Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Heart Embossed

Jeremiah 31: 27-34
A.  Grey’s Anatomy
I’m a Grey’s Anatomy fan.  I look forward to the television show each week like it’s a matter of life and death; if not mine it’s always someone whose life is on the brink of death.  The storyline takes place at Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital in Seattle, Washington with a group of curious characters, one whom is Meredith Grey.  Its steamy romantic plotlines of the residents, doctors and interns interplay with emergencies and life threatening medical maladies.

There was an episode a while back where an elderly woman was admitted to Grey-Sloan who was in the active process of dying.  But she had a pacemaker though that kicked in overtime when the rest of her body really wanted to go.  Her family said she had been knocking on death’s door often in the last year and each time her niece and two nephews would gather by her bedside; they were her only family. Somehow though she would pull through, and they were getting annoyed with this pattern.

So when the woman was being examined by the doctor this time they wanted to know if she was going to die immediately and if not immediately, would it be in the next 24 hours; one had a very important board meeting to attend.  They all had more important things to do.  They were cold and, it seemed unsympathetic and callous. They explained that she had ‘pulled’ this so often that they were tired with all these false alarms. You could tell by the doctor’s faces that they thought the three of them were heartless.  The niece explained that they had been through this before and that their old auntie always pulled through.  Her ‘almost dying’ was a recurring annoyance in their lives.

Then the woman coded again and the intern tried to revive her with cardio conversion, or the shock paddles.  It didn’t work and the woman showed all signs of dying but the intern was confused because on the cardiac monitor the woman’s heart continued to beat.  The family wanted to know, is she dead or is she alive?  With that a doctor comes in and electronically stopped the pacemaker and pronounced her officially, unequivocally gone. 

The camera panned to the family.  You could see that they were grieved.  Tears came to the eyes of the niece, the one nephew drew closer to his aunt and took her hand and the one who had that important board meeting to attend, he asked if they could stay longer and have some alone time with the woman. 

Their exterior actions and words from before did not convey the inner workings or feelings of their hearts.  Their self indulgent behavior overrode the great possibility of empathic love.  They had lost their way, and lost sight of the important things and people that make this life worth living.  In the end though, the love that they really did have for their aunt was displayed.  Their inner heart was exposed for all to see.

B.  The Heart
The heart is one of the vital organs of the human body if not THE most vital organ for without our tickers, we don’t tick, it grants us life.  It takes in de-oxygenated blood, swishes it around and sends it to the lungs.  It receives oxygenated blood from the lungs and sends it out to the far reaches of our bodies.  The heart is a work of magnificent art.

Healthy hearts keep on beating like a clock ticking the minutes away.  Pacemakers, procedures and medication keep not so healthy hearts beating at consistent intervals.  But the regularity of the beat doesn’t regulate our emotion or what’s going on inside of us. 

So the human heart has another vital function.  It is the place where our emotions take up residence.  All of them.  Love, joy, empathy, sympathy and their evil counterparts, hate, greed, or jealousy.  Our hearts are regular emotion machines!

It’s no wonder that it is here in this very spot, on this critical organ of the human body that God puts the covenant of law and life, “I will put my law within them, I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they will be my people”.   God embosses their hearts with hope and truth.

C.  Jeremiah and the Israelites
Jeremiah, in last weeks lesson, came to the exiled people and told them to settle in, that it’s going to be a long, long time before they were going to be able to go home again. And so they did and many years passed.  But then Jeremiah’s oracles changed from doom and gloom to redemption and hope.  Restoration is promised.

So it is here that God says to Jeremiah, ‘the days are surely coming’, meaning not quite yet but in the not so distant future I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  This covenant is not going to be like the other one, which, by the way, they broke (a divine dig, right?!).  No, say’s God, I’ll write it on their hearts that I will be their God and they will be my people.  I’ll forgive them and let bygones be bygone.  God is ready to forgive and forget.

AS compelling and oddly dreamy as it may sound this God writing the covenant on their hearts, the people didn’t open up their hearts.  The Israelites weren’t asking for a new covenant, they didn’t so much even care or pay attention to the old one, the ones written in tablets of stone.  And that was just the point. 

They had turned away from God on many occasions.  God was frustrated and tired of their misbehavin’.  So as Walter Brueggeman points out, this new covenant was given by God without warning or explanation.  God is determined to have a relationship with the Israelites and will do whatever it takes.  Even if it means unsolicited, prehistoric invasive ‘surgery’ on the most important organ of the human body.

It’s not an external covenant like the rainbow or the tablets of commandments but it’s an internal covenant inscribed upon their hearts.  They won’t be able to turn away from my rainbow, or say that the tablets are too heavy or inconvenient to carry around, says God.  No.  It’s within.  I will be YOUR God and you will be my people, all people, this covenant is for everybody.  The people now have the love of God, but as covenants go, they too have some responsibility in this relationship.  They need to turn from their old ways and embrace new ones.

D.  Matters of the Heart
You’ve got to hand it to God and those divine brains. Looks like God is always learning how to deal with us humans.   Sticking the covenant where it matters the most, where the people just can’t get away from it is pretty ingenious!

While we might want to romanticize this passage there is an edge to it that we must have a look at.  As we accept the love of God we also must accept God’s will within us.  We are no longer left to decide what’s right and wrong for ourselves but we now make those decisions in tandem with God and the intention of God for us.  That’s the nature of covenant.  Not our will but your will Holy One we pray that each time the words of the Lord’s Prayer seep out of our mouths like the nieces and nephews on Grey’s Anatomy.  We too must turn from our self serving ways so that we can envision what God’s intention might be for us and for those around us by our words and actions.

Words and actions have been on my mind a lot lately.  This has been a rough election season, I don’t have to tell you that.  While, by law, I am not allowed to endorse a political candidate or party from the pulpit it does not prevent me from commenting on social or political issues or the rhetoric, fervor and vehemence of the campaign season because to me it has become heartless.

Do not wonder why bullying is on the rise.  Name-calling and racial epithets whether in the workplace, on the playground, in the cyber-world are becoming the norm for our living rather than the exception of some misinformed, heartless, prejudiced person or two.

Do not wonder why women starve themselves to ‘look good’ or have so much surgery that they no longer look like themselves.  Beautiful women, created in God’s image, have been given all sorts of messages that they are not good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough.

And this needs to stop.    

No one should use their power and or their wealth over another person especially with the intent to harm that person or to make the gap between the rich and poor, male and female, gay or straight, black, Latino or white even larger than it already is.  God gave us creative, inventive minds and we need to use them for the good of the common weal. God created us with free will so the choices we (Christians) make should reflect at all times the essence of the Gospel.

The Gospel is seeped with ways to live ethically and responsibly toward our brothers and our sisters. Please don’t get this confused with the Christian right’s agenda of restoring the country to ‘Christian’ values, it’s not that – Good ethics are good ethics, plain and simple.  Christians don’t have a corner on that market!  Good ethics have been around long before this country was founded and way before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John put their pens to papyrus.

Making decisions for Election Day
So how do we understand all of this through a Gospel lens with Election Day rapidly approaching? I believe in the right of each individual to use their creative, God given talents and minds.  I believe in the Gospel and the ways in which its ethics play a role in our lives and in our lives as the body politic. 

Here are some questions to ponder as you formulate or maybe rethink the candidates that you want to elect: Which candidate pays the most attention to the ethics that the gospel espouses?  That is, which candidate will advocate for all people, for those with means and for those without means?  Which candidate will not be persuaded by special interest groups but will raise up all people for fair wages, affordable health care, safe environmental stewardship, and access to top-notch education for our children?   The Gospels are about equity and justice. Don’t be discouraged, don’t ring your hands and don’t point your fingers.  You need to think and to pray, to use your reason and your intellect and to apply ethical thinking in your decision making and indeed in all of your living.

Fortunately we are not alone in making these tough decisions.  God is always with us remember, I will be your God and you will be my people.  The fact is, the heart IS the best place that God has chosen to impress upon us the steadfast covenant of love and law; you need to look no further than within.


Seeds of Faith

Luke 17: 5-10

When I was a child I used to own a pendant that was a small glass sphere about the diameter of a dime.  Inside of the glass sphere was a mustard seed.  This mustard seed was to remind me of faith and how if I had even one mustard seed size amount of faith, I could do anything.  Well somewhere along the way the pendant went missing along with my fancy doll collection, a stuffed animal from my dad and my Barbie doll that I loved.  My faith however did not go missing.

Years later a friend and I were going through a pretty tough time teaching a diversity class.  The mix of students didn’t gel, the curriculum didn’t fit and we were at our wits end.   One day she gave me a pendant unlike the other in many ways but like the other in that it had a mustard seed.  She said to me, ‘I thought we needed a little boost of faith’.  Indeed she was right!  I needed a boost and all it took was encouragement, and seeing the mustard seed to remind me that God was in charge, just have faith.  Well the students didn’t change but we adjusted the curriculum, and finished the class celebrating our accomplishment of just making it through.  

As you might guess our scripture for reflection today comes from Luke 17 and it is the parable of the mustard seed.  But it is followed up with another parable that will give us pause and so we will examine both of theses parables in context.  Hear now Luke 17: 5-10.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”

Remember now, both of these parables are a response to the disciples burning request to ‘increase their faith’.  What we need to understand is why did they ask for increased faith?  What’s the urgent rush for more faith for them?  Well just before that in verses 1-4 Jesus warns them that ‘occasions for stumbling will abound’ and ‘woe’ to them. 

He says if your brother sins you must reprimand him and if that brother repents you must forgive.  And, if that same brother sins against you seven times a day, and repents seven times a day, then you must forgive seven times a day.  Well now that would get trying having to forgive someone seven times or more a day, that’s a tall order.  I think that I, too, would get perturbed at having to forgive someone seven times a day, my patience would wear real thin like the heal of a well worn sock, and my faith might falter a bit.

The life of discipleship or following Jesus is demanding at best and so the disciples said to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”  In essence they are saying, help us Lord we don’t know if we we’re cut out for this discipleship thing so please deepen our faith.  So Jesus, true to form, answers them with two parables, one of the mustard seed and one of the worthless slave.  Following Jesus is just not for the faint of heart, and hearing his parables is sometimes like hearing fingernails scratch a blackboard.

But first about the mustard seed.  It’s pretty small, if you had faith just that teeny tiny amount you could rearrange the landscape!  Luke says that you could replant mulberry trees in the sea and if we were to look at this parable in Matthew it says you could move mountains with just a thimbleful of faith.  (Matt 17:20)  That’s pretty amazing.  But we have to be careful here; faith is not quantifiable.  It would take a supernatural power to accomplish these things or some hocus pocus.   You just can’t measure your life in Christ by the amount of faith you do or do not have.  

The parable of the mustard seed not a ‘prosperity gospel’ that televangelists preach about, that if you believe in your goals and have faith in God you’ll be able to accomplish them because God is so awesome that God wants everyone happy, healthy and wealthy.  We have to be careful in our interpretation.   

This parable is a reminder to do big things with limited resources that we might have.  You know great things have been done by people with very little, who believed in a dream and had faith.  Anglican priest and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu is one such person and he changed the landscape of South Africa.  Educated in mission schools he wanted a medical career but when his family couldn’t afford it he went into teaching.  That later led to his theological training and deep held beliefs in human dignity and rights for all people no matter the color of your skin. 

He held a fearless stance in opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime and maintained a nonviolent approach as the path to liberation for the South African blacks.  Remarkable accomplishments from a man of humble beginnings, a dream and a little faith!  So far so good with Jesus’ parable about faith.

Now let’s turn our attention to the second parable that Jesus told the disciples as a response to “Increase our faith.”  This parable is about the underappreciated slave or servant.  Now this is or should be a very large obstacle for us of contemporary culture and faith.  It is perplexing and prickly because slavery pierces the soul of America and we have strived to rid ourselves of our uncomfortable past.  But we can never really rid ourselves of it; it is our history and we can only accept it as fact and then transition to a better way of life because we know that slavery is inhuman and inappropriate.

This is the chasm that exists between the first century and the twenty-first century and us trying to figure out what is going on.  This is why this parable is jarring and to understand slavery in the context of our text is essential.  Just as we need to understand the context of the 6 scripture passages that, on first glance, seem to condemn homosexuality, we need to understand why Jesus would use a slave (or servant) as an answer to ‘Increase our faith’.

Then people worked as servants or slaves before becoming free, it was the norm and not the exception, and hierarchy was monumental to an ordered way of life.  Masters would expect their servants to perform duties and servants would expect that, when their hard work is done, they would receive nourishment and rest.  Slaves were to put their needs on the back burner in order to serve their master.  And when they have served their master they would have done their duty just as when we serve God we will have done our duty as faithful disciples.

Let me say that I do not support structures of oppression in any way, shape, or form.  But to glean from this parable a useful word then we work with what we have in front of us and understand this slave-master thing as communal relationship.

So we look at the entire passage to gain some understanding.  We are to not cause anyone to stumble and we are to forgive those who offend us.  We are to exercise our faith and to be a disciple who does one’s duty.

Jesus is talking about the life of a disciple.  And that is to be in community with others who love God and want to serve God and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.  Faith here is less about personal fortitude and more about mutual forbearance because we know that to be in Christian community is not always easy.  It’s got its ups and downs.  How might we, as a community of believers be loving, forgiving, and more caring towards one another?  How might we, together ask God to ‘increase our faith’ so that when times get tough we can tough it out together? 

Faith is a way of life.   It’s about serving and being served in our commonality and our love of God.  It’s about having faith that we can do a lot with so very little all for the good of humankind.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

In Unexpected Places

Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7
Probably each one of us can remember a time when you received some unexpected news.  A friend that you haven’t seen in ages just sent you a text saying that she is in town for the weekend and would love to see you.  Or perhaps your cell phone rings and your boss tells you that you’re being honored for your outstanding work in your field of expertise.  Or maybe, just maybe your daughter in law comes to pick you up for a ‘girls day out’ and she tells you that she and your son are expecting a baby for the very first time. 

We’ve all been there; we’ve all received unexpected news that has knocked the socks right off of your feet or made you squeal with delight.  The memory of those moments probably still, to this day, brings a smile to your face and warms your heart when you think back. 

There is also another kind of unexpected news that you hope you never will receive.  This is the kind of news the breaks your heart.  Surely you think it’s not happening to me or this can’t be for real but there is no mistaking it.  This kind of unexpected news leaves you reeling. There is only profound disappointment, terrible sadness, hopelessness and despair.  I’m sure you can all imagine what that kind of unexpected news might be like or maybe you’ve even received that sullen kind of news.

Back in Jerusalem the prophet Hananiah was prophesying the first kind of news to the people of Israel who had been exiled to Babylon.  ‘Yeah’, he says, ‘you’re going to be back home once again in two years – tops!’  And of course people clamored for his word and unrestrained optimism.  Why wouldn’t they want to shake off the chains of their captivity and oppressors and go home, sweet home? 

Remember two weeks ago we looked at Psalm 137?  They lamented being in captivity and were being tormented to ‘sing one of the song’s of Zion’ when all they wanted to do was to go back home.  So Hananiah’s prophesy would have been, for them, like winning the lottery of hope.  It would have been that pin dot of light in a very murky place, that first ribbon of light as the morning sun begins to pierce a very dark and bad night. 

But you see, Hananiah was a false prophet.  He promised that Israel would be great again and go home, but it wasn’t the truth.  And so the prophet Jeremiah, sent by God, is the one who would tell them the truth and comfort them in their disappointment.

Hear now the words of the prophet Jeremiah, the 29th chapter.     

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

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

Now first some historical context.  If you were to take a look at a Biblical timeline that aligns the external and internal political movements of the Ancient Near East alongside of the prophetic collections of such as Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and all the rest in Judah (Israel) at the time, you will be quite surprised to see that prophets, those called by God to speak on behalf of God, were the busiest during times of geopolitical unrest.  Such is the case with the prophet Jeremiah. 

Jeremiah was from the Southern kingdom of Judah; the Northern kingdom Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians 100 years earlier.  Judah becomes a vassal state of Assyria and then Assyria’s last powerful king, dies.  The Assyrian empire falls as does Judah after some unsuccessful revolts and reforms and Babylonia finally conquers most of the Ancient Near East.  That part of the world has never known true and everlasting peace. 

In 597 BCE Jerusalem was destroyed and many of the people were taken into exile in Babylonia.  So this is the political context that Jeremiah faced.  It was not a particularly happy time. In fact, it was rather unsettling.

And then, “Thus says the Lord” to Jeremiah once again – sit down…write a letter….send it to the elders and priests who are in exile.  In your letter instruct them to settle down, do what they’d normally do at home that is to build houses, have children, plant gardens so you can feed yourselves, go to the market, start business’, in fact just carry on with your lives, it’s going to be a long time before you can go home.  This letter must have been a jolt to them.

And to top it all off, to add insult to injury, they are to pray for the welfare of Babylonia and in that way they would find their own welfare.    

I can imagine them saying, ‘Really God?’  We’re in this forsaken place, this unexpected and unwanted predicament and you want us to ‘settle and bloom where we’ve been planted’?  You want us to make this place our home?  How long will this humiliating experience continue?  What are we to do in this heathen place?  And what??? You want us to pray for these people who took us captive.  Well that’s just plain bizarre and cruel and counterintuitive to our very souls. 

But yes.  That is exactly what they are to do.

Sometimes the unexpected happens to us, like the Israelites, and we find ourselves in that exilic place, it’s that place that is so foreign, so strange and unfamiliar that we can hardly understand what is going on, or who we are anymore or even recognize our surroundings.  

It could have 40 years ago and you had no control over your circumstances or it could have been just yesterday receiving unexpected news that put a halt to the world you once knew and transported you to a new and uncharted territory.  We have these trauma splintered lives; no one really is exempt from suffering or pain, it’s a part of human existence.  And, my friends, unfortunately there are no quick fixes.

Jeremiah knew that. So in his message he encouraged the people to embrace this place where God had put them and to find ways to be faithful and heal.  Jeremiah knew that their future depended on the acceptance of their present reality.  The challenge for you and me is how to conduct ourselves in the present in order to live into the future when you don’t know exactly what that future will hold.  It is to accept the reality for what it is, no matter how stinky it might be because in that acceptance you find your footing once again and you can begin to find healing, strength, salvation, and transformation.

The people of Israel did just that.  They accepted their reality and settled in, built lives and, as a faithful people, they prayed to God.  And God was with them; God was with them when they went into exile and when they finally emerged so many years later.  God never left them but encouraged them to pray for the welfare of all and in doing so they would find their healing.  A few short verses later God says to them,  ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope….I will restore your fortunes and…I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you.’  And so it happened.

God is with you always.  No matter where you may find yourself, God is there. It was the Psalmist who said ‘If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.’  Even though you may think otherwise, in your unexpected places God is always beside you working towards bringing you home.


Saturday, October 1, 2016

To Sing Anew

Psalm 137
It’s hard to believe that next year it will have been 10 years since I took a leap of faith and moved myself to Israel, Jerusalem in particular, where I made my home.  It was a remarkable year with mostly mountain top experiences but also there were those valleys of the shadow of death experiences where I cried to myself thinking what in the world was I thinking coming to this foreign land?

One of the more difficult times was around Christmas.  While my surroundings were becoming familiar to, the predominant ‘religious season’ was not my religious season.  Chanukah is beautiful but it wasn’t Advent.  Candles all over Jerusalem were lit commemorating the miracle of Chanukah, but wasn’t my miracle.  And so I wept and then pulled myself up by the bootstrap.

 I knew that I’d have to search to find some familiarity in celebrating Advent and Christmas that year. And so I did.

My advent wreath was not a traditional wreath but a plate of olives leaves that I had plucked from one of the local olive trees.  I found a shop that had purple and pink votives and I lit a new candle each week in anticipation of Christ’s birth.  My tree was not from Jones Farm; rather it was a small fake one about a foot tall that someone from home had sent me. The ornaments were not my beloved family ornaments but found items: some pottery shards, a pinecone or two, some small bits of Jerusalem stone, and a couple of angels that I had watercolored.

And it was fine, in fact it was beautiful and I found friends at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land to observe Advent and celebrate Christmas.  While I was not in exile I sure felt alone and, at times confused and in despair.  How I longed to be home with my kids, my dog, and my friends.

Ancient Israel was a worshipping community and the Psalms are the heart and soul of the Hebrew Bible.  They are addressed to God and are prayers that come from deep within a people who suffered greatly.  We are looking at Psalm 137 today.  Kathryn Huey notes, This particular Psalm isn't just one of the "difficult parts" of the Bible, it "may well be president of the club,"[i]

The collection of Psalms is beautiful in that they connect us to raw human sentiment and passion and were written approximately 6 centuries before Christ. Every emotion that we can possibly have is expressed in poetic form allowing the reader to empathize.  The Psalm for reflection today is a lamentation of despair, of remembrance and, of revenge or justice.       

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

What sounds like longing turns horribly grotesque at the end, right?  Let’s have a look at what is going on.  In Psalm 137 the Psalmist laments over the destruction of Jerusalem, he mourns because the people of Israel have now, tragically, been exiled to Babylon.  And their captors are bullies who tauntingly ask them to sing one of “those songs” of Zion. 

But they couldn’t.  It’s just not the same.  All meaning has been removed from their song and nothing resonates with them.  How in the world are they to remain a covenant people while they are geographically isolated in a political empire where they have absolutely no authority? They are angry.  All they can do is hang up their harps on the willow tree branches, lament, and weep.  They aren’t in their familiar surroundings, so why bother?  They ask, “how could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

Some of the most beautiful and compelling music arises out of our deepest pain.  African American Spirituals like "Steal Away", or "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" lifted up unexpectedly in a cotton field, or sung softly in the dark of night, signaled that the coast was clear and the time to escape had come – their freedom from slavery bondage was near.  They sang about their pain, their struggle, their loss but they did not give up hope.

Israel, through this Psalm, lodged their complaint against their captors and their lament dared to say how overwhelming their loss was.  Their disturbing prayer for revenge is Israel’s brutal honesty and it is shocking; it’s not at all emotionally contained or discreet.

Haven’t we all, at some point in our lives, wished some sort of revenge or upcommance on someone or something if even in the smallest of ways?  “I hope she gets what’s coming to her” or “Maybe he’ll get what he deserves” are common phrases when we have been wronged.  It’s a plea for justice but it doesn’t make it ok to threaten someone or to enact harm upon another person. What is ok is to acknowledge the hurt and the anger and do something positive with it.

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, assures us, "Humans, as Israel knows, do indeed thirst for vengeance, and that thirst is itself never censured. The theological question is how to manage that thirst. One may act out the thirst, deny it, or cede it to YHWH in prayer."  So Israel cedes it to God in prayer.  How incredibly therapeutic these words must have been for them, their wish for vengeance is their cry for justice and it is expressed.  Now they can readjust and live once again.

Cursing and ranting is juxtaposed against longing as they work through their grief towards restoration and wholeness.  Unless they examine their loss newness will not come.  With this text of lamentation we too are given permission to grieve and pour out our heart at injustice and our longing for things to be made better.  We can put it all in God’s hands, which is what the Israelites do, trusting that God will look after things in a fair and equitable way.

You know tough times present us with many choices.  We can wallow in our despair or grow spiritually from the experience.   We can give up or give in and stagnate in the present reality or we can take one ten-pound footstep in front of the other eventually walking towards the light.  You cannot get through your grief, or your pain, or your suffering, or your fear, or your anger by just snapping your fingers and thinking it’ll all go away and be fine in the morning.  It doesn’t work that way.  It’s hard soul searching work. 

Our country is a mess right now.  There are plenty of things that are making me fearful and angry.  The campaign process is a horrible example of just how mean spirited people can be.  Arrogance and unbridled prejudice I have never seen the likes of.  While I thought that the Civil Rights act helped reign in racial injustice, apparently I was wrong. I am fearful of the future that our children will have to encounter.  What kind of life will it be for these little ones?  How can I handle my outrage? 

Well like the Psalmist I can let it all hang out before God.  God can take the straight talk from me.  The first step in healing is to acknowledge your fears and pain and to let it out.  Transformation begins by releasing and giving voice to the inner demons in your head.  It may seem like a dark place to be but in the darkness there will come a glimmer of light and hope. 

At the White River Junction VA there is an innovative program wherein cartoonists from the Center for Cartoon Studies and Vets come together and the Vet tells his or her narrative of pain and moral injury.  The cartoonist records it in cartoon form.  While the process is painful, the healing is transformative for both the Vet and the cartoonist.

When we can’t sing in our own land and in our own way, we are provided a different tune.  That is the gift of God’s love.  Israel emerged strong and loyal.  God did not fail them in their captivity and herein lies our hope too.


[i] Weekly Seeds, Kathryn Huey October 3, 2016