Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Heilsgeschichte’

Our Future Hope

February 17th, 2011 No comments

“Our Future Hope” (Readers’ Theater)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
December 19, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Worship: An Odd Thing

It’s an odd thing we do here every week, gathering together for worship. Instead of cleaning the house, or getting caught up on all the paperwork stacked up on the desk, or getting the last of the Christmas shopping done, or even just sleeping in to get caught up on some much needed rest, we assemble week after week, sing a few songs together, listen to some stories from an old book, and, let’s be honest, try and stay awake through a 15-20 minute speech about something we’ve already heard all there is to hear about after 2000 years.

But even more peculiar is the content of our worship. We say strange things to each other, like “love your enemies” (Mt. 5:44) or “sell all of your possessions and give it to the poor” (Luke 18:22) or “in order to gain your life, you must lose it” (cf. Mark 8:35).

Or think about the words of Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me” (Mt. 28:18). To any armchair Messiah, it would sure seem as though if he were really in charge, he could be doing a better job handling terrorism and food crises and environmental degradation and myopic market systems! Such odd things to say!

Or think about how every Advent in our worship, we oddly enough ignore all the pain and suffering of the world and look to the skies, hoping and waiting and preparing for the herald’s proclamation above the din of chaos, violence, and pain, at last: “A Savior is born to you” (Luke 2:11). Year after year, worshipers look heavenward with the thousands of God’s people across the millennia of the world’s darkness who have taken hold of God’s covenant promise and, improbably as it may be, boldly hope for and wait for salvation.

Perhaps that is the oddest thing about our worship. It is indeed an odd enterprise to encounter the pain and ambiguity of being human, to experience the pain that death brings, to come face to face with the horrors of evil, to live in an age of frantic schedules and terrorism and massive out-of-control economic systems and the grind of global poverty, where every Messiah seems to end up before one Pontius Pilate or another, and yet to hope and trust and await and prepare for God’s ultimate intervention and deliverance, to believe in the power of resurrection, to trust in God’s final restoration of all things, when God will wipe away every tear, when even death will be no more, when mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

An odd thing, our worship is, wherein we gather week after week in this daring hope for the future, over against the darkness of this present age.

Human Progress?

Now I suppose, that if we wanted, we could tame down our future hope a bit. Make it a little more realistic and say our future hope for a time when even death will be no more is a sort of metaphor for human progress, a dramatic sort of way of talking about the relentless progression of human development to culminate one day in some expression of utopia or another. We are, after all, a reasonable lot, are we not? We each have a mind capable of making good choices for ourselves.

In fact, we have made some progress over the years, you might say: how about the improvements of democracy, or the spread of human rights? Surely one day, we will create our own just and peaceful future, and perhaps we’ll even speed it along by following Jesus when possible.

No doubt, there has been progress, and yet, as we look back over the past hundred years or so of human history, we find not the triumph of reason, not the full flourish of the human individual, nor indeed our brightest hour; rather, the past hundred years have been the bloodiest in human history, a sobering reminder that when all things are considered, it looks like “human progress” as we may call it is not just a “tamed down” hope, but a false hope, leading us not for deliverance, but for destruction.

The Eternal Now?

Now, of course, we could alternately say that this is already just as good as it’s going to get. So like to say emperors and kings and princes and presidents in their static triumphalism. Indeed, ever since the church first tasted secular political authority in the 4th century, it has proclaimed the eternal now. The future has arrived.

After all, Jesus himself said that those who believe in him have already passed from death to life, and have eternal life starting now (John 5:24), in the present. Paul would later say that Jesus is already the cosmic king, having all things placed under his feet (Eph. 1:20-22).

Perhaps we have arrived. After all, we are living well. We have warm homes, a beautiful building in which to worship. Our healers are constantly getting better at their trade, so that pain and suffering, even if they aren’t totally gone, sure aren’t anything like they used to be. Jesus Christ has already come into the world to save us from our sins.

As we shed our mortal tent, we may already be clothed with the heavenly (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-5). What more do we need? Perhaps God’s future has already begun. Perhaps evil is still running rampant in the world simply because we have not yet taken it upon ourselves to quash it by force and grind it out of existence.

Yet surely an honest assessment of the world will again lead us to acknowledge that we have not yet arrived, or if we have arrived, it’s been to a world spiraling into exponential population growth, climate change, and fear of terrorism, war, or genocide. Not quite that odd and bold vision of hope we dare to talk about as we gather for worship.

Calendarizing?

Shall we then abandon the present age to oblivion and claim our hope as an opiate against this present darkness? Is there indeed nothing to be done until the slate is wiped clean and things start completely afresh? Is there no trajectory to this story God’s saving purposes throughout history that we have been telling for the past four months? No long preparation at last complete? Does it all finally get scrapped to start afresh?

Perhaps all that we can do in this dark, dark world is to cling to the promise of our hope and wait it all out, or just grit our teeth and do what we’ve gotta do to get through it until we arrive at the other side. Perhaps then rather than working for God’s justice, healing, hope, and peace in the present, we should work at cobbling together various bits of biblical prophecy to discover its hidden, secret message, so that we will know precisely when the world will end, and then prepare for it.

Christians have set to work calendarizing the end times since the second century. The past 150 years or so have seen a great explosion and resurgence in apocalyptic expectation and calendarizing. The Watchtower Society has variously predicted 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, and 1994. The expectation of the Branch Davidians of Waco ended tragically. Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth, predicted the rapture for 1988, and of course, there was much ado about the year 2000.

It seems that in every age, we simply re-adjust the map of biblical prophecy to extend it out a little further. Five hundred years ago, the antichrist was the pope (and recurring since then). A generation ago, it was Richard Nixon, or Yassir Arafat. Today, it’s variously Osama bin Laden, or Sarah Palin, or Barack Obama, or your pick of Wall Street executives.

We live in an apocalyptic world

To be sure, such “creative” biblical interpretation has led to a good deal of discomfort for many Christians when it comes to our future hope of resurrection and restoration. And yet, perhaps our preoccupation in every age with the coming of Christ reveals something to us. Indeed, perhaps all of our misdirected wanderings grasped something of the truth, though only in part.

In our age of globalization, massive military-industrial complex, seductive secularizing spirits, nuclear power, AIDS crises, and an enormous economic machine, can we say that we live in an apocalyptic age any less now than when John of Patmos penned the Revelation? Do we not live in a world of powers at play beyond our control? Do beasts not continue to rise from the sea and demand of us our total allegiance (Rev. 13)? Is not the whole creation still groaning (Rom. 8:22)?

Perhaps this odd hope we celebrate in worship is more important than we think. Precisely for all of these reasons does our future hope of resurrection and restoration grace our present reality, infusing our lives today already with new meaning and significance, as we cling to the vision of all peoples streaming to the mountain of the Lord (Isa. 2:2). The Bible is never much interested in fortune telling or divination (e.g. Deut. 18:10); any claims it makes about the future are claims on our present living.

For we do not live as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Rather, we may without fear, in all places and in all seasons, risk all to live for Christ (e.g. 2 Cor 6:4-10). And in that sense, perhaps there is some hope for what we sometimes call “progress,” though it might better be labeled “grace” or “shalom.”

Future Hope for Present Living

The New Testament understands the church as those upon whom the ends of the ages have come (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:11). We are to be a foretaste, a sign that points towards God’s glorious future and God’s Reign, a people in which, in a certain sense, eternity has begun now.1 Indeed, “Our task in evangelism is to both live by ways of the coming kingdom now and invite others to know Jesus and become a part of God’s future.”2

Because of our future hope, the effectiveness of our life and mission can never be measured by temporal worldly standards, but will rather be redeemed and enhanced in God’s glorious future in resurrection power.

J. Nelson Kraybill puts it succinctly:

The New Jerusalem is the faith community to which all who know and follow Jesus belong. Wherever people believe in Jesus and begin to live in ways of the kingdom, something of the New Jerusalem comes to earth. The new Jerusalem in Revelation is another image for what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”3

Whenever someone believes in Christ, there the new creation has already begun, Paul wrote (2 Cor. 5:17). John Howard Yoder, the famous Mennonite theologian of the 20th century, once argued that the church’s purpose for being is to begin living now the way the world is called to live ultimately, and to embody the promise of a new reality in God’s future.4 And what does that future look like? If the book of Revelation is to be any guide, it is, oddly enough, a future of ceaseless praise, worship and allegiance toward God.5

Worship

Perhaps our worship is the most important expression of our future hope; perhaps our gathering together is the most important witness to what is to come; perhaps our weekly declaration of allegiance to God and God alone is the most important thing we can do in this world of principalities and powers vying for our loyalty.6

Perhaps it is this odd thing we do every week, assembling to worship the God of our salvation, to tell the story of God’s saving purposes, and to celebrate our future hope of eternity in God’s presence as those who have been joined to Christ, and the final restoration of all things – perhaps it in this odd thing where we boldly confess our hope and declare our allegiance to God that we become most fully joined to Jesus Christ, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, the keystone and the key, the final Lord of history, and to his Body.

N.T. Wright puts it beautifully:

The New Testament image of the future hope of the whole cosmos, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus, gives as coherent a picture as we need or could have of the future that is promised to the whole world, a future in which, under the sovereign and wise rule of the creator God, decay and death will be done away with and a new creation born, to which the present one will stand as mother to child.7

For one day, we do believe, God will wipe away every tear; death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, evil will finally be judged and done away with, and at long last, this story of God’s saving purposes throughout history will find its completion at the coming of our God and of his Christ.

Today as we conclude this story, may this story of salvation that we have been telling become our very own story; may we become the characters of its timeless drama as we follow after the Lamb who was slain and yet lives again. I think the famous German theologian Karl Barth summed up the whole story perfectly in his conclusion to his multivolume systematic theology: “Jesus loves me; this I know.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Notes:
1 See, e.g., Matthew 5:14; Luke 10:17-20; John 3:36; 5:21, 24-26; 14:12; 17:21; Acts 2:43; 4:16; Rom. 6:13; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Cor. 5:5, 15-21 (esp. v. 17); 2 Thess. 2:13; Eph. 1:8b-10, 13-14; 2:1-6; 4:30; James 1:18; 1 Peter 2:9-10; 1 John 3:14; Rev. 14:4. Cf. also Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom and his “signs” of that Kingdom, a witness that continues in his Body; and Jesus’ teaching about preparing for the kingdom (Mt. 7:21-27; 22:4-14; 24:36-25:23 and parallels). See also Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Articles 9 (“The Church of Jesus Christ”) and 24 (“The Reign of God”).
2 Kraybill, Jesus Matters, 239.
3 Kraybill, Jesus Matters, 238.
4 John Howard Yoder, “The Kingdom as Social Ethic,” in The Priestly Kingdom, 92.
5 E.g. Rev. 4:8-11; 5:11-14; 7:15; 11:16; 15:4-8; 19:4; 22:3
6 See, in Revelation, the contrast between worship of the Beast (and cronies) and worship of God. Worship is the language of allegiance.
7 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, 107.

The Continuing Story

February 16th, 2011 No comments

“The Continuing Story” (Hebrews 11-12 & Readers’ Theater)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
December 12, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

In the beginning of God’s creating, God created the heavens and the earth, and God’s presence hovered over creation. But God’s presence and creativity in the world did not end there. God created humankind in the divine image, and entered into creation, and called us to be in relationship with each other and with God’s own self. But humankind instead took ourselves to be God, and we forgot the presence of the One who created us, and we disregarded the calling to be in relationship the One who made us, and we rejected and persecuted the divine image in others.

And at the sight of the terrible rebellion of humankind once created good, the Creator was heartbroken, so much so, that in God’s deep pain, a decision was made to wipe out all life on the earth through the flood waters. But God was disgusted upon seeing this destruction, and even though the Creator knew that this would not change humankind and that we would continue to rebel, God promised to never again give up on creation, created good. So God decided to try a new thing, by entering into our brokenness and calling and creating a covenant people [to embody the ways of our Great Creator] beginning with Father Abraham and Mother Sarah.

And their descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky and grains of sand on the shore, found themselves slaves in Egypt. So God entered into the brokenness around them and saved them by leading them out of their oppression and slavery, by leading them through waters that once had brought destruction, but which now brought new life to God’s people.

And God gave to them the life-giving Law, as a reminder of God’s presence and calling to love God and neighbor. And they repeated this life-giving Law before they entered the Land of Promise, to remind them who it was who had provided them with this land, who it was who had given them a homeland, a place of identity, hope, and promises of God’s presence. They repeated this life-giving Law to remind themselves of how it was that they were to respond to God’s providing, how it was that they were called to live in this land that God had given to them, by responding in love to God and neighbor.

But despite all that God had already done for the people, they desired instead to live in the ways of the world, and they demanded a king like the other nations, even though God alone is sovereign. So God once again entered their brokenness and gave them a king. But the people still forgot God’s goodness, and they continued to live in the violent and self-gratifying ways of the world. So God once again entered their brokenness and sent the prophets to call the people back to a faithful response to God’s presence and provision. But the people still would not listen; and they were sent into Exile, away from the land of identity, hope, and promise of God’s presence. And they would not be comforted. But God once again entered their brokenness and spoke words of comfort, and led them back home.

But humankind still didn’t get it, and so Jesus entered into our brokenness to show us the life-giving way of God’s Kingdom. But the world still did not understand the life-giving way of how to respond to God’s presence in the world, and so they crucified him. But God said “yes” to the world’s “no” and raised Jesus from the dead, proclaiming that Jesus’ way is indeed the way that God has always intended for humanity to live since the beginning, proclaiming that God is still sovereign and active within the world.

But Jesus knew that we would always need reminding of God’s original purpose and plan for creation, and so once again, God entered our brokenness by sending the Spirit to remind us of all that Jesus taught and commanded. God sent the Spirit to empower us to become more than those who simply misunderstand or forget the promises of God’s presence, but to become bold witnesses to God’s Kingdom, God’s movement in the world, and the New Covenant through Jesus Christ.

This is the story of God’s salvation that we have been proclaiming throughout this past worship series, the telling of our salvation history. This is the age-old story of our rebellion and the ever present God entering our brokenness despite our rebelling and continually calling us and empowering us through the presence of the Spirit to live in a new way, the way that God has intended for creation from the beginning.

This is a familiar story, a story that perhaps we have been told since we were very young; or, perhaps a story that we first heard when we were adults. This is a story that we do not only hear or tell once, but one that we continue to hear and to tell our children so that the Story in turn becomes our own. To tell it is a way of keeping the story alive. To tell the story is a way to let it become a part of who we are. We are shaped by the story, and the more we tell it, the more we are transformed by it. And the more we tell this story, the more we are able to enter in to it, and allow it to become our own story.

We can relate to these people in this Story because, in many ways, their own story is the story of every person. We, like Adam and Eve, have knowingly disobeyed our Creator. We, like Abraham have wondered whether God’s promise was simply too good to be true, too impossible to be possible. We, like Moses, have questioned whether we are worthy enough for God to have called us. We, like Mary the Magdalene, have been in times of such deep despair that we have not been able to see God present with us, even though God was there all along. And I hope that we, like Peter, have felt times of empowerment and encouragement, despite our flaws and misunderstanding, knowing that God can use even us for the sake of the Kingdom.

But there is one point in the telling of this story that I have always wondered how accurate it is to my own experience of God in my life: I have always been struck by how present God has been in the lives of our ancestors in faith! We hear these familiar stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, Joshua, the Prophets, the disciples, Mary, Paul, and in their stories one hears of a very tangible, a very present, a very real encounter with God. Whereas I myself have never carried on a conversation with God in the way that Abraham has, and it strikes me how they were so aware of God’s presence with them, the way God so tangibly walked and spoke with our ancestors in faith. Why not us when we too long for this type of close encounter with the living God.

We long for the dramatic sign of the power of the resurrected Christ that Paul received as he walked along the Damascus Road. We long for that type of tangible “call” experience, where we know there is no possible way to misinterpret what God is calling us to do in our lives. And I know there are some people who are blessed with such an encounter of the living God, even today.

But chances are that most of us experience God in the way that the disciples on the Emmaus Road encountered God. God has been present with us, every step of the journey, but we were not able to identify God’s presence until later. We are only able to see God in hindsight. We don’t encounter God in the dramatic, but in the every-day events of every day life, such as eating together, and even then we aren’t always sure.

Throughout the Bible, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, we hear how God entered into our own situation, entered into the ordinary, every-day events of God’s people. If this is true, then surely today God still continues to enter into the ordinary, day to day situations of our lives. I may not have heard God’s voice calling dramatically from the clouds, but I have felt God’s nudging in the conversations and encouragements of others. I may not have ever seen the glory of God’s face, but I have seen the beauty of the moon reflecting off the freshly fallen snow and I have seen the divine image in the people around me, both in familiar faces, and in those I pass in the Etc. Shop. I may not have ever physically felt God’s arms around me [or God wiping my tears away] at times of deep despair, but I have experienced God’s deep love and comfort in the presence of a dear friend. I may not have ever heard God’s voice either in the thunder or in the audible still small voice, but I have heard the laughter of children and the wisdom of those who have lived for many years.

We encounter God in the people around us, and in so many other ways as well. The stories that members of our own congregation have proclaimed during this past Easter season testify to the many ways that they have experienced the power of God in their own lives. And so, we know that God is still active and moving within the world.

During Advent, even as we wait for God’s future hope, may we remember that God is already entering our brokenness, that God is already breaking into creation. During this season, I encourage each of us to be “Detectives of Divinity” and to look for places in our lives where we see the story of God’s providence and calling continuing. To look for the places where we see God entering our brokenness. To look for the places where we see images of the divine in the people and relationships around us. To look for the places where we see the Creator in creation.

For even though we have almost completed telling the salvation story from the Bible, we know that the story is by no means complete! The Story of God’s salvation for all of God’s people is still unfolding and will continue to unfold long after today. God is continuing to move within history, continuing to enter into our every day situations, continuing to come to God’s own to work in us and through us. May we be Detectives of Divinity to watch for the places where we see God’s presence our lives and in the world around us. May we continue to proclaim God’s Story even as we watch for the ways that the Story is continuing. For we know that Jesus’ promises for his disciples continues for us today: that God is with us always, even to the very end of the age.

New Breath

February 16th, 2011 No comments

“New Breath” (John 20:19-23 & Acts 2:1-21)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
December 5, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Sealed In

It’s Easter Sunday, and that evening finds the disciples huddled behind locked doors, fearing for their lives. The tomb has been unsealed and emptied of its dead, Jesus has broken the chains of death itself for the redemption of the world. A whole new creation has begun! The beloved disciple and Peter have seen the empty tomb, and at least one of them has believed, but even then, they’re still stuck, trapped in the old order. Mary Magdalene, you’ll recall, has been sent with the good news of the resurrection, but perhaps they just thought that those demons of Mary had returned to give her visions of the dead.

At any rate, on the day when the tomb has been unsealed, we find the disciples sealed into their own tomb of fear, confusion, and disbelief. Their Lord has just been crucified, and whatever else they might have happened that day, people had begun to talk that they were his followers. Indeed, many of them would endure a similar suffering death as their Lord.

Clueless Disciples Then and Now

Nevertheless, if there were ever any time to remark on the ineptitude of the disciples, on their inability to get it, it would have to be here. Jesus had talked about his death and resurrection in three days. Two of the disciples have seen the empty tomb. They have even heard an eyewitness account that Jesus has conquered death itself, and yet they still remain bound by their own fear and unbelief.

Now the story of the disciples’ inability to understand Jesus is a well-rehearsed story in the gospels indeed – perhaps even to the point of becoming cliché. Often we’re left to marvel and scratch our heads at their severe cluelessness, of how they could travel around with Jesus all these many months, see all of his miraculous signs, hear his preaching and teaching, and still not get it – and still lock themselves in.

It has also been sufficiently well-rehearsed in the history of the preaching of the church to say, “We’re not so different from them, are we?” To see ourselves trapped with the disciples behind those closed doors, bound by fear, still living in the certainty of Friday’s darkness instead of risking Sunday’s dazzling light, even though we know better. I know I have taken great comfort in the inability of my own namesake, Peter, to get it, and his proclivity to get it horribly wrong. This is the image of the disciples with which we are comfortable, is it not? Their behavior puzzles us, but then again, we can relate to locked doors binding us to fear.

Bold Apostles

But if you read the book of Acts, the apostles aren’t bound by fear, but preaching with boldness. They’re no longer jostling for authority, but serving one another. They cast out demons! They heal the sick! We find in them no hardened, unbelieving hearts, but they go even unto death boldly proclaiming the Son of Man and generously offering forgiveness! Not even prison chains can hold them, much less locked doors and fearful hearts! Jesus’ promise that the apostles would do even greater works than he himself (John 14:12), had most certainly been fulfilled!

These mighty apostles are completely unrecognizable as the same bumbling, incompetent disciples we have learned to know and love so well from the gospels.

Indeed, they are not the same, which draws us to the part of God’s saving purposes, to the chapter of the story of God’s salvation, that we tell all too little: Jesus came and stood among them, among this very band of frightened, clueless, bumbling disciples; he breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

In the same way that God breathed into the dust of the earth to give life to the very first human being, so now Jesus again breathes on his disciples, giving them a new breath, a new hope, a new life, a new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit.

New Life by the Power of the Spirit

We often tell of the wonderful grace of how Jesus came and lived among us, healing, preaching, and teaching us how to live. With gratitude, we tell of the wonderful grace of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, and we proclaim the unfathomable hope of the resurrection of Jesus. Wonderful grace!

And the wonderful grace of Jesus does still more. It is no accident that the giving of the Holy Spirit comes immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit actually changes people from delinquent disciples to bold apostles. It actually actually gives us a new breath for God’s glorious new creation.

Part of the wonderful grace of Jesus is that through the giving of the Holy Spirit, he actually enables us to live a new life for him, as Paul put it, to walk in newness of life if we will choose to yield to the transformative, regenerating work of the Spirit within us!

If we identify with bumbling disciples, so too are we called to identify with the regenerated life of the bold apostles, that it may be no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

Listening for the Holy Spirit

In Acts, and in Paul’s writing, the Holy Spirit is to be found at every turn. It is because of the Holy Spirit that the church exploded onto the scene of the first century. Clearly the disciples couldn’t do it on their own. No amount of planning or programs or fancy facilities or polished worship made it happen. It was the work of the Holy Spirit, and their willingness to yield to it.

Churches love to do planning and facilitating, which is good so long as we yield to the Spirit. On church councils, we like to divide up the rolls – one person is usually the chair, another the secretary, perhaps another is a treasurer, or the person in charge of finding scripture readers, or visiting the sick, or managing the care fund, and so forth.

I was once on a council where one person’s elected position was to call attention to the Holy Spirit. She would begin the meeting by lighting a candle and calling attention to God’s presence. And according to the council guidelines, she had the authority to interrupt the meeting at any time to call attention to the Spirit’s presence.

If there was a difficult decision to make, she could remind the council that God was present in the difficulty, and to call the council into a time of silently listening for the Spirit. If there was heated discussion, she could refocus the council on God’s presence symbolized by the candle. If there was a great joy, she could remind the council that the Spirit was there celebrating too.

Three times recently here at Grace Hill, I’ve been in a meeting where the committee or an individual was working through something and there just wasn’t a lot of clarity, or there was anxiety, and someone simply said, “Can we pray about this?”

How easy is it to start brainstorming and testing solutions and trying to fix that we forget to listen to the Spirit. But rather, just to say, “Can we pray about this? Can we lift this up to God? Can we pause to listen to God’s will for this? Can we confess that we can’t do it on our own, but that with God, all things are possible? Can we pause to yield our will to God’s will”

Sometimes it’s even easy to make petition after petition to God, but even then forget to pause to listen for the breath, to what the Spirit has to say. Maybe we talk too much. Maybe we need to start by listening – after all, God already knows the concerns of our hearts, but we do not yet know God’s purpose, or if we do, we see through a glass only dimly.

Maybe before we even open our mouths, we need to open our Bibles to listen for God, or maybe we need to sing a song to listen for God, or kneel in submission to listen to God, or hear the voice of a sister or brother in the Lord, or simply sit in silence and listen for the still, small voice, for the gentle breeze blowing into our hearts.

Have you ever noticed that our worship begins with a call to worship that’s based on Scripture? We don’t begin with our words; we begin by hearing God’s Word. We don’t gather together on Sunday mornings because we all think it’s a really great idea. We gather because of God’s Word – because God has called us from darkness to light together and to gather, because as the Spirit has been working in each one of us, calling us, leading us, transforming us, so it has joined us by baptism to Christ our Lord and Head, and to his physical Body on earth, the Church.

We gather because God’s Word has has called us together out of nothingness; we gather because Christ has redeemed us; we gather by the power and grace of the Spirit, for apart from our gathering, there is no Body. And so, as we gather, we begin not by planning or petitioning, but by listening.

Gelassenheit

Mennonites have for centuries talked about yieldedness (Gelassenheit) as the centerpiece of our spirituality. We are to yield to the Body of Christ in giving and receiving counsel and practicing mutual accountability. We yield our will to God’s will. We yield inwardly to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, which is enabling us to live a new life for Christ. We yield to God’s greater purposes in accepting suffering with Christ and even the martyr’s death.

We cannot be people of the Spirit unless we let go of our fine-grained control of everything and yield to the Holy Spirit. Unless we let go and yield, we will never be able to accept the unpredictable grace of the Holy Spirit. In the biblical languages, the same word is used for Spirit and wind and breath – all three are caught up in the very same word, and like the wind, the Spirit blows where it chooses.

The Spirit unpredictably blew upon Mary, and she yielded and gave birth to Jesus, the Christ child. At his baptism, the Spirit descended upon Jesus, then blew him straight into temptation in the wilderness of all places and led him out again. It anointed him to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Breathe on us anew, Breath of God

Sometimes the Spirit blows, and we have some explaining to do. It blew upon the apostles, and they began to speak in many languages so that all could understand. But some in fact badly misunderstood what was happening, you might recall, and so begins the first sermon of the early church with such noble and rhetorical flourish: “These are not drunk!”

This Advent, be alert, be waiting, be watching to see where the Spirit will blow us. What surprising new life does it seek to bring to miraculous birth among us? What locked doors will it pass through to give us new breath, new creation? Maybe the peculiarity of the Spirit is for us, as it was for the apostles, an opportunity to witness, to tell this marvelous story of our salvation.

When the Holy Spirit comes to us at the end of the day, one thing is for certain: The Holy Spirit does not leave you, does not leave all of us together, the same. Because of the Spirit’s power, we cannot remain bumbling disciples forever, for it comes upon us in our locked rooms, transforms our fear into words of peace and hope, and sends us into the world to continue Jesus’ forgiving, healing mission to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God, to embody the Light of the World, to emerge from tombs thought sealed, and to open the locked doors that bind people’s hearts in fear.

The Holy Spirit will be given to whoever asks, Jesus said. May we yield to its awesome power, that we might be created anew, and that the breath of Jesus might become our very own. Amen.

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

First Light (Resurrection)

February 16th, 2011 No comments

“First Light (Resurrection)” (John 20:1-18)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
November 28, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

“It was still dark”

It was still dark that morning when Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, John says. A real, deep, persistent darkness surrounded her. If there was one word you could use to describe those three days, it would have to be “dark.”

Mary Magdalene had been there, of course, on Golgotha, standing near the cross, when the sun was darkened, and darkness had covered the whole earth, as though every promise ever made had failed, as though hope was lost to the oblivion of sin and rebellion, as though everything that was had ceased to exist, as though everything that was made had been unmade, as though the world were completely formless and void and purposeless, as though the powers of darkness that so easily ensnare us had finally managed to undo everything that ever had been, finally canceling out the very last remnant of the promise in those very first words, “Let there be light,” as the Light of the World was finally snuffed out by the sins of the world. Darkness.

Yes, it was still a dark world indeed that early morning, that Sunday, that first day of the week, a world even as as dark and chaotic and empty and void as it was on that first first day, before the voice of the Almighty began in all, with the words, “Let there be light.” The seven demons who had made Mary the Magdalene a prisoner in her own body (cf. Luke 8:2) were no doubt still delighting in their victory over the great Healer, the Light of the World.

That morning, that dark morning, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb, and saw in the darkness with unseeing eyes that the stone had been removed.

Waking up to darkness

That’s the story we woke up to this morning, is it not? We stepped out into the world this morning, knowing the darkness that is still within us, our rebellion, our submission to sin, our suffering, our conceit and our fear. We got up this morning, and it was still a dark world.

When the alarm went off, we all woke up to a world where prisons are getting bigger and churches are getting smaller; where deceit is still more profitable than honesty; where retaliation is more politically persuasive than grace and forgiveness; where children still cry over the wounds inflicted on them by adults; where children are still malnourished and billionaires are still getting richer; where people still look to one another with murderous, vindictive hearts.

We all woke up this morning, reminded by the idealism of the Holiday season, of the darkness in our own homes and family systems; of decades-old arguments buried but never settled; of unjust expectations and disappointments; of resentment over things small and large; of cutoff and estrangement.

This morning, we got up to all this darkness, sealed into our tombs of despair. We came to church this very same morning, and we are supposed to join Mary Magdalene in believing our eyes when they tell us that the stone has actually been removed from the tomb.

Now I don’t think it’s out of negativity or ill will that even after seeing the empty tomb, we also turn away and follow Mary’s pathway of despair to Peter and to the other disciple, ironically worried about misplaced corpses.

It’s just so easy to get disoriented in all the darkness; it’s so easy to get preoccupied with chasing around dead bodies and broken relationships and declining numbers and frenzied lives and old wineskins that we forget to open our minds to the new possibilities and new ideas and ways of thinking; indeed, to new life.

We forget to open our minds to the possibility and promise of the open tomb and to look for the risen Lord, but instead, we run off with despair into this dark, dark world, in search of a corpse. Because when it comes right down to it, open tombs just don’t belong in the dark and jaded world we woke up to.

From one grave to the next

And isn’t that the problem with this story of salvation throughout the Bible that we’ve been telling? Remember how the story goes? God acts to save Noah from the flood, but Noah wakes up to a world that’s still dark the next morning, cast down in his own drunkenness and nakedness. God calls Abraham and Sarah out of a bleak future, but Abraham still wakes up to a dark world as he passes his wife off as his sister. God leads the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, but the next day is darkened by idolatrous scheming.

That dark, early morning, Mary Magdalene finds herself in the most recent chapter of that story: God acts to save, but the next day people find themselves once again lost and wandering in the dark night. Light and hope may come into the world for a time, but it all just ends up in one grave or another eventually. Is the tomb ever really unsealed, or is it just an optical illusion, a temporary opiate that soon gives way to the way things really are?

Mary Magdalene, in her grief, she knew the story too well to be fooled this time; she knew that it was just a case of the corpse moving from one grave to the next. Not even worth bothering to look in the tomb. Each time you come to the open tomb, it just means someone has laid the corpse elsewhere. Any time there’s a ray of hope, we know that we have only but to wait for the other shoe to drop.

After all, in a world utterly devoid of light, in a world where empty tombs are just one false hope after another, believing is merely an exercise in vanity, a numb re-enactment of futile posturing. To paraphrase Paul, in a world where empty tombs are just road signs to find the dead elsewhere, our faith is in vain, and we are still in our sins, and we who believe are of all people most to be pitied for our naivete, our wasted Sunday mornings, our meaningless labor and empty sacrifice in a dark world that’s only getting darker.

First Light

And so Mary Magdalene, grieved and distraught and confused, did the only thing she could do: she dashed off into the night, hoping to find help. A footrace later finds Peter and the Beloved Disciple back at the tomb, peering into the tomb, and finally entering it.

Now if you’d have taken a break from all the commotion and chaos and urgent footraces that morning, if you’d have paused just to watch, you’d have noticed something else happen. Sometime that morning, twilight began to emerge, and then the first light of dawn scattered the chaotic darkness of the night sky. Sometime that morning, against every notion of plausibility; sometime that morning, contrary to the very last drop of the totality of the world’s wisdom; sometime that morning, the ancient words, “Let there be light,” once again graced the universe, and won a new day.

In the light of the new day of the new first week, to their surprise, Peter and the other disciple saw the burial cloths rolled up. “They saw nothing but a vacant tomb with two piles of clothes in it. They saw nothing but emptiness and absence, in other words, and on that basis, at least one of them believed, although neither of them understood.”1 However feeble, light had broken the darkness.

Found in the dark

As the two leave, we once again join Mary standing, weeping, still outside the tomb. Yet this time as she stooped to peer into the tomb, she was not greeted again by despair and cold darkness, but two angels in white.

The question that comes from the angels is, strangely, not the expected triumphal proclamation of Easter morning skits, “He is not here, but has arisen!” It is, rather, the simple question, the same question with which Jesus himself greets her, “Why do you weep?”

I’ve heard it said that the best preaching and teaching is that which helps listeners discover what the Spirit has been saying to them all along. The question leads Mary Magdalene straight into the heart of her darkness: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

I do not know.” At that confession, she turned backward and saw Jesus standing there. There at the tomb, there in the heart of all the darkness, there at the depth of her own grief and darkness, that was where she turned backward to see Jesus.

The one who endured the full brunt of the darkness of the world is the one who is able to find us in the darkness as well, is the one who is able to say, “Mary,” to call us also by name, to turn us around,2 to enable us to see the world as it really is – not an endless string of false hopes, crucifixions, and graves, but as God’s beloved creation even now becoming new in resurrection power.

New Creation: Meeting the Master Gardener

You see, maybe Mary Magdalene’s perception wasn’t actually so far off when she mistook Jesus for the gardener. For there, that morning, on that first day, as the Light of the world who was in the beginning, in the Garden with God once again scattered the darkness and chaos, there, in that timeless garden, she was no longer east of Eden, for she was face-to-face with the Master Gardener.

The one through whom all things came into being in the very beginning, has now met us in our greatest darkness, has forgiven us and healed us, and is now creating again, making all things new. Paul once jubilantly proclaimed, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Mary, in that garden, was entering that new world, a world where the powers of sin and death have been vanquished, where all things are under Christ’s feet, where there is healing and hope and joy, where the long, dark night is finally broken by the dawn from on high.

Mary Magdalene was standing in the dominion of the long-expected Messiah, the hopes and dreams of the prophets, the realization of God’s promises of old. On this, the first day of the new week of the new world, Mary Magdalene had finally entered “the moment of sunrise after the long night. . . It was the beginning of the new creation.”3

In this season of awaiting and celebrating the birth of the Christ-child, we also celebrate the birth of God’s new world, which burst upon the old order as Jesus emerged triumphant from the grave. In the old wordplay (and fitting for this season), the tomb became a womb, giving birth to God’s glorious new creation of justice, forgiveness, relationship, hope, and peace. Even as we await the birth of the Christ-child, so also do we await the full realization of God’s new creation, which has already burst upon the world.

Hang onto Friday or choose Sunday?

But what of the darkness? Will we not, with Mary Magdalene, wake to it tomorrow. Will the promise of the garden not be erased by the darkness of tomorrow’s grave? Well, as you remember, when Mary heard her name, she turned and said to Jesus, “Teacher!”

Here Mary has finally discovered the truth of Jesus, here she finally really does see, here she finds her friend from Friday, here she finally recognizes the old Jesus she had known. Yet as she moves to embrace him, Jesus brushes her aside. “Do not hold on to me,” he says, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”

“Teacher,” you see, was Jesus’ Friday name, but now it is Sunday; now the old has passed away; now a new age has begun; now creation is being renewed. Yet Mary Magdalene was still holding on to what had been.

How much do we hold on to the familiar, how much do we hold on to the darkness of Friday instead of risking the uncertainty of Sunday’s dazzling light? How often do we choose to hold on to the old, the dark, the grave, instead of embracing the new thing that God is doing? How often do we choose to keep digging more graves?

Friday is just so much easier to choose – so much easier to continue choosing resentment over reconciliation, so much easier to to choose the tools of violence over the the peace of the cross, so much easier to choose to submit to sin instead of new life. But however much easier it is to choose, Friday nevertheless always ends the same way.

Maybe Jesus wasn’t being harsh and rude. Maybe he wasn’t ignoring Mary Magdalene’s grief. Maybe Jesus was breaking the old cycles, where each empty tomb just leads to another grave; maybe he was breaking that old cycle by not enabling this new creation to become tomorrow’s grave. Maybe the darkness was finally unable to overcome the light.

Called into the marvelous light

Were the story to end here, it would be enough. God has finally won the victory over sin, death, and the power of evil at work in the world. Jesus has been raised from the dead, that our sins may be forgiven, and we may be justified. God’s new order has been birthed into this world, a down-payment, stamp, seal, and guarantee of its ultimate completion. Jesus has met Mary in the grave and given her resurrection power to break the deathly cycle and to live a new life for him.

Yet the story does not end here.

“Go,” Jesus says. “Go from this garden, from this place of promise and hope; go back into the old order.” Having led Mary to place one foot firmly in the new garden, Jesus places her other foot back in the old order.

She was to be one on whom, as Paul put it, “the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11), an ambassador for Christ. Anchored in the new age, dead to sin and made alive in Christ, and joining God’s mission to bring healing, hope, and welcome to the old age.

So here is Mary Magdalene, and here are we as well, at the end of John’s gospel, dead to the power of sin and death, buried with Christ, yet also made alive by his resurrection power to live a new life, called out of the darkness and into the marvelous light, sent into the world this Advent to declare the gospel of the Risen Lord. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Notes:
1 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Escape from the Tomb,” in Christian Century (April 1, 1998), 339. http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=640.
2 An image of repentance/return in the Scriptures.
3 N.T. Wright in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, co-authored by Marcus Borg and N.T Wright, 126.

Categories: Sermons Tags: ,

The Cross: A Jewel with Many Faces

February 16th, 2011 No comments

“The Cross: A Jewel with Many Faces” (Mark 15:21-41 and Reader’s Theater)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
November 21, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Scandal: “Triumphing over them in the cross”

Paul wrote to the the Colossians, “Having disarmed the principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Col. 2:15). This Sunday, as we continue to tell story of God’s saving purposes throughout history, we tell Part One of the climactic events of that story recorded in the gospels.

This is indeed a familiar story, a story so important that we teach it to our children at a very young age, and we constantly remind ourselves of it. Perhaps we have told this story so often that the scandal and folly of Paul’s words are lost on us, and they often pass by us without our notice.

It bears repeating: “Having disarmed the principalities and powers, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in [the cross].” But Jesus Christ, wholly disarmed, stripped, beaten, and executed by the principalities, was himself a “public spectacle” for all to see. Adding to the insult, it seems as though every one of Jesus’ opponents parades by the cross to mock him: the Roman authorities, the chief priests, the scribes, and even those crucified with him all taunt him as his broken body suffers and bleeds on the cross.

Aside from the women (Mark 15:40), his disciples have abandoned him (Mark 14:50). Anyone who was there could tell you how ridiculed Jesus was, how he was finally defeated. Expired and shamed on a Roman cross, the corpse of Jesus couldn’t triumph over anything.

And yet, Paul foolishly claims that it was actually the other way around, that it was actually the principalities and powers and authorities, who were stripped and put on display, that it was actually those who crucified Jesus who were defeated.

Until we start to grasp and finally embrace the true depth of this irony, we do not even begin to understand the cross, and even less the shape of God’s saving purposes throughout history.

Paul was plenty open about the cross: “It’s foolishness,” he said bluntly. Its message requires a massive shift in how we see the world.1 Paul went on, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. . . God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are” (1 Cor. 1:27-28, NRSV).

A New Worldview Revealed in Jesus

That is the core of the biblical worldview Jesus revealed: crosses are mightier than swords; servants are more important than rulers; the weak are more powerful than the strong. God’s solution to the problems of the world – Almighty God’s method of dealing with God’s enemies – is an embrace of weakness, scandal, ridicule, torture, shame, and death. For in Mark’s Gospel, it is not until Jesus has died on the cross that he is recognized as the Son of God, and by a soldier overseeing his crucifixion at that.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, not a single person – not even one of his closest disciples – makes this confession (which we are told in the first verse of the gospel), that Jesus is God’s Son, not after witnessing all of his miracles, not after hearing all of his teaching, not after seeing every deed of power does anyone confess Jesus as God’s Son.

It is only when he has been ridiculed, mocked, tortured, executed, and finally bloody, broken, and dead on the cross that a despised centurion, not one of the trained disciples, looks up and says, “Ah, there’s the Son of God Almighty.” Scandalous! Foolishness! Finally at the cross we see God’s will most fully revealed. Do we really believe that’s the best way to deal with problems? Is such foolishness of bearing crosses really how we are to confront evil?

A grace that changes us all

The New Testament writers persist in probing the mystery of this great scandal. The readers’ theater shared several attempts of NT writers to make sense of this great scandal, each one a little different, some quite unique. It’s often said that the scandal of the cross is like a beautiful gem: as you turn the gem, you behold a new, unique face, and see through it differently, though the gem itself does not change.

Sometimes we think of the cross as a sort of ticket into heaven, or a “get out of hell free card,” which we lock in a fireproof safe and bury deep in our hearts, to be retrieved and dusted off on the last day. And yet, Jesus wasn’t a big fan of hiding things under jars or beds or bushels, or burying treasures in the ground. Rather, Jesus liked things that grow: light, fire, lamps, good seed, pesky mustard bushes. The cross is to be something that we plant in our hearts, a grace that actually changes us, a gift wholly consistent with God’s purposes throughout history that enables us to live a new life for God by the regenerating power of the Spirit, a tremendous and costly act of grace whose power actually transforms us to live like Jesus lived. The cross saves us and transforms us in as many ways as there are faces to a gem:2

Several of the Many Faces of the Gem

For those times when we feel crushed by the powers and principalities of our world of tactical nuclear warheads, shattered homes, global systemic poverty and disregard for God’s creation, Paul’s words that just as God brought the people of Israel out of systemic slavery, so also God has triumphed over all crushing powers at the cross bring us hope and remind us that the cross is still mightier, that the power of the cross still breaks cycles of violence and injustice (Conflict-Victory-Liberation3).

For those times when we cannot bear the load of sin and death surrounding us any longer, when we are fatigued by the world and unable to take another step, we can say with Isaiah and Peter: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, NRSV) (Vicarious Suffering).

For those times when we just don’t know the way to God, for those times when we’re lost and hopeless, when try as we might, we just can’t find God through the fog of doubt and uncertainty, we may look to the cross and find a new beginning and a new way in Jesus, the Way, the author and perfecter of our faith, with Paul who proclaimed, “By the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19b, NRSV) (Archetypal Images).

For those moments when we find ourselves surrounded by corruption and need the courage to do what is right, yielding to God’s purposes by taking up our own crosses and enduring the martyr’s calling, we may become those of whom John of Patmos spoke, “But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death” (Rev. 12:11, NRSV) (Martyr).

When we cannot escape our own guilt and inadequacy, when no matter what we do or how we try to change, we cannot escape the persistent notion that we are unworthy of God’s love, we may kneel at the foot of the cross, lift our eyes, and see Jesus say once again, “Father, forgive them,” just as he said to so many people throughout his ministry (Expiation).

When we’re trapped in conflict, grieved by the violence of our lives and around our world, alienated from friends, family, church, or even God, may we hold fast to God’s initiative in Jesus Christ, that “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” (Col. 1:20), assured that the dividing wall between us has been broken down (Reconciliation).

When we feel like there’s no place we fit in, when we feel excluded by everyone, we may look to the cross and find a new identity and family in God: “He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will. . . In him we have redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:5) (Adoption-Family).

Perhaps we have told these stories, quipped these platitudes, quoted these bits of Scripture so often that they have become old ideas, barely touching our lives in significant ways. Jesus often told stories to help people think about old ideas in new ways. Now of course, no parable is a perfect analogy, but hear this story:4

A baseball story

Somewhere in the middle of Kansas a while back, there was an old compassionate farmer. One day he turned 80 years old, and as some 80-year-old farmers do, he decided it was time to scale back a bit, so he began to sell and rent some of his land. But the ten acres or so around his house, he decided to dedicate to the community as a place to gather together and revive some of that good rural culture was being lost to the culture of frenzy and achievement.

So he set about moving dirt, and leveling, and planting grass, and measuring, and building, and wiring, and plumbing. And before long, he had built three beautiful ballparks surrounding his house. The old farmer excitedly went around to local schools and churches putting up posters inviting the community to his farm to play baseball, or softball, or to watch, or to visit. All were welcome, the signs said.

Now the old farmer, he gave very careful thought about how to help the community enjoy his ballpark. He could remember how he’d felt left out when he was a boy and couldn’t play ball at school with his classmates because he didn’t own a glove.

So he got in his pickup and drove down to the closest used sporting goods store and purchased baseballs and softballs and gloves and catchers’ mitts to be on hand for whoever would need it. He didn’t want anyone to be left out just because they didn’t have the right equipment.

The old farmer welcomed everyone to use his ball diamonds, and he stated this clearly on the sign he built for his ballparks. Now although anyone would be welcome, he did also post some limitations on his sign as well. He wanted everyone to have a good time, and he knew that having too many people on a team made it worse for everyone. The sign stated that no more than 13 could be on a team. And the sign invited the community to stop by the house and visit the farmer as they left.

It seems the old farmer knew exactly what the community needed. Soon his ballparks were filled with players and fans, all having a wonderful, relaxing time. Many stopped by to visit the farmer, and some talked long into the night. Before long, the old farmer found it too taxing to go out to the field and join in all the fun, but he did love watching others delight in his ball diamonds.

As the years passed, however, he started to become worried and confused. People rarely stopped by to visit anymore, and he noticed fewer people enjoying his beautiful ballparks. Now his grandson Jesse who lived far away had just graduated college, and what an athlete he was! His senior year, he even pitched a perfect game! So the old farmer invited his grandson Jesse to come and see if he couldn’t get the games going better again. Surely the community would be drawn by his fame and character.

Well, on his way out to his grandfather’s place, Jesse stopped at the local grocery store to pick up a few items for his grandfather. As he was checking out, he asked the cashier about the ballparks, and was surprised when the cashier said rudely, “Too many rules at that place. Can’t have any fun.” Of course, Jesse couldn’t believe it: “How come? There are only a handful of limitations on the sign.”

The cashier replied, “Well, it’s not so much your grandfather’s rules that are the problem; it’s the ballpark clan and all the rules they’ve added. At first, if there were too many players, you’d just start another game at one of the other diamonds, but now they say that only the best 26 players are allowed to play at all!”

The person in line behind Jesse added, “And only the folks with the nicest and newest mitts can play. When we use the equipment your grandfather provided, they just make fun of us and tell us not to come back until we have our own, new baseball gloves. I’m not going there anymore.”

So the next day, Jesse went to the ball diamonds to check things out. At first, he thought the folks in the grocery store had been exaggerating. He had a good time playing baseball and visiting with the other people there. But then, when someone else showed up and asked to play, the first-baseman sneered at her saying, “You’re not good enough. Get outta here!”

That night, he told his grandfather, the old farmer, about what he had heard and experienced. He told him how one person had said to him, “Tell your grandpa to kick that clan off the ballpark – just like they do to us!” It hurt Jesse to see his grandfather’s sadness as he listened to the report.

The old farmer sat back in his rocker and thought for a bit. “I can see how some people around here would love it if I’d ban that clan from the ballpark – the feeling of revenge. But that’s not why I created this place. Actually, I bet it would be just the way it is now – just with a different group excluded. You see, their own way of playing the game will turn back on them soon enough. What we should do is try and show them a different way, a better way.”

So Jesse went around and invited a lot of the folks who had been excluded from the game, and they started a game on one of the other ball diamonds. It didn’t take long for the clan to start insulting the people Jesse brought, and soon they were even insulting Jesse himself. Each day, Jesse brought more and more people, and started more games, and brought more and more people to visit his grandfather. And it was really quite funny, Jesse, the all-conference athlete playing baseball with a bunch of folks who could barely swing a bat, but he did it, and he and his friends loved it, and his new friends started to get much better at the game.

And, each day, the insults got worse and worse. Jesse warned the clan that it would be much better for them if they’d stop insulting others – the only way to keep from being shunned and insulted themselves eventually.

Now this clan knew that if they’d try to kick Jesse off themselves, all his friends might turn on them and kick them off the ballpark. So they started gossiping about Jesse – how he was ruining everything, how he was a terrible baseball player, how he was just out for himself.

And finally, one day at noon, the clan started an argument with Jesse and started shouting that he must leave. “Get out! Get out!” they yelled. Most of Jesse’s friends shrank away, and some even started yelling at him. They started throwing their gloves at him, and one person threw a baseball at him that hit him in the head and knocked him out. “Bet he won’t be back here again,” they said to themselves triumphantly.

After the clan had left, a few of Jesse’s friends brought him up to the farmhouse to his grandfather. The old farmer rushed Jesse to the hospital, tears streaming down his aged face. As the old farmer sat in the waiting room, he wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper:

“People at my baseball fields have hurt the one person who most deserved to be there, my own grandson. He wanted everyone to come and enjoy my ballparks, and just as he warned, all the insults and gossip have led to pain. But Jesse, rather than the aggressors, suffered pain. This all can stop now. There doesn’t have to be more bickering, posturing, insults, and exclusion. Of course, you should all be kicked out of my ballpark, but we won’t be pressing charges. Because we forgive those who did this, everyone has an opportunity to start over. We want the ballpark to be a place where everyone can enjoy coming.”

The person who threw the ball that knocked Jesse out came to him and apologized. “I just got so caught up in it all. It was like something was pushing me to do it.” Jesse replied that he was right, and that the violent power would have grown even stronger if Jesse had responded in the same violent way. Instead, Jesse invited his friends to see that he had already suffered for them the worst sort of insulting, but it didn’t crush him.

The ballpark became a different place after that. It became fun again, though there were still some who hurled insults at other players, but deep down, those folks were even less happy than before, because their words no longer had the same effect and power they used to.

Open arms

This is but one face of the magnificent and mysterious jewel that is the cross. Which face is focusing God’s grace and love for you this day? What new faces of the jewel are calling you and all of us together to receive the gift of God’s salvation? May we continue to probe the depth of the mystery of this jewel.

Yet jewel that it is, we often forget that the cross, which we wear so lightly around our necks, is a symbol of scandal, torture, oppression, and injustice. If you’ve ever forgiven anyone something, you know that most often, it is very costly. Nevertheless, the cross, the same symbol of costly forgiveness, is also a symbol of embrace, for there on the cross, we see at the height of passion and pain, the arms of the Crucified are always open,5 wanting to enfold us, if we will but put our trust in him.

Jesus told his disciples, “Take up your cross daily and follow.” The life of our redeemer is to become the shape of our very own, trusting him fully as we put ourselves with him completely into the hands of God, for truly, he is the Son of God, the Lord of all of history, and our savior and redeemer.

For our Lord’s faithfulness even unto suffering, scandal, and death on a cross, for the depth of God’s unimaginable grace, for all these things, we give thanks this day and always. Amen.

Notes:
1Joel Green and Mark Baker, Reclaiming the Scandal of the Cross, 14.
2See John Driver, Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church, for an extensive exploration of the core biblical motifs for understanding this mystery. Several examples of which follow.
3Examples of several biblical images with labels corresponding to motifs explored in Driver.
4Adapted from Mark D. Baker, “Atonement: A Beach Parable for Youth” in Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of Atonement, ed. Mark D. Baker (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).
5Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 126.

Categories: Sermons Tags: , ,

Jesus Came Proclaiming the Good News of God

February 15th, 2011 No comments

“Jesus Came Proclaiming the Good News of God”
(Luke 6:27-36; Luke 9:23-27; Luke 4:16-19, 21, 43)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
November 7, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

From the beginning, God has provided for the community of faith; providing manna in the wilderness; providing light in the darkness; providing a way home. Yet despite all that God has done, the children of Israel still did not quite get it; they grumbled in the desert despite God’s salvation in the Exodus; they asked for a king, even though God alone is our sovereign; they continued to live in the violent, domineering and self-gratifying ways of the world despite the giving of the Covenant Law and the proclamation of the prophets.

God had called them to be a community that lived in an alternative way to the rest of the nations, so that they could in turn be a blessing to all of the nations.1 Yet “Israel continued to break the covenant and failed to be distinctive.”2 And it was then that God did something truly amazing: the Word became flesh and came to dwell among us.3 “God came to show us in one person all that Israel was meant to be. After over and over seeing God’s people fail to live up to the law of love [of God and neighbor], it seems God could not watch humanity continue to destroy [itself].”4 Thus the true light, which enlightens everyone, came into the world, came to that which was his own,5 came to that which was beloved by him, to show us how to live; to invite us to live up to our true calling as children of God. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.6

The same God who has been moving in the lives of the children of Israel ever since they were first called, the God of creation, the God of Noah, of Abraham and Sarah, the God of the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings, the God who gave the people of Israel the land of promise and who led them back after the exile, the God who moves within all of history looks like Jesus.7 It is God the only Son who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known. Through Jesus’ ministry, we see what God is truly like.

When Jesus came into the world, he continued what God had begun in ancient times; his purpose was the same purpose as the One who had sent him. Jesus came and called out a community of faith to live in ways that are in keeping with God’s character and God’s plans and purposes for the world. Jesus came and proclaimed the Gospel; the good news that the Kingdom of God is already breaking into the world. He came and proclaimed to all who had ears to hear: Turn your life around and return to God. Do not continue to walk in the ways that the world teaches you, but instead turn and walk in the ways in keeping with who God is. Turn your life towards God and believe in the good news.8 Give your complete allegiance to God’s Kingdom. For to those who completely yield their allegiance to God’s Kingdom, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to become the children of God.9

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, which laid the foundation and set the tone for his ministry: The Spirit of our Lord is upon me; because the Most High has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim liberty to those held captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and release to those in prison– to proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor.10 Following this reading, he again announces: I must proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God… for I was sent for this purpose.11

The very purpose of Jesus’ ministry, the very heart of his teachings is the Kingdom of God, which is already breaking into the world here at the start of Jesus’ ministry. It is “not in some heaven light years away, but here in this place, a new light is shining, now is the kingdom, now is the day.”12 The Kingdom of God is not primarily about getting people into heaven, but about getting “Heaven” into the hearts of God’s children. It is, as Jesus taught his followers to pray, God’s will being done on earth as God’s will is done in heaven. This is the heart of Jesus’ ministry and everything that he did was in keeping with the ways of God’s Kingdom.

In the book Jesus Matters, Stanley Green, who is the executive director for Mennonite Mission Network beautifully captures Jesus’ ministry in his chapter on “Jesus and the Kingdom of God.” Green writes: “For Jesus, the in-breaking kingdom of God is the gospel!… The good news of the kingdom is embodied in the life and witness, words and deeds, death and resurrection of Jesus.”13

When Jesus heals people, Jesus establishes healing and wholeness as integral to the kingdom.

When Jesus fellowships with outcasts, he shows that forgiveness is a part of the kingdom.

When Jesus feeds the hungry, he establishes that compassion and care for the oppressed are at the heart of the kingdom.

When Jesus enjoys the company of sinners, he shows that grace and hospitality are important in the kingdom.

When Jesus “loves the unlovely or touches the untouchable” and invites us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, he is teaching us of the radical newness of the kingdom.

“The whole life of Jesus and all his works provide meaning and content to the announcement of the kingdom. Therefore, to declare Jesus is to declare the gospel. Jesus does not bring the gospel, [Jesus] is the gospel— the good news that in him the kingdom of God has broken into history and accomplished everything necessary for the restoration and healing of our world.”14

You may have heard it said that Jesus’ teachings and life teaches “ideals too high for us to reach up to; lovely sentiments but impossible for practical living.”15 But what I tell you is that Jesus meant what he said and calls us as a community of believers to live in the same way that he lived and to participate in what God is already doing in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, this is what many Anabaptists since the beginning of the movement have understood salvation to be: Salvation is the process of the becoming more and more like Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers in the community of faith.

Jesus embodied the Kingdom of God in his life on earth and God’s Kingdom was the heart of his message and passion. Jesus most fully shows us what God’s Kingdom is like, although this has been the heart of God’s message since Israel was first called out as a people; it is proclaimed throughout the Scriptures and preached by the prophets. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we pledge our allegiance to God and not to any Caesar or president or political party or nation. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we put the needs of others before our own. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we seek to “become the least” and stoop to wash each others’ feet in acts of service. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and shelter to the homeless. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we become friends with the friendless and outcasts, when we visit those who are in prison, and when we eat with those considered sinners, the tax collectors and prostitutes and other socially unaccepted people of our day.

We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we return good for evil, love for violence, and actively seek to be peacemakers. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we give to those in need, when we make sure that everyone has enough, and when we seek justice for all people. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we participate in healing and see everyone as our brothers and sisters in Christ despite any national borders. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when we have a relationship with God and with those around us, and when we seek the will of God even if it comes at a price to us. We participate in the good news of God’s Kingdom when the cross is at the heart of all that we say and do.

God’s Kingdom will come in full one day and all of creation will then be restored, but for now, we know that God’s kingdom is already breaking in, it is already present, and we as the children of God are called to live in keeping with the ways of God’s kingdom. Being Christians is not just about believing certain things, nor is it following a certain list of rules; being a Christian means letting go of our priorities and reorienting and yielding ourselves to God’s priorities. “Our calling is to be humble and energetic witnesses in pointing to the in-breaking of God’s [Kingdom] as we allow the kingdom values of love and forgiveness, justice and peace to form us and our communities. We share the good news of God’s intent for the world as it was embodied in Jesus and invite people everywhere to believe, repent, and become participants in the kingdom.”16 Just as Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit, we too are anointed to participate in Jesus’ ministry; to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Notes:
1Genesis 12:1-3
2Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, page 65.
3John 1:14. (All translations are taken from the NRSV unless indicated otherwise)
4Claiborne and Haw, Jesus for President, page 65.
5John 1:9
6John 1:18
7Idea taken from Elton Trueblood quoted on page 114 in Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity.
8Based on what I learned about the Hebrew background for the Greek word μετανοία (literally “turn” or “return”, a change of direction) and based upon Jesus’ first words in the gospel according to Mark: Mark 1:14-15.
9Based upon The New English Bible‘s translation of John 1:12.
10Luke 4:18-19, taken from The Inclusive Bible.
11Luke 4:43.
12Taken from Hymn #6 “Here in this place” in Hymnal: A Worship Book.
13Stanley W. Green with Sara Thompson, “Jesus and the Kingdom of God” in Jesus Matters: Good News for the 21st Century ed. James R. Krabill and David W. Shenk, page 77.
14Green with Thompson, “Jesus and the Kingdom of God” in Jesus Matters, page 79.
15Glen Stassen and David Gushee’s Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context., page 132.
16Green and Thompson, “Jesus and the Kingdom of God” in Jesus Matters page 82.

And the Word became flesh

November 17th, 2010 No comments

“And the Word became Flesh” (John 1:1-18)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
October 31, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

At the turning of the ages
These past weeks and months, we have been telling the Bible’s story of God’s salvation throughout history. We began by hearing those words that first brought the world into existence: “Let there be light.” We told the story of God’s provision to Noah, and of God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah. We remembered how God Almighty delivered the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, how God called them into covenant and led them into the promised land. We told the story of God’s promises to David. We heard the cries of the prophets. We saw God’s healing Spirit at work even in exile to Babylon, and in the hard work of return and rebuilding Jerusalem.

Today, we begin to tell the story of Jesus, the fulfillment of all that has come before. Today we tell how the dictum of old, the word, “Let there be light,” first uttered at the beginning, finds its fullest and greatest fulfillment in the light that shines in the darkness – the true light, which enlightens everyone and has come into the world, and the true Word, which became flesh and dwelt among us.

The author of Hebrews reflects the significance of the story of Jesus in the introduction to his sermon: “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many fragments and many fashions by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, though whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

The story of Jesus is the crystallizing event of the entire story that we have been telling these past weeks, drawing all these strands, all these “fragments,” together into God’s greatest revelation and supreme saving action. Indeed, the first verses of John’s Gospel call to mind the first verses of Genesis, as if to say that what has happened in Jesus is the very fulfillment of Genesis 1, and an event of such cosmic significance that it can only be compared to the act of creation itself. It is the story of God’s definitive answer to all the rebellion, sin, suffering, and darkness of the world.

Jesus identifies with us
We tell the beginning of this story every December, reading of angel choirs, dazzled shepherds, and mysterious magi. We give thanks for the gift of Jesus, for everything the infant would become and do for our salvation. The prologue to John’s Gospel invites us to remember all this, and also to pause and experience the significance itself of the Word become flesh, of the reflection of God’s glory found in human form and making his dwelling with us.

Interestingly, Matthew’s gospel is bookended by the very same theme. It begins with an angel of the Lord appearing to Joseph and saying, “Do not be afraid.” The boy would be called Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.”

It is an ancient promise now come to its fulfillment, first made to Abraham long ago: “do not be afraid, for I am with you,” and again to Moses and the people of Israel: “I will be with you.” A promise echoed by the prophets, and again at the end of Matthew repeated by Jesus himself: “I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”

In the incarnation of the Word coming to dwell with us, we see something revealed about God: We might say that God is “incarnational,” always to be found among us, always willing to take on the limitations of human history, culture, imagination, and understanding to make his dwelling with us. We’ve seen this part of God’s character in each of the stories we have been telling these past weeks. God constantly enters our human existence to be known among us and to deliver us.

Glen Stassen and David Gushee put it well:

Our human problem is that we have separated ourselves from God by our distrust, greed and shame, and that we cannot cross the barriers and defenses we have built and return ourselves to faithful community with God. In delivering love, God acts in compassion toward us in our bondage, breaking down the barriers that we have built between ourselves and God, and between one another and ourselves. . . God comes into our ditch, enters incarnationally into our situation of bondage [with us], passing right through the walls we have built, establishing fellowship and presence with us on our side of the walls, since we cannot climb our way over them to God.1

God’s incarnational character is of course to be found supremely in the physical incarnation of Jesus, who did not exploit equality with God, but humbled himself to take on human form, to dwell among us.

The significance of the incarnation itself is staggering, that God in Christ identifies with us: that he enters into “our situation of bondage. . . experiencing life as we experience it, suffering as we do, and in the crucifixion, entering even into the situation of our sinful rebellion against God, becoming vulnerable to our unloving, unjust, violent rejection of him.”2

The incarnation reveals that in the height of our joy, Jesus is there celebrating with us, that in the ordinary routines of life, Jesus is there with us, and that in a special and holy way, in our darkest hour, in our greatest fear, in our deepest loneliness, in our doubt, in our shame and inadequacy, in our rejection, even in our rebellion and in every reality of human suffering, that is where you will find the light of the world shining, that is where the Word who became flesh is dwelling among us, for surely he is with us always, to the very end of the age.

How often do we not receive him? How often do we miss God incarnate in our lives? How often do we forget that all things came into being through the eternal Word, which means that God is not to be found merely in the extraordinary things that we cannot explain, but also especially in the ordinariness of human joy, routine, pain, relationship, and toil?

How often do we miss seeing the light of Christ shining in our darkness? How often do we not see Jesus enfleshed in the people and circumstances of our lives? Jesus is to be found among us every day as we live and worship and serve him together.

Interlude: A story of God-with-us
[This section removed for online posting.]

Jesus calls us to identify with him
Friends, if we are to receive Jesus, we must tune our hearts to identify where he is dwelling, where his Spirit is at work. We need to become detectives of divinity, constantly looking for clues of God’s incarnate action among us, that we might join in, because in the Incarnation, Jesus not only identifies with us, but also calls us to identify with him, with his mission, with his faithfulness, with his salvation.3

The apostle Peter wrote about participating in the divine nature, instead of the corruption of the world. The apostle Paul wrote about dying with Jesus to self and the power of Sin which enslaves us, that it may be no longer we who live, but Christ who lives within us. We are to identify with Jesus’ life and teachings, with his death that destroys Sin, and also with his resurrection to new life and new creation. We are to identify with Jesus, who has “[walked] through the brambles and thorns of human life to cut a path to the other side.”4 By identifying with him may we also travel that same path. It is a choice that we are invited to make, to identify ourselves with Jesus.

Little surprise that the early church called themselves the Way. As Christ’s body and the visible presence of Christ in the world, the church is to incarnate the Way of Jesus by identifying with him. That’s why the meat we can has “in the name of Christ” on it.

When you get to the end of your rope, when all your skills for dealing with your challenges – whether it’s sharing Jesus’ love with folks in a hostile, hurting land or in your own family, then may you take hold of the rope that Jesus has brought at great cost from heaven to earth, may you see Christ and identify with him, that he might live in you, in all of us as his body, the church.

The world has turned as the word has become flesh and dwelt among us. “The dark shadow of death is driven away by a new effulgence of uncreated light. All of creation, formerly submerged since the Fall in a black slough of despondence, rouses and shakes itself in the warmth and golden illumination of a new beginning.”5 And the story goes on.

Notes:
1 Glen Stassen and David Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 343.
2 Stassen and Gushee, 342-342.
3 This is sometimes called a parabola or loop of salvation: Jesus descends from the Father to earth, and even into death, but then is raised to glory at the Father’s right hand, enabling us also to follow after (see following paragraph).
4 Thomas Long, “Bold in the Presence: Atonement in Hebrews” in Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, 64.
5 Kharalambos Anstall in Stricken by God?, ed. Brad Jersak and Michael Hardin, 488.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit

November 17th, 2010 No comments

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord”1 (Daniel 11; John 10:22-39)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
October 24, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

A somewhat different kind of story for today. . .
Two weeks ago, we left off the story of God’s saving purposes throughout history with the story of the return from exile in Babylon and the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. The next stage in our story takes us into the so-called “inter-testamental” period – the four hundred years or so between the end of the OT narrative and the beginning of the NT.2

As we will see, there is an unmistakable correspondence between the latter chapters of Daniel (we heard some excerpts) and the realities of this inter-testamental period, yet our texts for this morning touch this period in a somewhat more tangential fashion than what we have seen as we have told other parts of this great story of God’s saving mission. So our story for this morning will be a bit different, but it is also an important part of God’s action.

The story of (Re)Dedication
In our Gospel reading for today, we encounter Jesus, walking in Solomon’s portico in the Temple, at the time of the festival of Dedication. In Hebrew, this festival is called “Hanukkah.” The origins of this winter festival come from the story we are telling today – the story of the time between the Testaments.

Much of the more specific details of this period are preserved in what we often call the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha as found in many Bibles is a collection of Jewish writings that appear in Greek collections of the Old Testament, but not in Hebrew. The Scriptural status of these writings has always varied among both Jews and Christians, ranging from full acceptance to total rejection. You probably won’t find them in most of your Bibles.

The story of Dedication – Hanukkah – begins about a century and a half after where we left off two weeks ago with the story of return from exile and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was under Persian rule during this period, until Alexander III of Macedon – our history books call him Alexander the Great – conquered the Persians.

Daniel speaks of a mighty king who rules with great power and does as he pleases (11:3). Alexander, the most powerful conqueror the world had known, died young, and following his death, his empire fell into conflict, with his generals vying for power. One general, Seleucus eventually gained control of the region north of Judea, while another general, Ptolemy, gained control of Egypt, to the south.

The Seleucids to the north and the Ptolemies to the south marched back and forth across the region, with Judea caught in the middle. Years of political intrigue, blackmail, assassination, and invasion, as described in Daniel 11, followed, with the king of the North, the Seleucid Antiochus IV “Epiphanes,”3 finally securing the region of Judea in 170s BC, indeed through political intrigue.

And this is where the story begins to focus on Judea. Antiochus eventually banned the practice of Judaism. He burned the Jewish holy books and forbade the practices of circumcision and keeping the Sabbath. Antiochus decreed that sacrifices could only be made to Greek gods. He built altars to Greek gods and forced the people to sacrifice unclean animals.

The Jewish people were in a battle for their identity and their faith. Would they embrace the religion of Antiochus, or would they continue to worship the one God and keep the Torah? There were indeed many in Israel who forsook the holy covenant and welcomed Antiochus and even his religion. They neglected the practice of their faith – the circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, remembering the poor and alien, worshiping God alone – for Antiochus’s promise of privilege and power.

But at the height of Antiochus’s arrogance, in 167 BC, he entered the Temple of Jerusalem, set up an altar to Zeus, and sacrificed a pig, which is remembered as the “abomination that causes desolation.” The book of 1 Maccabees sums up the tyranny of Antiochus:

They erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks (1 Macc. 1:54-61, NRSV).

As we read in Daniel, many fell by the sword, were burned or captured, or plundered (11:33). The books of the Maccabees recount the horrible torture and martyr stories of those who refused to give up their practice of faith.

Among those who refused Antiochus’s decree were Mattathias and his sons, the Maccabees. The Maccabees, though small in number, initiated a guerrilla war against Antiochus’s troops, and against incredible odds, they defeated Antiochus’s armies, cleansed the Temple, rebuilt the altar, and rededicated the Temple to the worship of God. Legend has it that the nearly all of the lamp oil had been defiled, and there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, yet miraculously, the oil lasted eight days, the time it took to prepare new oil.

History repeating itself?
So we join Jesus in the Temple, on this day when all this history is being remembered, and likely feared that it would happen again (and it would). They remember the tyrant Antiochus who claimed to be divine. They remember the desecration of the Temple. They remember the forced worship of an alien god. They remember their struggle to maintain their identity as God’s people. They remember their suffering.

And here, on this day, Jesus claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God, which to the Jewish authorities was blasphemy on any ordinary day, but on this day, it carried with it the freight of history’s fears and suffering, as they remembered the claims of Antiochus.4 Little surprise that they soon had stones in their hands, ready to purge the temple once again, lest history repeat itself.

But the ironic thing was that history was actually repeating itself, in a way. You see, the Maccabees, after defeating Antiochus’s forces, followed the all-too-well-beaten path from suffering tyranny, to revolutionary fervor, to finally becoming themselves the corrupt manipulators of power and people, against which they had themselves been victim. The quest for religious restoration deteriorated into jostling for position, collusion with the world’s empires, and ruling by military force.

The temple authorities with stones in their hands were once again becoming the tyrants they feared, while Jesus had just revealed himself to be a different kind of leader, the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, in contrast to the “thieves and bandits” (10:8) who came before.

Indeed, it is remarkable that the rabbis had surprisingly little to say about the feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, compared to other Jewish feasts. And to this day, the much Jewish celebration of Hanukkah focuses not on the stunning military victory of the Maccabeans, but on the miracle of the lights. The hand of God was to be found at work much less in the revolutionary armies, as in the light and the hope for God’s future and justice.

Completely into the hands of God
Perhaps the whole story can be summed up in Zechariah 4:6, which is still the concluding reading each Hanukkah Sabbath: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty” (TNIV). In Daniel, the “faithful” or “wise” are not portrayed as resisting by political might, nor by military power, but rather by entrusting themselves fully to God and sharing that wisdom with others. The actions of the Maccabees receive scant mention in Daniel, save in verse 34, where Daniel says the wise shall receive “little help,” and many will join them insincerely. Many scholars believe this to be a critical reference to the militant Maccabees, who focused more on power than on God.

It is an ironic rejection of the Maccabees’ swords of steel, “in favor of the more powerful spiritual [weaponry].”5 “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.” The truest victory, though it may include suffering and even martyrdom, belongs to those who entrust themselves fully to God’s Spirit and God’s ultimate sovereignty.

Jesus on the cross would later not call down the armies of heaven to save his body, but would declare with confidence, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” With Jesus, we also put ourselves completely into the hands of God. Our ancestors in faith called this the spirit of Gelassenheit, or yieldedness, to God’s Spirit, even to the point of accepting suffering “by sword and flame,” as Daniel put it.

The fears of the Temple authorities who took up stones against Jesus would indeed be confirmed just a few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. History would indeed repeat itself again. The Jews would again take up the sword against their occupiers, seeking their future in “power” and “might.” The Temple would again be profaned with another desolating sacrilege, and this time ultimately destroyed by the Romans.

Yet God’s future rested not in military power, nor in political might, but in his Son. During this festival celebrating the (re)consecration of the Temple, Jesus in verse 36 reveals himself to be the one whom God has set apart, or “consecrated.” The future of God had arrived not through any armed rebellion or crusade, but through the Good Shepherd, who would lay down his life for his sheep.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord”
Yet the people of God in Daniel, and in the New Testament, are to resist the forces or evil around them, just as Jesus himself did. Yet their means do not follow the contours of worldly power and might; their weapons are not wrought of steel, but of Spirit. In Daniel, the wise stand firm and take action by sharing their wisdom, what we might call evangelism or outreach or mission today.

Two centuries after the rededication of the Temple, Paul also affirmed that “spiritual weapons are to be wielded in a real world.”6 “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh,” Paul wrote,

but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:12-17, NRSV).

May we also, with Daniel and with Paul, commit ourselves to stand firm, to join in God’s upside-down victory by confronting suffering with wisdom, by overcoming violence in proclaiming the gospel of peace, and by putting ourselves with Jesus, completely into God’s hands, as we wield the surprising Spirit of light and of hope in whatever darkness may surround us.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord Almighty!”

Notes:
1Zech. 4:6, NRSV.
2The dating of Daniel is disputed, with people falling into uninspiringly predictable camps on the matter. Some believe the the text entered its final form during the Maccabean Revolt (160s BC, thus pertaining especially to that crisis); others believe its completion coincides with the narrative setting of the earlier part of the book in Babylonian Captivity (500s BC). Regardless, it would seem to be a message for the people suffering in this period, as the events are described with remarkable accuracy.
3Epiphanes was shorthand for “God Manifest,” a blasphemous divine epithet.
4Compare Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God to Antiochus’s claim to be “God Manifest.”
5Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, Daniel in New Interpreter’s Bible, 145.
6Ibid., 145.

Returning from Exile

November 17th, 2010 No comments

“Returning from Exile” (Ezra 1:1-7; 6:15-16, 19-22; Isaiah 65:17-25)
by Pastor Katherine Goerzen
October 10, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Last week we too went with the children of Israel into the loneliness and heartache of the exile. They had been violently taken from the land of promise, the place of their identity, history, hope; and the Temple, where they had known God’s presence to dwell most fully on earth, had been utterly destroyed. “How should they understand what had happened to them? Had God sent them into exile? Were they still the chosen people or had God abandoned them? What had gone wrong? Would God deliver them? Would God remember the promises to Abraham and David?”1

The children of Israel fell on their knees and shouted out their anguish to the cold stars; they cried out their “lamentations”, but it seemed as though no one was listening, that the God of promise had abandoned them. Their tears were flowing like a river, for it seemed as though The Comforter was no longer present with them. Jerusalem “weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies… her downfall was appalling, with none to comfort her. ‘O Lord, look at my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed!’… Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her… They heard how [she] was groaning, with no one to comfort [her].”2

And even though all seemed hopeless and lost, a voice cries out, “Comfort, O comfort, my people, Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term.”3 A word of comfort is spoken to those who thought they were beyond comfort, by the very God who they thought had abandoned them.4

As Biblical Scholar, Walter Brueggemann puts it, “At long last when all seemed lost, now speaks the Holy One of Israel. This oracle is the voice of Yahweh, who breaks the silence of the exile and by utterance transforms the fortunes of Judah. This speech breaks both the despair of Judah and the power of Babylon; it penetrates the emptiness of exile and fills the world of Judaism with possibilities.”5 God is about to do a new thing. Even amidst the displacement, grief, loneliness, anger, and despair of the exile away from the land of promise, God is about to do a new thing. It is time for the displaced children of God to go home.

Ours is a God who moves and acts within history to bring about God’s purposes within creation; and so our God of promise “moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia”6 after he had conquered the power of Babylon, to make a decree that all of the displaced people in his newly conquered realm could go back to their homeland, and that the people of Israel could rebuild the Temple of the Lord. After being away for nearly a generation, thousands of the people of Israel began the long trek out of exile, through the wilderness, and once again to the land of promise.

And “as soon as they came to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site.”7 They were so overcome with gratitude in response to God’s wonderful provision, that they could not help but to respond in gratitude.8 “They set up the altar on its foundation… and they offered burnt-offerings upon it to the Lord, morning and evening…. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea,… according to the grant that they had from King Cyrus of Persia. . . When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites. . . with cymbals… and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, ‘For he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever towards Israel!’ And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”9

And after years of rebuilding, “The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy… [and] the returned exiles kept the passover”10 for the first time in nearly a generation. It was once again a reminder of God’s generosity and provision, of God acting within history to save the children of Israel. As they once again were able to celebrate the passover in the holy city, surely each of them recalled God’s saving acts in the deliverance of their ancestors through the Red Sea waters after the celebration of the first Passover feast. Once again God had acted to save the children of Israel, to deliver them out of exile and back into the land of promise; their lonely wilderness wanderings in foreign lands had come to an end, the temple had been rebuilt, and God was doing a new thing.

How wonderful it must have been for the children of Israel to once again stand in awe in the courts of the temple after being estranged from this holy place for so long, especially for those who could remember the pain and heartache of seeing the temple destroyed by violent men from Babylon. When the temple was destroyed, their sense of identity, their memories of their past history, and their assurance in God’s promises to Abraham and David came crashing down with it. With the temple, the place where they believed God most fully dwelt on earth, with the temple in ruins, they must have felt as if God’s presence with them was lost, that they were utterly alone. No wonder they sat down and wept by the waters of Babylon.

But now, through God’s initiative, the house of the Lord had been rebuilt, and with its completion they were once again given a sense of identity and purpose, their place in the history of their people had been assured, and they were once again able to reclaim God’s promises to Abraham and David. But perhaps most importantly was that with the completion of the temple, was a very visible and very tangible reminder of God’s continued presence in their midst. The pain of the exile did not have the last word; their hope had been rebuilt and the estranged children of Israel finally found themselves at home at last in the presence of the one who spoke words of comfort and peace to them.

This story of salvation is a story of reconnection with the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the one whose presence has always been with us even in our displacement, even in the grief, loneliness, and despair of exile.11 Perhaps God’s presence with us does not seem as tangible to us today as it would have to the Israelites after the rebuilding of the temple, but I assure you that God is with us, moving in our midst, speaking words of comfort, offering hope and doing a new thing in our lives and in the life of our congregation. And we know that even in terrible circumstances, such as exile and estrangement from the land of promise, God is at work reshaping and rebuilding using even the most painful situations for good.

I was given witness to some of the hope-filled ways that God has been working in the lives of the Youth Group this past Wednesday night. In what was a very holy and beautiful moment, every member of the youth group shared how they have experienced God providing for them in their own lives, through a sense of peace at the death of a loved one or illness, through relationships with families and fellowship friends, through being given words at a time when they thought no words would come, through God’s presence in worship at Camp Mennoscah, through the beauty of God’s creation, through hearing God’s call. And just as the Israelites knew that God was present with them in the return from exile and rebuilding of the temple, I knew that God was present among us as we gave witness to the movement, hope, and provision of God in our lives.

Where have you experienced God’s Spirit rebuilding and hope in your life or in the life of this congregation?

Notes:
1Mark A. Throntveit’s commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah, Interpretation Series.
2Excerpts from Lamentations 1:2, 9, 17, and 21. (NRSV)
3Excerpts from Isaiah 40:1-2. (NRSV)
4Idea for Scripture passages from Lamentations and Isaiah taken from Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Isaiah 40-66, Westminster Bible Companion.
5Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Isaiah 40-66.
6Ezra 1:1 (NIV)
7Ezra 2:68 (NIV)
8Throntveit, Ezra-Nehemiah.
9Ezra 3:3, 6-7, 10-11. (NRSV)
10Ezra 6:16 and 19. (NRSV)
11Idea taken from Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity.

Hope amid the Ruins

October 7th, 2010 No comments

“Hope amid the Ruins” (Lamentations 1:1-5, Jeremiah 31:31-34)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
October 3, 2010, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Exile: The Divided Life
To speak of Judah’s exile into Babylon is to take up the lament of the Psalmist, “How can we sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137). To speak of exile is to see the holy city disappearing along the horizon of our lives, its gates swinging in the winds of abandon, the lights departed from homes, and worship gone from the Lord’s house. To speak of exile is to speak of life under an alien empire, of “yearning, grief, loneliness, anger, and despair.” It is to speak of the “condition of alienation, a sense of being cut off from a center of meaning and energy” and purpose. It is to speak of “separation from one’s homeland and longing for home.”1

To speak of exile is to speak of the divided life. It is life cut off from its center. And so the Psalmist laments, “Apart from our homeland, apart from our true identity, apart from who we are, how can we sing the Lord’s songs with integrity?”

Exile does not require traveling hundreds of miles; it need not come from official decree or legal sanction. Indeed, just as the story of Adam and Eve is in some sense the story of every one of us, so too, we all find ourselves east of Eden. Exile happens whenever we experience the divided life – when we’re not the “favorite” in the family and become separated from our identity as son, daughter, mother, or father; when we don’t quite fit in with the “right” group at church and become divided from our identity in Christ’s body; when at school our interests or personality or choice of friends don’t put us in the running for the popularity contest; when at work, what we do loses its significance, or we don’t quite fit in, or are asked to make decisions that compromise our integrity. Indeed, entering into exile requires traveling no further than the single step it takes to step away from our own Jerusalem, from our own soul.

We find our selves in exile – we find ourselves living the divided life – for various reasons. Sometimes, it’s personal choice; sometimes, it’s the choices of others; sometimes, explanation eludes our understanding; generally, it’s all of the above. While we may not always understand how or why we find ourselves in exile, we do know what happens when we’re there. Quaker scholar Parker Palmer puts it well: “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls.”2 Into exile we go, so far removed from the truth of who we are that we lose the integrity that comes from being who God made us to be

In school and at work, we do and say the things that establish the reputation we desire and win the approval of others – whether or not that’s who God made us to be. In church, we put on the right smiles, pretend to know the right Scripture passages, say the right prayers, enjoy the right music, hold the right ideology to win the approval of the church family, whether that’s not the particular, unique faith or role in the body of Christ to which God has called us.

When we’re in exile, the still, small voice, the Christ within, speaks the truth. We hear it, yet pretend we do not. We take the easy path instead of the right one; we keep silent when our voice needs to be heard; we speak when silence is needed. We deny the darkness within, “giving it more power” over us rather than letting the light of Christ reveal it, or we “project it onto other people, creating ‘enemies’ where none exist” and make true relationships impossible due to our own inauthenticity.3

In our exiles, in our divided lives, we “harbor secrets to achieve personal gain at the expense of other people. . . We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change. . . We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked.”4

Stories of people living divided lives are part of our regular experience; part of the everyday news cycle – people who become separated from the light within. Politicians who betray the trust of citizens; executives who betray shareholders; clergy who betray the trust of the faithful – “making our democracy, our economy, and our religious institutions less trustworthy in the process.”5

A CEO convicted of insider trading after also incriminating his daughter and elderly father reveals the darkness of the divided life: “I could sit there,” he said, “. . . thinking I was the most honest CEO that ever lived [and] at the same time. . . glibly do something [wrong] and rationalize it.”6

When we divide who we are on the outside from who God has created us to be on the inside, we lose our integrity and our witness. Our faith, our witness, our service, our work, becomes deprived and “tainted by duplicity.”7

The Language of Lament
Exile, however we got there in the first place, leaves us hurting, broken, and often hurting others as well. The people of Israel knew the tribulations of exile; they knew the pitfalls of the divided life. They also knew that the most traumatic exile is exile from God’s presence. The most threatening form of the divided life is inauthenticity – duplicity – with God.

Like Jonah, we run and hide our true selves from God – perhaps afraid where God will call us; perhaps ashamed of what God would see; perhaps afraid of what we would see revealed of ourselves when our darkness is confronted by the light of Jesus Christ.

So we put on our smiles when we go to worship, even when our souls are weeping. We grow uneasy when the sermon persists in probing the depths of Sin or brokenness or exile before turning to find hope.

You may have been surprised by the hatred of the psalmist of our call to worship from Psalm 137 this morning, which hopes for, and even delights in, vengeance upon Babylon. But most challenging and uncomfortable is the Psalm’s final verse (not read in the call): “Happy is he who takes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (TNIV). Or think of Psalm 109, where the psalmist delights in the prospect of his enemies’ orphaned children losing their homes. The books of Nahum and Obadiah are even more graphic.

There is, to say the least, a darkness in these psalms. If they were found in some other book than the Bible, we might even call it an ugliness. Yet here are these prayers, preserved for us as authoritative Scripture, preserved for us to become our own prayers.

However we might synthesize the ethics of such psalms, one thing is certain: these are prayers uttered from the heart and soul, fully alive and open before God. There is nothing hidden in these psalms, these prayers. There is no hidden agenda – it is quite clear. Those who utter this prayer are hiding nothing – not even the darkness or ugliness of their own souls. It is all fully alive before God, with the trust that God’s grace is broad enough to hold it all together, and even transform it.

It takes courage to acknowledge the darkness or ugliness present in our souls – whether it’s there by our own doing or not. It takes courage also to name our own pain, our own frustration, our own anger and display it before God in prayer. It takes courage to trust that God’s grace and mercy is indeed wide enough to take on the totality of what is in our soul.

We hear that courage expressed again from the lament psalms, as we have heard in Lamentations. So we hear famously from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” a cry heard upon the voice of Jesus himself. In Psalm 44, we hear the lament-prayer of the innocents, perhaps the very people in exile:

All this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way, yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness (Ps. 44:17-19, NRSV).

The psalms became prayers and hymns uttered in worship in the history of Israel. They teach us that we can pray before God and one another, “Lord, I am hurting!” We can pray, “Lord, where are you?!” We can pray, “Lord, why?!” just as Jeremiah did, just as Jesus did.

This is not the language of complaining or whining; this is not a lack of faith that God is sovereign; this is the bold faith of baring our lives before the Lord, in trust and expectation that God will hold it together and do something about it. Indeed, even God gives voice to lament in Jeremiah, saying, “Let my eyes run down with tears night and day, and let them not cease, for the virgin daughter – my people – is struck down with a crushing blow” (Jer. 14:17, NRSV).

The New Covenant: Hope amid the Ruins
Now, something interesting happens in these lament psalms. Psalm 22, which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” ends: “You who fear the Lord, praise him! . . . For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”

Psalm 44, which indicts God for sleeping while the righteous suffer, nevertheless expresses confidence in God’s steadfast love and deliverance. Psalm 74, which begins in lament over national calamity, nevertheless expresses trust and expectation that God, the king of old, is working salvation in the earth. The entire book of the Psalms is arranged in a way that ebbs and flows from lament to praise and back again, “[mirroring] the ever-fluctuating sorrows and joys of a worshiping community that finds its God in both darkness and light”8 – both in times of struggle and in blessing.

It is as if the very act of pouring out the lament and grief in our heart is itself an expression of faith and trust in God and consistent with acts of praise to come. For the Scriptures reveal, as we have been telling these past weeks, that there is always hope amid the ruins. The cry on Good Friday, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” becomes on Sunday, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jeremiah and Ezekiel, two great prophets of the Exile, both turn the page from judgment and lament to hope. Jeremiah 30 begins, “for the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will restore the fortunes of my people, Israel and Judah.” (v. 3). In Ezekiel 34, God declares, “I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.”

Even as the people are writhing in living the divided life of exile, God is working to redeem and to restore wholeness. God declares a new covenant, one written on the people’s hearts. God declares that the darkness and ugliness of their souls is not too dark for the light of the world. Sin will be remembered no more, and the people will again be fully alive before their God.9

Ezekiel declares,

I will make with them a covenant of peace. . . I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing. . . They shall be secure on on their own soil. . . They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them. . . You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture. (Ezek. 34:25-31; cf. Ezek. 37:26-28).

A new covenant, a new relationship, a new hope rising from the ruins of exile. Hope in the midst of disaster cannot be stated as simple fact. It must be evoked as impassioned truth in proclamation and witness. One cannot say to the soul in exile, “Everything will work out fine.” One must make space for the imagination of a future of new hope.

One must hold the grief of the exiled soul in steadfast love, waiting patiently as it begins to hear the voice of the Light of the World marching on the gates of darkness, and saying, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates! And be lifted up, O ye ancient doors! That the King of glory may enter in. . . It is the Lord, strong and mighty. . . he is the king of glory” (Ps. 24:7-10).10

The Way Back Home
As one turns the page to Isaiah 40, the word of the Lord goes out to a people in exile, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. . . In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isa. 40:1-3).11

Our journey home goes through the wilderness, just as it did in Exodus. It’s a story of reconnection with God, “who has always been here even though we have been estranged.”12 In John 14:6, Jesus memorably states, “I am the way.” I am the way through the wilderness. I am the way home. I am the way to wholeness and integrity. I am the way to God. With Jesus, we can take the inner truth of who God has made us to be into the outer world, reclaiming some of our “personal wholeness” and helping those around us reclaim some of their own too.13

Jesus may or may not give us the exact words to say in the midst of the sort of locker room chatter that objectifies people, but he does tell us that’s not who we really are or have to be. He gives us the courage to be different, to be whole, to have integrity, whether gaining or losing peer appreciation.

Jesus may or may not tell us how to fix that divisive situation with the person in the pew next to us. But he has shown us what forgiveness is, and that leads to wholeness. He may or may not tell us how to rekindle the spark in our marriage, or how to reach out to the estranged son or daughter, but he’s shown us what steadfast love looks like, and that leads to wholeness.

Jesus may or may not give us the exact 12-step process to acknowledge and permanently overcome our darkness, our dividedness, or even our sin in this life, but he is knocking at the gate of our darkness, pursuing us with his love, waiting to enter in, that he might lead us home from our exile and teach us once again to sing the Lord’s songs.

Notes:
1 Marcus Borg, Heart of Christianity, 176. Borg refers to the Exile and Return story as one of the three OT “macro stories.”
2 Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, 4.
3 Palmer, 4. Palmer also lists several hallmarks of the divided life here.
4 Ibid., 6.
5 Ibid., 7.
6 Ibid., 7-8.
7 Ibid., 16.
8 Stephen L. Harris, Understanding the Bible (6th ed.), 266.
9 In addition to the Ezekiel passage below, see also the “New Covenant” texts in Hosea 2:18-19 and Luke 22:14-20; also Isa. 11:6-9, 65:27-25.
10 This is part of the Eastern Easter liturgy.
11 By no accident, followers of Christ have also seen in these words of Isaiah a witness to Jesus, who continues God’s work in leading us home from exile through the wilderness.
12 Borg, 176.
13 Palmer, 9.