19 January 2020
They thought they had it sorted. God had been at work. The exiles were free, the pictures of what their grandparents had told them were in their minds despite the news that everything was destroyed
One or two, elderly now, remembered what had been there before when they had walked more freely and had run through the streets. They looked eagerly to see the city of their stories and hopes, shining on the hills , the temple massive and solid, God's own city, God's own place. The God who is the same forever.
But it was worse that they had ever imagined. The fields of their homeland had been ravaged by continuous war, the olive trees cut down for firewood, the soil tramped over. The economy was shattered.
Nothing had been planted, the old vines were unpruned or destroyed by the animals wandering through them.
0Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.
And their beautiful city was ruined. No walls to protect it, no night watchman to warn its residents of the enemy outside.
And the temple itself
11Our holy and beautiful house, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned by fire, and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
IT was in ruins.
The joy of returning turned sour. Tears welled up and the lamenting began. The anger .
Where are you God? why don't you use your power?
Why don’t you tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
Why don't you fix it. its in your power to do so ?
When we are in crisis that is what we want? Superman God to reach out and put it right.
Its happened over and over in history. The eager returning and fining nothing, or that everyone else has moved on. There were vivid pictures on TV when the Croations and the Serbians returned to their homes after their wars to find others living there or destruction of all that was the village or the great house., We see villagers and farmers in Zimbabwe return to their homes and find nothing is left, fire and plundering armies leave nothing.
Even when we return to our old neighbourhoods and find nothing is the same - the people there are different, the old ties have broken. The relationships that we thought were once strong , we find were only part of being in the same place and no longer have any relevance. And we lose part of who we thought we are, part of our identity is now to be questioned. Where are our roots? Who are we when there is no memory of our having been there?
Or if a crisis has hit our lives, death or disability, we keep on hoping to return to what was before, what was familiar, and find we can't and we are like a dinghy cut adrift with no anchor to hold us until we realize that we are made to float and to journey on..
For those ancient Israelite returning they were no welcome. Others lived there now. Those who were in the land looked resentfully at these people who were returning, .
Their identity is challenged. Who are they, where is God
They confidently expected God to be waiting for them in the way they had imagined. But that God whose power was theirs to manipulate had never existed .
They are about to learn who their God is?
They are no longer the confident God's own people, taking for granted their inheritance, their power to use God's influence.. Where are you God? . . Now they grope for God, they call out for God, to fix it to make everything better and preferably the same as it was before.
Isn't that what we do? When a loved one dies?, when we are faced with terrible disaster when we look at the world around us.
Their lament starts to get real, they name the unthinkable. They face their own powerlessness.
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Then, instead of focusing on themselves, because there is nothing left which they can claim. They remember who they are.
8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
They claim their identity in that absent God,
God replies, I've been here all along but you have not wanted to find me.
I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. 2I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;
God was not there in power to tear the heaven apart but was waiting, inviting them to stop and listen. . Waiting for them to face their fears and find the one who renews us. Waiting for them to discover that find that their new life did not depend on the old because this is the God who creates a new thing.. Waiting to heal and lead us into new pastures.
God's coming is not dependant on the temple, the city being there, the neighbourhood staying the same.
God is like the potter who shapes the pots and forms us to be part of his purposes, in the place we are called to.
Who comes to us in our humanity, in a relationship of love and shows us God's own self in a vulnerable baby.
What is God calling you and me to be and do?
Wait and prepare, watch and listen.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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