Tag Archives: Babylonian Exile

“The Rock from which you were hewn” (24 August 2014, Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 51.1–6
Matthew 16.13–20

 

There are a lot of references to rocks in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 32 calls God ‘the Rock that bore you’. And in 2 Samuel 22:

The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock,
and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation.

And Psalm 18,

For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?

Not to mention Jesus:

The stone that the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone…

It’s a rocky road we’re taking today, as two of our readings speak of rocks: firstly, in Isaiah we are encouraged to 

Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

Let’s ‘look to the rock from which we were hewn’. Sometimes when I’ve holidayed back in England, I’ve visited the church in which I was baptised, Christ Church Harrogate. And I’ve stopped by the font in which I was baptised, and offered a prayer of thanks. Here it is:

Font 

 

You can see that it’s made of stone; I remember the first time I went back, it was this verse that popped into my head:

Look to the rock from which you were hewn.

And why not? Whatever is happening in life, a rock gives you a solid place to stand, a firm place to be. And we need a place to stand.

For me, baptism is one such place. I suppose that’s why that verse came to my mind that day. Baptism gives us a new identity, a firm identity as daughters and sons of the God who came for us in Jesus Christ, and who sent the Spirit among us to bring us new life.

It is easy to feel lost today. Things are changing more rapidly than ever before. So much seems out of control. There are things that we can hold on to: family, friends, home. But so much is out of our hands.

We hear about

  • the way that the forces of ISIS are committing atrocities and terrorising anyone in northern Iraq who doesn’t support their particular kind of religious and political extremism; 
  • the horrors of the never-ending conflict between Israel and Gaza;
  • the way children in detention centres set up by Australia — by us! — are suffering chronic psychological trauma and even harming themselves.

How do we find a place to stand? Continue reading

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Spirit, open our hearts (17 August, 2014: Year A)

Readings
Isaiah 56.1–8
Matthew 15.10–28

 

When we began our service this morning, we sang

Gather us in, the lost and forsaken;
Gather us in, the blind and the lame…

Our lectionary scriptures today prompt us to ask some very important questions: How far do we go in gathering people in? Where do we stop?

Isaiah 56 relates to a time when the exiles are returning from Babylon and being gathered into Jerusalem. Remember, the Temple had been demolished and Jerusalem left in ruins in 587BC, and much of the population had been taken into captivity in Babylon. Today, the once-mighty Babylon is a pile of ruins about 85km south of Baghdad.

We say the exiles ‘returned’ to Jerusalem, but most if not all of them had never been there; it was their grandparents and great-grandparents who had been taken away. They knew Babylon, it was where they were born; they’d grown up on tales of the wonders of Jerusalem, but when they were gathered back in they didn’t like what Jerusalem had become.

Jerusalem was in ruins but worse still, it was full of foreigners! (I think the irony that they’d never seen the place before would’ve been lost on them.)

How did the returnees deal with the foreigners who had occupied their houses and land? They were divided about that.

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Lend a hand—as baptised people (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Reading

Jeremiah 31.27–34

 

Last week, we were reminded that Jerusalem was destroyed for the first time in 597 BC. That’s 2600 years ago. The city was demolished by the Babylonians, who were the superpower of the time. The Temple, God’s house, was torn down. And Jerusalem’s best and brightest were carried away into exile in Babylon, in the place we now call Iraq.

When the Jewish people were carried away, they felt they could no longer worship God. The Temple was gone. That was their only place of worship. So in Psalm 137 they sang,

By the rivers of Babylon
we sat down and wept
as we remembered Zion.
On the willow trees there
we hung up our lyres,
for there those who had carried us captive
asked us to sing them a song,
our captors called on us to be joyful:
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’
How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?

How indeed? As if broken hearts and broken spirits were not enough, how could they sing God’s songs with no temple?

The Book of Jeremiah countered this by telling them to put down roots, to grow food and have children, to pray for the welfare of the city of their enemies.

And when the time came that they could go back to their ancestral home, the Book of Jeremiah has startling news for the returning exiles. God says:

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel…says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

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Lend a Hand—in a time of change (28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

Reading
Jeremiah 29.1, 4–7

 

Sometimes, when I look at where I am in life, I wonder how I got here. I could never have predicted when I was a young boy growing up that one day I’d be a minister in a church that I’d never heard of, a church that didn’t exist yet. I couldn’t imagine that I’d be living in a place on the other side of the world, where my birthday was in winter and Christmas was in summer.

I couldn’t have dreamt that most of us would have phones even better than Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone. I never imagined that the smart phones we now have would have more powerful computers than those that guided the moon landing in 1968.

I couldn’t have dreamt that my daughter Erin would come to me when she was a little girl and ask my if I played with Blu-tac as a boy. When I told her that we didn’t have Blu-tac when I was a boy, she straightaway asked me if I played with twisty-ties. I had to tell her there were no twisty-ties when I was a kid either. I felt so old.

I couldn’t have dreamt that the pace of change would be so fast that you now hear twenty year-olds saying, Back in the day…

It’s not all light-hearted, though. I couldn’t have dreamt in my wildest nightmares that I’d be living in a time when 97% of climatologists tell us that climate change is real, and that human activity bears a great deal of the responsibility.

I couldn’t have dreamt I’d see the largest displacement of people from their homes in world history. That’s what we’re seeing in Syria right now as people flee or are driven from their homes. The World Health Organisation has called this the worst ongoing humanitarian crisis on earth. According to The Atlantic magazine:

Four million Syrians are internally displaced; with homes either destroyed or unsafe, they have moved to temporary housing within Syria’s borders. Another two million have now fled the country, pouring into neighbouring countries at a rate of nearly 6,000 every day.

Those of us who went to the Holy Land in April heard something about this while travelling through Jordan.

No one knew how true it was back in 1964 when Bob Dylan sang The times they are a-changing. But then, I doubt he did either.

We don’t all ‘do’ change well, so what do we do when the times are changing? Hide from it, embrace it, go with the flow?

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