet really come. We celebrate the eternal kingship of Christ and anticipate a kingdom which has already come but has not yet really come. This week in so many ways is exactly where we are living. It is where we are, between the celebration of the eternal kingship of Christ and the celebration of our anticipation of Christ’s coming. Christ has come, the kingdom of Heaven is at hand, yet we are waiting, longing, anticipating for Christ to come and for Christ’s kingdom to be revealed. Now is the time between times, when we have tasted who Christ is but have not yet fully tasted what it means for the kingdom to have truly come.
As Christians when we hear God speak about a king from the line of David who will come to deal wisely with God’s people, who will execute justice and righteousness in the land and hear about lives being restored to the created ordering, we can not help but think about Jesus Christ. But at the same time our attention can not help but turn to the fact that although Christ has come, we are not yet living in a world where justice and righteousness are the rule of law. We are not living a world where all things have been restored to their created goodness, we do not see peace, we do not see a world which reflects the promises made here in this passage, but we are living in a world which has seen the coming of Christ, were there are glimpses of these things. We live in world where we can see the shadows of the righteousness, peace and justice which will be; shadows which let us know what is to come, but as of yet is not.
Just as this passage causes our Christian minds to see the life, message and purpose of Christ in the promise of the shepherd King whom God promises to the people, this passage draws our minds eye to a reality which has yet to come, a reality we are not yet living. Along with a King who shepherds with justice and righteousness, a King who gathers and protects we are promised a world where all things are restored to the way they should be, a world, which is returned to the goodness and rightness, which was seen at first creation, but we do not live in that world. Instead we live in this broken twisted world, where all too often heartache and chaos reign.
We, like the people of this passage, live in a world where our leaders fail us and lead us astray. We live in a world were we are scattered, abandoned and neglected. It seems as if neither righteousness, nor justice can be found anywhere. In too many ways we are the sheep in this passage. And God promises us something. God promises us a shepherd who loves, a shepherd who protects, a shepherd who provides leads and will shepherd as a shepherd should. God promises a King who reigns, not like any earthly king for his own good, to please his own self but instead promises a king who rules justly and with righteousness.
Just as this week is the week between times, we are living in a time between times; we are living in a time when we are looking for the King who will come and at the same time rejoicing in the King who has come. Just as Christ the King Sunday is a Sunday which anticipates the anticipation celebrated in the season of Advent, we can see this passage and see how it anticipates Jesus, the King who had not yet come, but live in a world where Jesus has come, while we continue to anticipate the world which the king who has come and will come again will usher in.
III. Conclusion
So the old saying of Advent goes, “Christ has come, Christ will come again, “ we are living in this time between times, anticipating a world where all things will be set right, but even still we begin to lives which are set right. We see within our lives, as we allow ourselves to be transformed into the likeness of Christ we can in our actions, reactions and interactions bring glimpses of the kingdom which is yet to come into the reality of this world. As we attempt to live as Christ would live, love as Christ would love in our daily lives, each time we succeed we bring the justice and righteousness King of this passage to reign in this unjust and unrighteous would. Every time we reach out and right a wrong, make just what is unjust, we allow the kingdom of God, the reign of Christ the king to make shadows in this world, shadows which allow people all around us to catch glimpses of the one who will come, of the life which can be, of what it will mean when one day all things will be set right, when one day all things will be just; when one day all things will be restored to the goodness of creation.
So as we celebrate the Reign of Christ today, the Kingship of Jesus, let us live that kingship in our own lives. Let us bring the kingship of Christ to bear in how we live our lives. Let us live as if Christ reigns, let us live as if Christ is King. Let us live justly, let us live rightly. Let us allow God to use us to make right the wrongs, let us where we see unjustness make justice in this world. We do this by living as Christ would live, loving as Christ would love. We do this by speaking words of kindness where harsh words would be easier. We do this by responding with grace and forgiveness where it would be easier to respond in judgment. We do this by giving to those who are in need, by loving those who are unloved and by bringing fairness to a world which is anything but fair.
Christ the king Sunday is not just a day on which we think about what it means that Christ is king. It is not just a day one which we think about what life will be like when the Lord truly reigns in this world, is it day which calls us to live the kingship of Christ each and everyday, in every moment, each time we see another human being, each time we have a chance to interact with those around us we have a choice, we can choose to react as if business is usual, in the ways we are most inclined to act, or we can choose to act as if love was the law, as if justice was the only option, in short we can choose to act as if God’s kingdom has already come, instead of merely wishing it so.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating in the Rubble Pile - Haggai 1:15-2:9

About 70 years before Haggai gave this message, the country of Israel was absolutely and utterly destroyed. The nation had been conquered. Everything of value was taken away. The sacred items were taken out of the temple and carted off as war booty. The Temple itself was completely demolished, not one stone remained upon another. The people were also carted off and taken into exile. They were forced to live out their lives as foreigner in a foreign land.

Then, about 20 years prior to this passage, the King of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to Israel. This was cause for much rejoicing. It had been about 70 years. These people had spent their whole lives dreaming about returning home. They were exhilarated. They joyfully made the journey back to Israel. The world had been set right. They were going home. The sun was brighter, the bird songs more lovely, and the breeze smelt sweeter; well that was until they cleared that last hill which separated them from the land of beauty and bounty of which they had spent their lives dreaming and did not see the lush rolling hill country fertile and bursting with the bounty of the land and beautiful cities which would cause those of their captors to pale in comparison. Instead, they saw barren fields over grown with soil which looked as if it would refuse to yield anything. They saw the burnt out shells of what were once their grand cities and rubble piles which had once been their ancestral homes. When they returned they found their homes and their cities destroyed by war. The land was barren and desolate, burned, un-worked and practically wild from being left for nearly a century. Nothing was as it had been.
Where there had once been a rich prosperous country there was just a broken shell of a country, which had been conquered, looted and left in a state of perpetual disrepair by the invading forces.

Not only that, even though they were allowed to return to their land it was still not their land; not really. They were no longer a self governing country; they were no longer a sovereign nation. Persia had placed a governor over them to rule them. As far as the government went being home was the same as being in exile. They were still under Persian control, living by Persian law, but now instead of living like this in a far off land, as they had while in exile, save they were doing it in their own land.

They arrived and everything was much the same as it had been right before they had left, completely and utter destroyed. So they did the only thing they could do, they started to rebuild. They set to work rebuilding their homes, their cities and working to make the ground fertile again.

About a month before Haggai brought this message, the people had begun to rebuild the temple. This was a long and arduous process. First, they had to clear out all the rubble, they had to sort the useable stones from the ones which were destroyed beyond repair, then they had reshape the usable stones and finally they had to find enough new ones, only they could they set to actually rebuilding the temple. Things were slow going and they were not making very much progress. It was nearly a month into the temple rebuild project and it still looked like a gigantic rubble pile.
You may have noticed that the passage gives a very specific date as to when Haggai gave this message to the people. The scripture tells us that the Word of the Lord came to Haggai on the 21st day of the month of Tishri, which would have fallen on Oct 17th of the year 520. This date is given because the day on which Haggai was given this message to take to the people of God is important. When Haggai stands up to address the people, it is the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles. The Festival of Tabernacles is a festival which always happens in the Fall, in mid to late October, even to this day. It is one of the most important festivals in the Jewish calendar. Festival of Tabernacles, also called the festival of booths or Sukkoth, is the one of the seven festivals which God instructs the people to celebrate. The festival of Tabernacles is the time during which the People of God celebrate how God had taken care of them in they traveled in the desert, as well as being a harvest festival thanking God for God’s provision, it occurred right after the last Harvest had been taken in. It was a time to celebrate how God had taken care of God’s people for yet another year, as well as celebrating the promise of how God would continue to take care of them for the year to come, which a bountiful harvest showed them.

I want you to imagine this scene with me. The people, they are standing in the midst of the rubble of what use to be the temple, they have started rebuilding the walls from reshaped/misshapen stones which they have collected, the walls are sad and sagging and in places they keep falling down, even as they attempt to rebuild them. Beyond the crumbling walls of the temple they can see the half built houses, which they put together in hast simply so they could have somewhere to live. These sad, sagging, structures make up the grand city of Jerusalem, which is then surrounded by a wall that is crumbling at its’ best and no-existent at it’s’ worst.

Here they are surrounded by the basically empty shell of the grand city, which once was, celebrating how God has taken care of them by providing a harvest and looking back celebrating how God had taken care of them all the years they wandered in the desert. But [pause] the problem is, there was no harvest; the crops had failed. There is no bountiful harvest for which they can celebrate God’s care and see the promise of how God will continue to care for them into the future.
Things look bleak. Here they are back in the land flowing with milk and honey and not only is there no milk and honey but there is no harvest, there is no temple and as they look at the rubble and destruction all around them they feel as if they are never going to be able to rebuild. It is hopeless.

In the midst of the destruction, in the midst of the rubble, in the midst of the hopelessness, God has a message for them. God says, “Remember the former glory of the temple?” The people look around them at the ram shackled temple all around them and it is really kind of hard to imagine the temple which had once stood in this very place. Very few, if any, of those who had been originally carted off into exile, would still be alive after being exiled for nearly 70 years. The people who stood in the ruins what was once the splendor of Solomon’s temple had merely heard about the temple and its former glory from their parents and grandparents. They had grown up on the stories of their homeland, Jerusalem, and the glory of the Temple which stood at its heart, much like many of us grew up on fairy tales.
None-the-less, God tells them to look at the temple around them. Thing is what was all around them looked like nothing. It was a rubble pile. It was not a temple. But where they saw a pile of rubble God saw a temple. God was calling them to see what God saw. To see with new eyes to catch a glimpse of the vision God had for them. Gods says to them, “I am with you – with me – there can be a temple where there is no temple.”

God is the God who made something out of nothing. God spoke the universe into existence after all. In the beginning there was nothing and God made something but here, here God at least has some stones from the former temple with which to begin.

In the midst of the hopelessness Haggai is given a message of hope, “God is with you and when God is with you can do what seems impossible. With God with you, you can rebuild this temple. Not only that, but just as the nations carted everything which had once made up the grand glory of the temple; all the gold, all the lamps, all the plates, goblets, God says those same nations would come and fill the temple again. Not only will the temple be rebuilt but it will be even better than it was before – God will take the rubble and make it even more beautiful and more spectacular than before.

Side note – Eventually they do rebuild the temple and in the end the temple which Herod would complete, which is an refurbishment of the one they were now building, was bigger, and by some estimations better and more spectacular than Solomon’s temple.

Too many times our lives can be compared to the rubble in which the Israelites were standing. And here we are, on yet another Sunday, called to rejoice in who God is and how God takes care of us. But sometimes when we look at the rubble in our lives, it is hard to see God. It is hard to see how God is taking care of us. We look around at the devastation, at the chaos, at the pain and the heartache and we cannot see how God could be a part of this at all. We look around and simply can’t see God. The bills are mounting. Our health or the health of those we love is not good. The children don’t always behave as well as we would like. No matter how often we do it, or how hard we try to stay on top of it the laundry seems to always need to be done. Things at work are not going well. Our relationships are not what we want them to be, it seems as if our spouse is slipping away from us. We are not as close to our parents or our grown children as we would like. Perhaps those relationships seem beyond repair. There is death and brokenness all around us. So many things in our lives are going wrong. Our lives are torn apart. We are surrounded by rubble, chaos and destruction. And, it is hard to celebrate God’s provision for us when it is hard to see how God is providing.

But God has a message for us this morning! God is calling for us to remember, to remember how God has provided in the past. God has a message of hope, hope for us as we find ourselves in the hopelessness of our lives, “Have you heard the stories of what I have done for other people? Do you remember how I have provided for you in the past? Can you see what I have done before? Can you see what is around you?”

Your life is not what you had hoped it to be, it is not how you wanted it to be. You had a dream of what it would be. You followed God and thought you were following God to the land flowing with milk and honey and instead you find yourself here (where ever here is). And here is not what it was crack up to be. You look around you and all you can see is chaos and destruction. Everything is a mess. It is a pile of rubble. So many things are going wrong. You feel like there is no way out. You are wondering how things can ever be good again.

God sees your life. God sees the pain, the hurt, the concerns, the rubble and the junk pile. But God wants you to know that God is a God who can take the junk and the rubble pile you feel your life is and turn it into something spectacular. God promises to be with you in the chaos, in the hurt. God promises to stand with you in the rubble, in the junk pile. God will be with you and work alongside of you as you rebuild your life. It won’t be easy. It may even collapse in on itself again. But God can assure you that someday, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow you will look around you and see your life as the glorious thing God sees.

With God with you, spectacular things will happen. With God with you, even God can make the impossible possible. You might be standing in the middle of a mess but know that even in the mess God is with you. Even when things look a bleak and bad as they can possibly be, God is with you and God promises that even though things might look insurmountable now, things will get better – take heart– God is with you, God has been with you and God will continue to be with you.