Category: Advent

O Little Town of Bethlehem – a lectionary reflection of for Advent 3C (Micah 5)

 
 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.
*****
 
                O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
                Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
                Yet in they dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
                The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. (Philips Brooks, 1868).
        When we hear the Christmas story, the Gospel of Luke brings us to the little town of Bethlehem, and Matthew gets us out of town, just in the nick of time. In Luke it’s an imperial census that draws the Holy Family to Bethlehem, while in Matthew it is an enraged king who drives them out of town and into exile in Egypt. While Bethlehem is the city of David, the hometown of the young man, whom Samuel called to a new vocation, from shepherd to king of Israel. The prophet Micah speaks to a different age, several centuries after David’s rise to power. The kingdom that David put together no longer exists. It had divided into two parts after the death of his successor, and the northern portion was destroyed by the Assyrians during Micah’s time, leaving Judah as a remnant. While much of Micah’s message is one of judgment upon that kingdom and its leaders, this reading seems to offer hope of something, something better. What that might look like is uncertain, but for Christians this portends the coming of Jesus, born in Bethlehem, who is the one of peace.
           When we who are Christians read a passage from the Hebrew Bible, we need to remember that it has an original audience different from us. Sometimes that audience is difficult to discern, as it is here. Is this the message of an eighth century prophet who hails from the rural regions of Judah or a voice calling out from the exile, hoping for a restoration of what once existed, a kingdom under Davidic rule? Scholars are not of one mind on this. As Christians, however, we read it in light of the Gospels and apply it to the birth of Jesus. Micah may have had a different scenario in mind, but we hear it speaking to our Advent journey, pointing us to the little town of Bethlehem, from whence one will come bringing peace.
            The opening lines of the book of Micah identifies the prophet as “Micah of Moresheth in the days of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem” (Micah 1:1). This puts the prophet in the eighth century, around the time of the Assyrian destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel. Much of the early chapters of the book fit such a context, but some scholars place chapters four and five during the exilic or post-exilic period. So, while the opening chapters offer words of doom and gloom, chapters four and five offer a word of hope, possibly to a post-exilic people that the throne of David would be restored. Of course, that never occurred. Descendants of the Davidic line did hold some power in post-exilic Judah, but not as king. On the other hand, there is the possibility that this is not a post-exilic piece, but actually comes from the eighth century. Since Micah takes a rather dim view of the monarchy, including Hezekiah, then perhaps what is being suggested is not the post-exilic restoration, but a royal do-over. Remember Micah isn’t an urban prophet, he’s a rural prophet. He sees the devastation out in the villages that took place after the Assyrian invasion, because the authorities pursued war rather than peace. Thus, Micah is seen envisioning a shepherd king, rather than a warrior one. As you can see, the original audience is difficult to pin down.
       While the original audience is difficult to discern, Matthew and Luke found it to be pregnant with possibilities, as they tell the story of Jesus’ birth. While these two Gospels offer two rather different perspectives on Jesus’ birth, both stories center in Bethlehem. Micah may not have been the only influence, but likely influenced this vision. So, now, as Christmas draws near, and we prepare for that moment when we welcome the child born in Bethlehem, whom the angels celebrate, we hear this word of restoration. The word for us is that “he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.”
          I like the idea that Micah may be envisioning a new beginning, something unlike the historical record. It’s not that he envisions a restoration of the current order. It’s clear he’s not impressed with David’s successors, and maybe not even with David. But Bethlehem might be a better starting place than Jerusalem. It’s not a matter of making Judah great again, but rather living into God’s vision of a realm that is just, where those who rule do so for the good of all, and as Alan Gregory puts it, this person rules for the good “of all who struggle and work for life, who prefers peace to war, and who desires to secure their posterity in the land” [Connections, p. 50]. If as seems possible, Micah speaks from a social location that is rural and has been decimated by war (after all the rural villagers don’t have the benefit of Jerusalem’s walls to protect them, like Hezekiah did), then we can see how this vision might resonate.
Indeed, it may resonate in our day, as many in rural America feel left out and ignored. They many have also contributed their sons and daughters to serve in foreign wars or seen support for their communities sucked up by military budgets. Perhaps they have been left behind by the technological revolution. What is true for those living in rural America is often true of those living in our urban cores. Neither share in the benefits of living in suburban America (my social location), and thus feel a certain anger toward the government, who seems more intent on representing those with the means to contribute to political coffers than those living on the margins. That is, the community to whom Jesus more often than not spoke.
This is the Sunday we light the candle of love. Love is the foundation for peace and justice in the world. It is love that brings nourishment and strength to the people, allowing those gathered by God’s love to live securely. That is because the Good Shepherd is the prince of peace. Peace may have been the theme of the second Sunday of Advent, but the message peace continues to ring out. We long for its promise, even as military budgets eat up much of the governmental budgets here in my country and around the world. Maybe there is a better way, a way of peace. Micah proposes it, and Jesus exemplifies it in his words and deeds. The one who is born in Bethlehem becomes the good shepherd, who takes us on a different path.
O holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O Come to us, abide with us, our God, Emmanuel.
                                                                               —Phillips Brooks

Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

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A Change Is Gonna Come: Advent 3

A Change Is Gonna Come: Advent 3

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 16, 2018

Read Isaiah 42:1-9 (CEB)

Reflection

Advent gives us hope.  Hope is a hard thing to concentrate on when the wider culture forces cheerfulness and sentimentality.  There is a lot out there that wants us to forget the world we live in that is filled with sin and injustice. Isaiah 42 tells us that the world has problems, big problems. Problems that might seem hopeless.  But God speaks into that dark time to remind the people of Israel that whatever they are experiencing is not the last word. God has not forgotten them.

Advent is a corrective to the culture that wants to rush headlong into Christmas.  Advent not only tells us what their world is like, but what it can be. Even when we face the bad times, Advent reminds us that something good will happen, maybe not right away, but soon.  Evil will not have the last word.

The late R&B singer Sam Cooke once sang a song called “A Change Is Gonna Come.”   It was an important song of the civil rights movement. To a younger generation, it has a prominent part towards the end of the 1992 movie Malcolm X, the biopic on the life and death of the civil rights leader.  

Part of the inspiration of the song came from Cooke trying to register at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport, Louisiana.  He had called ahead to make a reservation, but when he, his wife and his entourage arrived all African Americans, the hotel said it had no vacancies.  Cooke, of course, was furious and demanded to see the manager.  After a while, they left the hotel to go to another hotel in town.  As they arrived, the police were there ready to arrest him for disturbing the peace.

Cooke wrote this song about racism and the hope that things would change.  The song became a staple in the civil rights movement because of the lyrics.  I want to close with some of the lyrics:

 

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I’ve been running ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
It’s been too hard living but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will
I go to the movie and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me, “Don’t hang around”
It’s been a long, a long time coming

 

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

For Cooke and countless African Americans who were alive in the early 60s, it might have been hard to have hope when things seemed like nothing would change.  But Cooke believed that things would change for the better, even if he couldn’t see it clearly at that time. He had hope that the evil of racism would not stand forever.

That is Advent hope.  It is the hope that Christ will return to establish justice forever.  It is that hope that informs the church in mission in the here and now as we long for the not yet.

1. Sam Cooke. A Change is Gonna Come. (1964), RCA Records.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

A Joyous Homecoming – Lectionary reflection for Advent 3C (Zephaniah 3)

Zephaniah (18th century Russian icon) 

Zephaniah 3:14-20 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18 as on a day of festival.
I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

*****************

When you read this Psalm you almost get the sense that Zephaniah has Judah’s return from exile in Babylon, but Zephaniah’s ministry dates to the time of Josiah in the seventh century BCE, just prior to the exile in Babylon. While it’s possible that this song dates from the post-exilic period and was added to the earlier words of Zephaniah, it fits the earlier period just as well. Whether a celebration of a return from exile or national revival, it invites us to rejoice that God’s judgments have been removed and God is ready to renew the people in love. So, let us rejoice and be glad in the Lord our God!
We hear these words from Zephaniah as we continue our journey through Advent to the revealing of the Christ Child on Christmas Eve. The opening season of the Christian year, Advent serves as a reminder that God is faithful to the promises made. Thus, as we gather for Advent worship, we take hold of those promises that inspire and encourage us along the way. Advent is, of course, an eschatological season. It looks forward to the ways in which God will act on behalf of the people—thus the warrior imagery here.
For a nation like Judah, which stood on the road connecting the powers of Egypt and Mesopotamia, it often “hosted” armies seeking to expand their domains at Israel’s expense. Thus, they must entrust themselves to God’s care. There is a word here in verse 19 that declares that God the liberator will deal with oppressors, save the lame, and gather the outcast. Those on the margins will “change their shame into praise.” Of course, it should be noted that much of the book of Zephaniah is a rebuke to Judah, but not here. At least, here Zephaniah, looking forward, perhaps with Joshua’s reforms in mind, envisions a different, purified nation, that will celebrate God’s presence. In the verses just prior to the song, we hear the prophet speak of the remnant of Israel that will seek refuge in the name of the Lord and will “do no wrong and utter no lies, nor shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouths. Then they will pasture and lie down, and no one shall make them afraid” (Zeph. 3:12-13).
Taken by itself, upon reading this song of joy, you would never know that Zephaniah had pronounced judgment on Judah. There is the reference to judgments rescinded, but the nature of the crimes isn’t laid out. More likely we take hold of the opening lines, which invites us to sing the Lord, with songs of joy and exultation. Perhaps the song celebrates a new reality, in which Judah has heeded the call of the prophet and reformed its ways. Thus, it would appear, that Judah has taken steps to change their ways. They’ve heard the pronouncements and have reformed their ways. Thus, we can see the connection to the reforms of Josiah that returned appropriate forms of worship and decorum to the Temple, and proper behavior among the people. This leads naturally to a call to rejoice in the Lord. Even as we see signs that behavior changed, there is also the recognition that God is acting on behalf of the people. Again, it is good to remember that Judah was a small nation that sat between dueling empires, thus this little kingdom was a valued vassal, not for its treasures, but for its strategic location. The nation was constantly needing to shift loyalties, but for Zephaniah, there is only one loyalty to be considered, that is the loyalty to God, the protector, the warrior.
Placing this song into the season of Advent, we can see how it connects with the day of joy. So, Zephaniah joins Paul with a song of joy, as Paul invites the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). Though in Luke, John the Baptist is warning the crowds to be baptized, so maybe he is where Zephaniah was before the song was written! (Luke 3:7-18). There is, therefore, a connection in the season of Advent between the call for repentance and change and the invitation to rejoice in God’s presence.
So, what does Zephaniah have to say to us? How might we move into a position of joy? It would seem that this would require accepting God’s judgment, if we are to move into God’s new vision. If we fail to heed those calls to change our behavior, we will make the call to rejoice rather shallow. So, we might want to hear this reading with the caravan at the border in mind. Why, we would be wise to ask, have thousands of Central Americans lined up at the border seeking asylum? What might be the cause of the disruptions of life in Honduras and Nicaragua. How might situations on the northern side of the border, have contributed to the frustrations and distress, where parents fear the power of gangs that originated in the United States. Perhaps, we can start, as Seth Moland-Kovash suggests, by praying “in solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world who do experience the world in ways much more like the experience of Zephaniah’s hearers. We pray for an end to all disasters and conflicts, and we trust in God’s promise for restoration” [Feasting on the Word, p. 55]. When we pray in solidarity, then it’s possible for us, whose situation is very different, to experience God’s restoration in our own situations. At the same time, it’s important to remember that this word of judgment is issued within a broader offer of mercy. Remember that Zephaniah sings that God has taken away the judgments placed on Judah. The same would be true for us.
When we are burdened with guilt, feeling that we must clean ourselves up first, before we come to God, will leave us in the dust. Yes, John called out the “the brood of vipers” for their hypocrisy, he also offered them an opportunity to start afresh in baptism. It is God’s offer of forgiveness that leads to joy. As Alan Gregory notes, “though God has not taken back a word of the condemnation, God’s grace exceeds the condemnation in the healing powers of renewal” [Connections, p. 36]. This encounter, both now and in the future, will not leave us unchanged, but instead will allow us to move forward in God’s grace into a new reality, one of renewal, and thus a joyous homecoming. So “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zeph. 3:14b).

Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

With Great Power…: Advent 2

With Great Power…: Advent 2

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 9, 2018

Read Esther 4:1-7 and 7:1-10  (CEB)

Reflection

“For such a time as this.” This phrase is commonly used. A time to stand up and speak out. Sometimes we can be called to speak a truth at a certain place and certain time. For Esther this meant a big risk. As we saw earlier, King Xerxes deposed his last queen for
refusing to come to his party. For Esther, it was a big risk to come before the king unannounced.

Even though God is not mentioned in this book, God is working behind the scenes, giving Esther the courage to go to the King, to display cunning in dealing with a very evil man and for being honest about who she really was. In our day to day lives, God tends to be in the background. There are no burning bushes or chariots of fire. Esther reminds us that God is still there as we face challenges to speak up to the powers that be.

What does this have to do with Advent? It has everything to do with this time of waiting for Christ. The Jews in Persia needed a savior and Esther was that person, a person that didn’t know if she had the power to do anything who was able to stand up to Haman and win. For Esther to be successful, she had to go to the King. This was a risk because no one
came to see Xerxes unless they were called and she hadn’t been called in a month. When she appears in the throne room, she has to see if the king will lower his scepter to allow her to come forward or be killed. She had great power, but she also had to be able to
risk losing that power to save her people.

This sounds familiar. Kind of like Jesus. Jesus had great power. He was the son of God. And yet he came to earth as a baby, the weakest of creatures and then lived as a human. As Jesus neared the cross, he could have opted to not get crucified, but instead allowed
himself to be killed for the good of others. Advent reminds us that God will deliver us, will free us from the powers of sin and death. “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility.” We all have some sense of power. How will we use it? Peter Parker decided to work at saving people in his native New York as Spiderman. Esther decided to use what she had to save her people. Jesus used it to save all of creation. What will you do?

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

The Coming Refining Fire – Lectionary reflection for Advent 2C (Malachi 3)

Malachi 3:1-4 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? 
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

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                The message of Advent is clear. Get ready. Get cleaned up. Prepare yourself for the coming of the Lord. But, are we ready to bear the burden of purification? Are we ready to be refined by the refiner’s fire? A little water from baptism maybe, but fire?  Sometimes we ask for things to occur, but don’t know the full ramifications. We cry for justice, forgetting that we might get singed along the way.
                Malachi speaks to a people facing a crisis. Exiles have returned home to a ruined Jerusalem, from Babylon and Persia. They have rebuilt the Temple, but maybe they’re not of one mind when it comes to supporting it. The Book of Malachi is best known for its “stewardship theme” of tithing so as not to rob God. Maybe the context of this message was a capital campaign to rebuild the Temple. Maybe people were a bit behind in their pledges (Mal. 3:8-12). Could the prophet of record be a disgruntled priest, who is discouraged by the lack of progress in supporting the Temple or in behavior change for that matter. We aren’t reading that portion of Malachi 3. We’re reading the word that precedes it.
That word follows the word we hear now, a word about a messenger, perhaps an eschatological messenger, who will come suddenly to carry out judgment. The identity of the messenger is uncertain. The name Malachi can be translated as “My Messenger,” which is the task given to the one who is coming. In any case, the word comes to the people from God, and it is God who will do the refining.
                Whoever this prophet is, who likely writes early in the fifth century, BCE, the word we hear, is that the people have lost their way. They want much but seem unwilling to give of themselves for this purpose. They may be experiencing disillusionment. They decry corruption, but perhaps are caught up in it themselves (and can’t see it). So, the prophet calls the people to account on behalf of YHWH Zebaoth (Lord of Hosts), who is coming, with refiner’s fire, to cleanse and renew the community.
                The Gospel reading from Luke 3 that accompanies this reading speaks of another messenger, who is sent to the people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord. That messenger or prophet is John, son of Zechariah, who proclaimed a baptism of repentance in preparation for the coming of the Lord—as Isaiah had already revealed (Luke 3:1-6). Malachi’s calling is similar, or better, John’s calling is similar to that of Malachi. Both prophets call for repentance so that sins might be forgiven, and people might be purified.
The age in which we live is an age of division that at times lacks a sense of moral vision. As Reinhold Niebuhr would say, moral man is living in an immoral society. We hear hue and cry about corrupt systems—political, religious, corporate—even we participate and perhaps benefit from those systems. We want change, but we would rather not incur any pain or inconvenience. It is like those who complain about the roads, but demand tax cuts. So, we throw out the bums, and elect new bums in their place. When the new bums fail to fulfill their promise (or fulfill it at our inconvenience), we complain. It seems to be a never-ending cycle. So, perhaps Malachi’s concerns are our concerns.
While we’re not sure about the context, the prophet is concerned about the context at hand. Things are not as they should be, which suggests that God will do something to set things right. People have been calling for God act, but perhaps they need to ready themselves first. The refining fire might prove uncomfortable. So, am I ready? I don’t know. Is the church I serve ready? I don’t know that either.
                As we move quickly toward Christmas, on this the second Sunday of Advent, with only two more Sundays after this one we are faced with the question: are you ready for what is to come? Perhaps we will answer: If only we had more time, or perhaps more resources, then we could fulfill our promise. But will this answer be sufficient? While the promise that the coming messenger will bring refiner’s fire might seem ominous (who wants to undergo judgment), perhaps it is for the best. Perhaps if we submit ourselves to this process, we will be better prepared to bring our offerings to the Temple in righteousness.
                With Malachi’s message in our minds, what is the vision that moves us in this journey toward Bethlehem? What are we hearing from God that speaks to our souls? Are we ready to receive this word of judgment so we can prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord?
                Let us remember that the season of Advent points not only to the first Advent, when a child is born in Bethlehem, a child who will grow up to preach good news, bring healing and wholeness, and then face death, but also a second Advent, the eschaton, the time of judgment. While the death of Jesus culminated in the Resurrection, that was the end of the story. We live in the interregnum, the in-between time, before the coming Day of the Lord. We may be experiencing some of that refining fire now, in our time.
                After centuries of Christendom, where in Europe and its colonies, Christianity dominated culturally, that cultural dynamic no longer exists. People find church to be less important. They still claim faith in God but operate outside the usual channels. Our congregations shrink, and along with it, our budgets. The majority of churches in America have less than 100 members. I serve one of those churches. I know the challenges that come as we grow smaller. Thousands of cars pass by our church each day, no one paying attention to that church on the corner. I don’t know the future. I am hopeful, but realistic as well. The future of our congregations, especially smaller ones with older and whiter memberships, is uncertain. The good news is that God is faithful to the covenant, and so the invitation is sent out, inviting us to submit ourselves to the refiner’s fire.
                This passage is intended to be heard on Peace Sunday. The question is, does it bring peace to our souls? Does it inspire us to be peacemakers? Whether we’re able to answer in the affirmative, we can hear the words of Alan Gregory, who writes:
When Christians accept God’s calling, it is good news for the world, because the church, when it is willing to bear God’s refining, represents the glory of humanity as it exists in God’s desire. In the end, of course, what sustains the church, and all human beings touched by God’s grace, lies beyond the words of judgment, in the faithfulness with which God shall complete the loving work of creation.  [Connections, p. 20].
May we present ourselves to God’s messenger so that we might be refined. With that act on God’s part of refining us, we find ourselves brought to wholeness, to completeness, along with the rest of God’s creation. With  that we can continue the journey toward Christmas.

Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

The Last Word: Advent 1

The Last Word: Advent 1

Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 2, 2018

Read Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:[3b-6] 17-19 (CEB)

Reflection

There is a story told about Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu during the apartheid era.  It is an example of this faithful waiting, knowing that the injustice that reigns now will fall one day.  

Tutu held a church service/protest rally at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town.  Outside of the church were hundreds of policemen there to intimidate Tutu and the worshippers.  While he was preaching, the police, who were armed, broke into the cathedral and lined the walls of the sanctuary.  They took out notebooks to record Tutu’s words.

The Archbishop continued preaching, talking about the evils of apartheid and reminding those gathered that this oppression would not endure.  

Then Tutu made a pointed statement directed at the police. 

“You are powerful. You are very powerful, but you are not gods and I serve a God who cannot be mocked. So, since you’ve already lost, since you’ve already lost, I invite you today to come and join the winning side!”

And then those gathered broke into song and dance.  The police were left dumbfounded.

Tutu was correct of course.  The police and the whole apparatus of apartheid had already lost.  In a few years, Nelson Mandela would be released from prison and South Africa would become a multiracial democracy.

We live in faith because we know that one day, the walls of injustice will come tumbling down.

Our text today reminds us that God is with us as we faithfully wait.  Even when it might seem dark, we can put our hope that the barriers that keep us from becoming a whole society will fall.  God has promised this and God will do it.

More likely than not, you are reading this around the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is the four weeks before Christmas where we prepare for Christ’s coming.  The word Advent comes from the Latin word Adventus, which means, coming or arrival.  So we have a season where the practice of waiting is front and center.  Advent is about waiting for the arrival of Christ, but it is also about waiting for the time when God’s kingdom is fully realized.  God’s kingdom is breaking through now, but it is not fully here.  We trust in the future when the things that divide us, like race will be thrown away.  But we have to live faithfully in now where there is still distrust and fear.  We have to wait.

The prophet had to learn to wait for vindication.  God was calling the prophet to trust in the midst of waiting; to live a holy life expecting that God will answer in due time.

But that is a challenge, isn’t it?  It’s hard to wait for God’s justice when injustice seems to be running amok in the land. Waiting means sometimes waiting a long, long time. Waiting means having to see more injustice.

Towards the end of C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, we are told that Aslan the Lion is on the march to restore Narnia.  It’s interesting when these words are spoken because at the time the kingdom was still under the power of the White Witch who had made Narnia where there was only winter.  The winter was slowly receding, but winter was still here. 

But Aslan was on the March.  We are on the winning side. Hope is on the way as we wait.  God is coming.

 

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.

God’s Righteousness Revealed – Lectionary Reflection for Advent 1C – Jeremiah 33

Jeremiah 33:14-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 

14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

 
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                It is the First Sunday of Advent and a new liturgical year begins. This first Sunday in the Christian year is designated “Hope Sunday,” which is a good place to begin a journey. Advent has an eschatological dimension to it, in that it invites us to look forward to God acting on our behalf not only in the present but in the future. It invites us to put our trust in the God who makes and fulfills covenant promises. Many congregations, including my own, begin the journey singing the medieval hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” While the hymn references the exile of Israel, it also invites us to look longingly toward the coming of the Christ child.  But it doesn’t end with the coming of the Christ child. That is a past event, and Advent continues to point us forward into the future. So, with this first Sunday we begin a journey that will takes us from anticipation to fulfillment in the coming of the Christ child, and then from there through the ministry of Jesus, his death, resurrection, on to the planting of a church that will bear the message of Jesus until that time when Christ reigns all in all.
                The word of the Lord as recorded in the first testament comes to us from the prophet Jeremiah. We can assume that this word is addressed to exiles living in Babylon. Although this word is addressed to both the people of Israel and Judah, Israel had long since disappeared from history, having been rooted out by the Assyrians in the eighth century. Jeremiah offers words of encouragement, reminding the people that God fulfills God’s promises, and the promise that is put before us concerns the time when “a righteous Branch” will “spring up for David.” As one might expect among a community of exiles who have watched as their nation has lost everything, including its leadership, there is the hope that life will return to normal. That things will go back to the way things were when the nation was at least theoretically independent. The only way for that to occur would be to see a member of the royal family restored to the throne of Judah. That is, there is an expectation that a member of the Davidic line will emerge, take the throne, and in that role will “execute justice and righteousness in the land.” This would be good news!
                The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent in Year C is taken from Luke 21. In this reading we hear Jesus speaking in apocalyptic terms of the day God’s reign will be fully revealed. In this reading Jesus calls on the hearer to “be on guard so that your hearts are not weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap” (Lk. 21:34-35). The message of Advent is always one of being prepared and being alert for the day of the Lord is ever at hand. That was Jesus’ message, and it was Jeremiah’s. Neither Jesus nor Jeremiah offer a timetable, only a promise that the realm will come, and with it will come justice.  
 
                As we read Jeremiah today, in what some call a post-Christian age, when the church’s cultural dominance is diminished, what word do we hear? There are some who seek to “make the church great again,” by reclaiming cultural dominance. We see this in practice during this Advent/Christmas season by the demand made that retailers great customers with “Merry Christmas,” as well as demands that city halls place creche scenes on their front lawns. During other months of the year, we hear calls for restoring prayer and bible reading in schools. Some even want to make the McGuffey Reader of the 19th century the standard educational curriculum. Is this what Jeremiah has in mind for us? Is this the day when the Lord will be our righteousness? While, it’s true that the exiles desired to return to life as it was before exile, is this God’s vision? When we read books like Ezra and Nehemiah, we see attempts made in the post-exilic period to return to normal, by rebuilding Temple and city walls, while attempts are made to keep the community pure (Ezra’s call to put aside foreign wives—Ezra 9). While Zerubbabel was a Davidic descendant and the center of hopes of David restoration, he served only as a governor appointed by a Persian king (Haggai1). I’m not sure that either Zerubbabel or any other governor fulfilled the promise, but the promise remained.
The Christian community has taken it up, affirming that Jesus is the true son of David, and thus the righteous branch, who will bring justice and righteousness to the land. This is the vision that drives the Christian message. Jeremiah likely had a return to the land of the ancestors in mind, when he spoke these words. Jesus, on the other hand, at least in Christian theology, has a larger frame of reference that a return to the land of the ancestors. For Jesus the vision of the future involves the revelation and inauguration of the realm of God. This eschatological realm is marked by God’s justice and righteousness. As we gather for worship in Advent, we are confronted by this larger vision of God’s realm. Out of that vision comes the question of how we, the people of God, called together in the name of Jesus, can embody the justice and righteousness of God. This embodiment can take a variety of forms, but all reflect God’s love for all creation. This might involve both those first responses, taking care of immediate needs, like providing food and shelter, but ultimately it involves pursuing systemic change, so that the vision might be fulfilled.
With this invitation in mind, we begin the journey of Advent, moving toward the celebration of the birth of a child who was, at least temporarily, a homeless refugee.    

Picture attribution: Tree of Jesse, a Bavarian ivory panel., from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=27238 [retrieved November 26, 2018]. Original source: Wikimedia.

Robert Cornwall is the Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan. He holds the Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books including Out of the Office (Energion, 2017), Marriage in Interesting Times (Energion, 2016), and Freedom in Covenant (Wipf and Stock, 2015) and blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey.

Time and Space- Narrative Lectionary, Advent 4

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Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 24,  2017

Introduction

When we think of the Christmas story in the Bible, we tend to think of the story presented in Luke 2. This is the text that Linus memorizes in the Charlie Brown Christmas Story.  It’s the story of Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds.

But there is another Christmas story out there.  But there is no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherd, no choir of angels.  Instead we hear about abstract things like the word, “logos.” It’s a cosmic story that allows you to see the birth of Jesus in a more expanded way. The first 18 verses of John is a prologue that sets up the rest of the book and also sets up the why of Jesus’ coming to earth.  Today, we look at the opening chapters of the book of John.

Engaging the Text

The Word became flesh
    and made his home among us.
We have seen his glory,
    glory like that of a father’s only son,
        full of grace and truth.

John 1:14

The birth story found in Luke is one that is grounded in time and space.  Look at the first passage in Luke 2:

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

-Luke 2:1-3

Luke places Jesus is a specific context; we know that Augustus is the emperor of the Roman Empire. We know that Quirinius is the governor of Syria.  We also know that a census is being taken and Joseph has to go to Bethlehem to be counted.

Now look at the first passages in the book of John:

In the beginning was the Word
    and the Word was with God
    and the Word was God.

-John 1:1

We know that something is beginning, but we don’t know when this is happening.  John starts the gospel outside of time and space.  This is a reminder of the nature of God; someone that transcends space and time.

When we hear that phrase, “In the beginning,” the writer is intentionally recalling those first few words in Genesis. The writer then goes to say that this Word or logos was present at the creation. The writer is trying to get the point across that what is going to happen in the following pages is as big as the creation.

One way to look at this chapter is to see it as if you are looking at something through a telescope.  You can see something at one viewpoint and if you magnify it you will see more things that weren’t seen before. That’s what is happening here: we start with the cosmic and then we move closer to the created order in verses 3-5.

About the word “Word.”  In greek the word is translated as logos. Logos was a word and concept that people in the first century found familiar. This logos was present with God at the creation and shares the very life of God. The Logos and God are very close to each other even though they are two personalities.

Verse 5 shows us that the Logos is not just an abstract thought, but also gives life.  A word, a thought can actually give light and life to humanity.

Starting at verse 6, we focus not on Jesus, but his cousin, John.  While they are different, they are also the same. The greek verb egeneto (was made) is used to talk about both John and Jesus. But while they both talk about God’s mission to bring salvation, verse 8 tells us that John the Baptist only bears witness to the light while Jesus is the Light. In essence, John the Baptist is the lamp- only Jesus is the Light. This reminds us how the other gospels present John before Jesus which is how they demonstrate that John the Baptist is the witness to the Light and not the light himself.

The third part of today’s text deals with the identity of Jesus.  Verse one is where we first see the word, logos.  In verse 14, the meaning of logos changes.  In chapter 1, logos is beyond time and space, in verse 14 logos becomes time-bound and enters the life of a human.  This is where we are introduced to a whole new concept, the very reason we celebrate Christmas: the Incarnation.

The Incarnation is at the very heart of the gospel of John.  John shows how God choses to express Godself through a human being.  What was once eternal and outside of time is now about life and death.

When the word “flesh” is used (the greek word is sarx) in relation to Jesus, it saying something about what Jesus is doing.  Jesus becoming enfleshed means that the logos chooses to become weak, frail and vulnerable.  The good news of the incarnation is that the God that was inaccessible, now has come to live with a fallen humanity.

Starting with verse 14, John concludes his text in a song praising Jesus. We learn the why of the Incarnation: to make God known. We also learn that the Son and Father have a relationship, a sense of intimacy.  (Father is not relating to God’s gender, but to the relationship between Jesus and God.)

Conclusion

Luke and John look at the coming of Jesus in different ways.  Luke talks about Mary and Joseph, a pregnancy, a census that the Romans wanted, and having to give birth to baby in smelly stable.  Everything here is somewhat mundane, everyday.  Yes, there is that whole angel thing with the shepherd, but even the shepherds were so plain.  Luke’s story is about people, places and things.  It’s concrete.  John on the other hand, is a whole different animal.  Where things are finite and ordinary in Luke, John tends to deal with the infinite.  “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,” says John 1:1.  There is no Mary, no Joseph, no shepherds, no angels.  Instead we have talk about the Word or Logos, about being rejected by people, about the Word being around since the beginning of time.  In the midst of all this, verse 14 talks about the Word, the cosmic, the infinite taking on flesh and living among humanity.

Think about that for a moment.  The infinite got involved with the finite.  Here’s what John 1:14 says according to the Message translation of the Bible:

The Word became flesh and blood,
   and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
   the one-of-a-kind glory,
   like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
-John 1:14 (Message version)

This is what Christmas is about.  God, the infinite, the all powerful and all knowing, became a helpless baby.  God loved creation so much God decided to become one of us, to accept the limits of being human.  God became Immanuel, God with us, by becoming one of us. God moved into the neighborhood.

As we get together with family and friends during the holidays, remember this: Christmas is about God getting involved in the life of the world for its salvation.  God is about moving into our hearts and joining us in the good and the bad. Charles Wesley expressed this in his carol “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.”  The third verse explains this wonderfully:

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

God has moved in. Merry Christmas.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.

Come and Get It!- Narrative Lectionary, Advent 3

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Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 17,  2017

Introduction

Food seems to be a major theme that runs throughout the Bible.  Earlier in the season, we heard the story of how God provided manna to the people of Israel as they traveled to the Promised Land.

The sense of journey is also a theme in the Bible.  There was the journey to the promised land.  Now we hear the time of exile and the journey back.

In today’s text we see those two themes coming together.  There is a lot of talk about a feast for the people in the context of getting ready or coming back to Israel.  God calls the people then and today to come to the feast. Today we talk about the people of Israel joining the feast of God.

Engaging the Text

Seek the Lord when he can still be found;
    call him while he is yet near.

Isaiah 55:6

The book of Isaiah is actually 3 books in one.  First Isaiah includes the first 39 chapters and talks about life in the Southern Kingdom of Judah before it fell to Babylon.  Second Isaiah is from chapter 40 to 55 and deals with the exile in Babylon and later Persia.  Third Isaiah goes from chapter 56 to the end, chapter 66 and deals with the time when the Jews returned to their homeland.  So chapter 55 is taking place during the exile, but in some cases, the exile was close to ending.  They had spent time in Babylon who did not treat the Jews with respect and then when Babylon fell, they lived in exile in Persia.  Their new king, Cyrus, is a more inclusive person, allowing for the conquered peoples to worship their own God.  

Chapter 55 are also the closing words of the writer of Second Isaiah.  The last words in any document are going to have a punch, something that the writer wants the readers to remember.  That’s what we encounter in this passage.

In Jeremiah 29, God speaks through the prophet that the newly exiled Israelites are to make a life in Babylon.  God would bring the people back to the Israel, but not right now.  In this passage, we can see that now is the time to come home. The people are to come back to Jerusalem where God will give the returning exiles a feast.  Bread, milk, water, all of this will be given to the people- and there is nothing that they have to do to receive it (any early understanding of grace). A meal can be a sign of coming home and this is what is happening here; God is leading the people home where they can have a hot meal after a time of trauma.

The food is also a covenant.  God is establishing a new covenant with David, meaning the Davidic dynasty.  At least that is what it should have been.  God isn’t talking about a restoration of the royalty, but the covenant is now with the entire people of Israel. The covenant is not with one person, but with the whole people and the feast is a sign of that bond between God and Israel.

But as they enter Jerusalem, they are also called to change their lives.  Note that God doesn’t say, “change your ways and I will feed you,” God gives the meal no matter what.  But if they enter God’s presence, they should change their ways.  Notice that the word “wicked” is used in verse 7.  Theologian Walter Brueggeman thinks it is not referring to disobedience but to something else related to the exile:

“The wicked,” I suggest, are not disobedient people in general. In context, they are those who are so settled in Babylon and so accommodated to imperial ways that they have no intention of making a positive response to Yahweh’s invitation to homecoming. That is, they have no “thought” of enacting Jewish passion for Jerusalem. To “return” to Yahweh here means to embrace fully the future that Yahweh is now offering. This “return” is not simply a spiritual resolve but the embrace of a new hope and a new historical possibility that entails a dramatic reorientation of life in political, public categories. Those who have excessively accommodated the empire are indeed to be pardoned. But pardon requires serious resolve for a reordered life commitment.

So God’s action calls for a response. God calls the people to repent, to change their ways and follow God. They were used to the ways of Babylon, but that time is now over and it is time to come home.

Conclusion

16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi.

-Matthew 2:16

While the writer is not thinking about Jesus or the church (and it is important to remember that), Christians can look at this passage and see how it can relate.  The meal in the chapter sound a lot like communion. We are offered a meal and we do this with the bread and the wine. There is nothing we have to do to accept this meal, but it is a sign of God’s grace.  God grace can drive us to a response, to seek to live righteously.

In the 1997 document The Use and Means of Grace, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America explains what communion is all about; gathering for a meal, the confession of sins and our need for God:

 

The simple order of our liturgy of Holy Communion , represented in the worship books of our church, is that which has been used by generations of Christians. We gather in song and prayer, confessing ou r need of God. We read the Scriptures and hear them preached. We profess our faith and pray for the world, sealing our prayers with a sign of peace . We gather an offering for the poor and for the mission of the Church . We set our table with bread and wine, give thanks and praise to God, pro – claiming Jesus Christ, and eat and drink. We hear the blessing of God and are sent out in mission to the world .

The people of Israel were called by God to come home to a marvelous feast and learn again the ways of God. We are also called home each week to a feast where we also learn the ways of God and seek to be Christ’s people in the world, drawing everyone to Jesus.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.

Dem Bones- Narrative Lectionary, Advent 2

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Narrative Lectionary Reflection

December 10,  2017

Introduction

Popular culture has a fascination with the living dead. Television shows like the Walking Dead and Fear of the Walking Dead are popular. There are zombies onthe big screen as well: World War Z, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead to name a few. Cities around the world host Zombie Walks where thousands of people, walk, I mean shamble around town dressed up in their best zombie gear. In 2012 about 7000 people took part in the Zombie Pub Crawl in St. Paul, Minnesota. Zombies a thing.

So, why are zombies so hot? Maybe it’s a way of dealing with death. It could reflects our fears of illness, especially the fear of some virus threatens humanity. Maybe it’s about the how thin is the wall between civilized order and chaotic violence.

Today’s text of the prophet Ezekiel and the Valley of the Dry Bones looks like the zombie story since those that were dead are revivified. But this passage isn’t talking about the Walking Dead, but life, real life coming from death. It is about restoration even when all hope was lost.  Today, we look at one of the oddest texts in he Bible.  Welcome to the Valley of the Dry Bones.

 

Engaging the Text

He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Ezekiel 37:3

Ezekiel is a contemporary of Jeremiah.  While Jeremiah is a prophet during the last days of the Southern Kingdom, Ezekiel is the prophet during exile. The book covers a period between 593 BCE and 573 BCE- dark days for the Jewish people. When the book opens, Judah is basically a colony of Babylon.  However, when the vassal king in Judah, Zedekiah leads a failed rebellion, Babylon sends forces to Jerusalem and destroys the city including the temple in 587 BCE.  Judah ceases to be an independent entity and significant numbers of the population is sent to live in Babylon proper.  So, when chapter 37 opens, the Jews are away from their homeland which no longer exists and the temple, which was the center of Jewish life has been destroyed.  There is no sense of hope- only death.

These forced immigrants felt that their culture was dying if not dead. And they had good reason to fear this; a century earlier, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was also invaded and a chunk of their people were taken. These Jews began to intermarry with the local population and basically dissapeared. So those who were now in exile began to believe that they were cut off from God; there was no hope whatsoever.

The prophet Ezekiel has a vision where he is in a valley filled with bones. Now this is even worse than a zombie. There is no body, just bones. Death is all around. There is no hope. Assyrian reliefs seems to show that it was customary to allow bodies slain on the field to remain where they fell.  The bodies would rot and carrion birds would strip away the flesh.  So it wasn’t simply an image of bones, but images of bodies in various stages of decay. These dried bones mirrored how the exilic community felt; dried up, dead.

But God has a different message and God uses this vision to communicate that to Ezekiel. God asks Ezekiel if these bones could live. I can imagine the prophet shrugging his shoulders and saying to God, “only you know, God.” God tells Ezekiel that he will knit the bones together, adding muscles and then skin. God was going to make these bones live. Soon, the valley is filled with bodies. Just one problem: they had no breath in them, which means that the bodies were, you guessed it- zombies.

It was common in the Middle Eastern culture of this time that bodies were not alive until they had an animating spirit. Ezekiel prophesies to the Spirit and God then calls the “ruach” or breath or spirit and the bodies begin to breathe. Life has come where there was death.

What this means for the Jews in Babylon is that God  and only God could revive the people of Israel.  Only God could bring back that which was dead.

Also, there was no talk that if the community tried really hard, things could come back.  The passage is very clear that things won’t be like it was.  All we know is that God will restore God’s people.  This is the promise that God gives to Ezekiel and to the exilic community.

 

Conclusion

16 When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi.

-Matthew 2:16

When I think about this passage and the message it brings, a few hopeless situations come to mind. I think of my hometown of Flint, Michigan that is reeling after the collapse of the auto industry and the subsequent water crisis.  There is a lot of sense of loss and the hope, the wish that things could be like it was back in the 1970s, when the town had twice the population and you could see trucks of cars made in factories in the city head to other parts of the country.

But restoration isn’t reproduction.  The restoration of my hometown means it won’t make it like what Flint was like 40 years ago.  So it is with Israel.  The people in Babylon won’t go back to “normal.” But God will bring restoration and new life.

But it is also important to remember that this story is also a story of shock and horror.  I know of someone whose family were refugees from the killing fields of Cambodia in the 1970s.  Refugees have a longing for home, but knowing the horror they just left, the refugees know they have to make their home in a new culture.  David G. Garber explains that what seems like a passage of hope has within it, a sense of remembering a deadly and horrific past:

 We forget that Ezekiel himself was taken into exile in 597 BCE, that he heard reports of his religious institution being corrupted without the proper oversight of the priesthood, and that his status had been reduced from a prominent position as a future priest in Jerusalem to that of a temple-less priest in exile.  We forget the death of his wife and God’s command for him not to mourn her as an example for the exilic community not to mourn the loss of the Temple (24:16-24). 

More importantly, we forget the historical trauma that accompanied this exile. We forget that the Babylonians tortured the inhabitants of Jerusalem with siege warfare that lasted almost two years, leading to famine, disease, and despair (2 Kings 25:3). We forget how they destroyed the city of Jerusalem, razed the temple to the ground, killed many of its inhabitants, and forced the rest to migrate to Babylon. Over and over again, in the texts we refuse to read from the book of Ezekiel, the prophet offers imagery that testifies to and metaphorically represents the multiple traumas that the community faced under the realities of ancient Near Eastern warfare.

While many of us read Ezekiel 37 as a beautiful passage, it is also horrifying. It is horrifying because it calls the reader to remember, confront, and testify to the devastating events that led to the valley filled with dry bones in the first place. Its beauty, however, manifests itself with the possibility that even in this landscape full of death, a hope for renewed life remains. Ezekiel prophesies to the bones that soon reanimate, with newly formed sinews knitting the bones together as living flesh and skin envelop them (verse 8). In a scene that recalls the breath of God entering the first human in Genesis 2, the prophet then commands the four winds and the same breath of God enters the reanimated bodies that live once more (verse 10). 

The miracle of this vision does not simply lie in its theatricality. The true miracle is that it occurs after the community has faced such devastating loss. Yet, the familiarity of this text can tempt preachers and teachers to reduce the miraculous to cliché. We can often turn it into a promise for new life on individual and communal levels without taking seriously the situations and circumstances that have lead to the initial death.

Like refugees from places like Syria or Cambodia or Rwanda, there is a sense of hope, the people can’t forget the horror that that population went through. Restoration can only happen when there is loss. God doesn’t want the Jews to forget the hard times, God does want to give the people a future filled with hope.

The dry bones tale reminds us that God doesn’t forget God’s people. We are remembered by God. We are restored by God. What we as a community must do is have eyes to see and ears to hear where God’s Spirit is at work; in our lives, in this faith community and in the world. Let’s look for life and trust that God will bring us from death into life.

Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century and the Federalist.