Exiled (Jeremiah 52:12-30)

The Babylonian Exile by Jewish-German painter Eduard Bendemann (1811-1889)

In the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon on the seventh day of the fifth month, Nebuzaradan, the king of Babylon’s chief deputy, arrived in Jerusalem. He burned the Temple of God to the ground, went on to the royal palace, and then finished off the city. He burned the whole place down. He put the Babylonian troops he had with him to work knocking down the city walls. Finally, he rounded up everyone left in the city, including those who had earlier deserted to the king of Babylon, and took them off into exile. He left a few poor dirt farmers behind to tend the vineyards and what was left of the fields.

The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the bronze washstands, and the huge bronze basin (the Sea) that were in the Temple of God and hauled the bronze off to Babylon. They also took the various bronze-crafted liturgical accessories, as well as the gold and silver censers and sprinkling bowls, used in the services of Temple worship. The king’s deputy didn’t miss a thing. He took every scrap of precious metal he could find.

The amount of bronze they got from the two pillars, the Sea, the twelve bronze bulls that supported the Sea, and the ten washstands that Solomon had made for the Temple of God was enormous. They couldn’t weigh it all! Each pillar stood twenty-seven feet high with a circumference of eighteen feet. The pillars were hollow, the bronze a little less than an inch thick. Each pillar was topped with an ornate capital of bronze pomegranates and filigree, which added another seven and a half feet to its height. There were ninety-six pomegranates evenly spaced—in all, a hundred pomegranates worked into the filigree.

The king’s deputy took a number of special prisoners: Seraiah the chief priest, Zephaniah the associate priest, three wardens, the chief remaining army officer, seven of the king’s counselors who happened to be in the city, the chief recruiting officer for the army, and sixty men of standing from among the people who were still there. Nebuzaradan the king’s deputy marched them all off to the king of Babylon at Riblah. And there at Riblah, in the land of Hamath, the king of Babylon killed the lot of them in cold blood.

Judah went into exile, orphaned from her land.

3,023 men of Judah were taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar in the seventh year of his reign.

832 from Jerusalem were taken in the eighteenth year of his reign.

745 men from Judah were taken off by Nebuzaradan, the king’s chief deputy, in Nebuchadnezzar’s twenty-third year.

The total number of exiles was 4,600. (The Message)

The Babylonian Exile by Fahri Aldin, 2017

Eventually, God’s words and decrees happen. It may take minutes. It might take centuries. But it will happen.

God promised destruction. It happened. The temple, the city walls, and the houses of Jerusalem were destroyed.

God decreed deportation of the people. It happened. Thousands of Jews were uprooted and moved to Babylon.

God foretold depression. It happened. The social and economic system of Judah collapsed.

God said there would be an occupation of Gentiles. It happened. The occupying force seized and confiscated the holy temple articles. They violated that which was sacred to Judah.

God repeatedly told the people that there would be a reckoning for the years of social injustice and religious infidelity. It happened. There was not just a deportation of persons; there were waves of removal.

The long prophecy of Jeremiah began with a proclamation of exile. It moved toward that exile. And then, in the end, the exile became reality.

Surely, it must have seemed to the citizens of Jerusalem that the end of the world was at hand. Their very identity as God’s people, as they had understood it for centuries, was now obliterated. Who are they now?

The Jewish exile changed forever their understanding of themselves and of God because they needed to reimagine what being the people of God really means without a place and without a temple.

God is both subject and object of all Holy Scripture, including the book of Jeremiah. Perhaps neglected in all the talk of exile is that the Lord was also cast-off, put away, and exiled. And rather than this being bad news, it becomes the good news that divine presence was right alongside the exiles.

In our darkest times, in the worst of circumstances, when all seems hopeless – there is a God who shows such solidarity with us that he is crucified and put to death so that we might live.

The Lord does not stand afar off from us but is beside us, even within us.

The sheer violation and agony of Good Friday and the depressive silence of Holy Saturday are the means of demonstrating the power of resurrection and new life.

We may be deported, depressed, and destroyed – exiled to a place we do not know and do not want to be. Yet, that is not the end of the story.

Exile is temporary. Mercy is forever. There cannot be a resurrection without a death. There must be suffering before there is glory.

Love wins. Every time.

God is Love. Thus, there is always hope….

Ephesians 3:14-21 – A Prayer for Every Believer

A mosaic of the Apostle Paul in St Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

For this reason, I fall on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.

To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of: to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever! Amen. (Good News Translation)

In Jesus Christ, the believer has been given incredible blessings – adoption into God’s family and belonging with God, redemption through Christ’s cross and experiencing freedom from the power of sin, and intimacy and help by means of God’s own Spirit.

Today’s New Testament lesson is a prayer of the Apostle Paul for the Church. After three chapters of describing who we are and what we have in Christ as Christians, he goes to prayer, asking that the new life we have in Christ will be pressed firmly into our heads and our hearts so that this reality of spiritual blessings will be practically realized for the believer.

Here’s a quick remedial grammar lesson: a “verb” expresses an action between two things; a “participle” or “participial phrase” is a word or group of words which help describe the action of the verb.

There are two main verbs Paul uses: “I ask (pray)” for God “to give.” The participles all explain or modify the action of pray and give. In other words, the following actions are what Paul deeply desires that God will do for us as believers in Jesus….

To Become Mighty Through the Spirit

God grants us all the blessings of being in Christ. We are delivered from sin, death, and hell so that we will live into God’s purposes for this new life of freedom.

We live into the Christian life, on a practical level, as our faith is strengthened, and our inner person becomes powerful. This is the Spirit’s work in us – to strengthen our spiritual spine so that we can bear and carry our cross in this life, despite whatever the adversity or difficulty.

We are not alone. The Spirit is with us always. God is present. The believer is never promised that life will be a bowl of cherries and that being a Christian is all rainbows and unicorns. However, the believer is assured that God will be with us through the trouble – which is why we need a strong and robust faith.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5, CEB)

To Dwell In Christ Through Faith

The “heart” in the New Testament is a reference not to the physical muscle in our chest but the seat or center of our inner person.

Paul’s prayer is that God gives or plants the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of people. Those good seeds then take root and become anchored firmly in the soul. They grow and mature, producing a harvest of love.

Not only do those roots grow down and deep, but they also grow out and connect with all other believers everywhere.

To Grasp God’s Love in Christ Through the Spirit

Enjoying this mystical union with Christ and connection with Christians, we come to experientially grasp together the vast dimensions of God’s love for us. God’s love is a multiverse of blessing. In fact, an eternity in heaven will never reach the bottom or top of the God who is Love itself.

When God our Savior made his kindness and love for humanity appear, he saved us, but not because of anything we had done to gain his approval. Instead, because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal. God poured a generous amount of the Spirit on us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:4-6, GW)

To be filled with all the fullness of Love, is to be filled thoroughly with God – because God is Love.

My dear friends, we must love each other. Love comes from God, and when we love each other, it shows we have been given new life. We are now God’s children, and we know him. God is love, and anyone who doesn’t love others has never known him. (1 John 4:7-8, CEV)

Conclusion

Prayer is a gift. Like a little child bursting into her daddy’s office at work and crawling up on his lap, so we have the wondrous privilege of coming to God without hindrance and asking for whatever we need and want.

And what God wants and enjoys hearing, is us asking for spiritual strength, faith, and love. Because it is these things which create a thriving inner person who blesses others.

May it be so, to the glory of God, for the edification of the Church, and in the proclamation of the gospel. Amen.

1 Corinthians 2:1-11 – Relying on Spiritual Power

Brothers and sisters, when I came to you, I didn’t speak about God’s mystery  as if it were some kind of brilliant message or wisdom. While I was with you, I decided to deal with only one subject—Jesus Christ, who was crucified. When I came to you, I was weak. I was afraid and very nervous. I didn’t speak my message with persuasive intellectual arguments. I spoke my message with a show of spiritual power so that your faith would not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.

However, we do use wisdom to speak to those who are mature. It is a wisdom that doesn’t belong to this world or to the rulers of this world who are in power today and gone tomorrow. We speak about the mystery of God’s wisdom. It is a wisdom that has been hidden, which God had planned for our glory before the world began. Not one of the rulers of this world has known it. If they had, they wouldn’t have crucified the Lord of glory. But as Scripture says:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him.”

God has revealed those things to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches everything, especially the deep things of God. After all, who knows everything about a person except that person’s own spirit? In the same way, no one has known everything about God except God’s Spirit. (God’s Word Translation)

We need the Holy Spirit of God.

Without the Spirit’s help, Jesus is just one guy out of thousands who were crucified in history – merely an example of someone martyred for his faith. Yet, Jesus was infinitely more. Christians discern Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world. 

Because of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension, people can be redeemed from empty lives, saved from destructive life-patterns, and given the kind of security and purpose which God intended from the beginning. The Spirit’s role is to take these redemptive events of Jesus and apply them to our lives. 

Christian Trinitarian theology understands we are unable to see the truth about the cross of Jesus Christ unless God the Holy Spirit, sent by God the Father and the Son, breaks into our lives and does an intervention, showing us our denial about how we are really doing – as well as our delusions about who we really are.

Admitting we need the Holy Spirit of God means the power of Christianity and the Christian life rests with Jesus Christ and him crucified, and not with us.

We are, in many ways, powerless. I realize this is not a popular message, especially in Western society. Tell the average American they are powerless, and they’ll think you’re off your rocker. It sounds ridiculous. Some would argue that we have done quite well, thank you very much, on our own. We have a couple of cars, a house, a job, and a family. After all, we worked hard, and we did it.

However, any worldly success we gain, and getting the things we want, may lead us to the delusion we have the power to do whatever we want.

Oh, sure, we might reason, we have problems just like everybody else. After all, we cannot control everything.  But we are not completely powerless. Just because we have difficult circumstances and a few problem people in our lives doesn’t mean I am weak, right? God will step in a take-over where I leave off, right?…

Wrong. Apart from the Holy Spirit of God, we are unable to become Christians and live the Christian life.

If we believe we manage our lives fine, with some help from God, then we might be in denial about how much we place ourselves at the center of the world. Whenever our consistent response to adversity, or the realization we are not handling something well, is to try and fix ourselves, we are living the delusion we have the power to independently change.

A reflexive response in asking Google to find answers to our problems; or dealing privately with our personal issues; or expecting our willpower to be enough; or passively resigning ourselves to mediocre lives because we have tried to change or be different; then we are feeding the delusion we don’t really need the Holy Spirit of God. I just need more effort or information to overcome my problems, right?

Wrong. More won’t solve our issues. And when it doesn’t, we easily become discouraged. We might even chide ourselves for our inability to deal with problems.

Our real need is for the true power source of the Christian life. We need the Holy Spirit applying the work of Jesus Christ to our lives so that we can live a victorious life.

Unfortunately, it typically takes a tragedy or crisis to break our delusion of power – a bad marriage, a family member’s addiction, a runaway child, a terminal illness, a bankruptcy, a death.

How bad do you and I need to hurt before we will admit we are not managing our lives well, at all, and that the real power to change resides with the Holy Spirit?

There is power in the cross of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul believed this with all his heart. Although Paul was an intelligent and learned person, he did not rely on his abilities but on proclaiming the power of Jesus and him crucified.

The crucifixion of Christ was a past action with continuing and forceful ripples into the present time.

The cross of Jesus is more than an historical event; it is an ongoing reality to experience for victory over all the brokenness of this world and all the mess we have made of things putting ourselves at the center of the universe.

The Reformer, John Calvin, repeatedly instructed and encouraged his Geneva congregation that the Spirit joins us to Christ, assures us of salvation, and grows us in confidence through the Scriptures. Calvin, although a genius, did not rely on his intellect or abilities but insisted we need the Spirit’s witness to mature as followers of Jesus.

There are tough situations and incredibly sad realities which are mysteries beyond our comprehension. They defy simplistic answers and are greater than our attempts to explain them. Hard problems stretch our faith. And they ought to cause us to cry out to God and Christ’s Church for help because we are powerless to manage our lives.

We absolutely and totally need the Holy Spirit of God. Without the Spirit, we are lost. But with the Spirit we experience the saving power of Christ’s cross to deal with everything in our lives.

The Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that he will make all things right if I surrender to his will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with him forever in the next. Amen.

Acts 2:1-21 – The Day of Pentecost

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

There were pious Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. When they heard this sound, a crowd gathered. They were mystified because everyone heard them speaking in their native languages. They were surprised and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all the people who are speaking Galileans, every one of them? How then can each of us hear them speaking in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; as well as residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya bordering Cyrene; and visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” They were all surprised and bewildered. Some asked each other, “What does this mean?” Others jeered at them, saying, “They’re full of new wine!”

Peter stood with the other eleven apostles. He raised his voice and declared, “Judeans and everyone living in Jerusalem! Know this! Listen carefully to my words! These people aren’t drunk, as you suspect; after all, it’s only nine o’clock in the morning! Rather, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
    Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young will see visions.
    Your elders will dream dreams.
    Even upon my servants, men and women,
        I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
        and they will prophesy.
I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood and fire and a cloud of smoke.
The sun will be changed into darkness,
    and the moon will be changed into blood,
        before the great and spectacular day of the Lord comes.
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Common English Bible)

The Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since the Spirit is given, the main responsibility of Christians is to receive. 

Christianity is distinctive in this sense – it is primarily a religion of receiving. The Christian life is lived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not in our own strength. The function of faith is to receive what grace offers. 

We are saved and sanctified by grace alone through faith. God lives in and through us by means of the Spirit. The miraculous and the supernatural cannot, obviously, be done by any human person.  It can, however, be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit.

People tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to be a certain way and to do certain things. The result? Tiredness. Discouragement. Imbalance. Lots of giving. Little receiving.

Christianity is not chiefly about giving but receiving. The Christian life is about putting oneself in a position to receive through prayer and humility. In Christianity, the opposite of receiving is not giving – it’s pride. 

Maybe this kind of talk makes you uncomfortable. I’m not talking about being passive or lazy. I’m highlighting the need of receiving grace from God by means of the Holy Spirit. Then, the Spirit to work in and through us. 

Jesus said we would do greater works than even he himself with the advent of the Spirit! (John 14:12-14)

The question then becomes: Will we let God be God? Will we allow the Spirit to do work in us?

The Spirit is elsewhere described in Holy Scripture as a gentle presence, an encourager, counselor, and comforter. Yet, not here at Pentecost – the Spirit is portrayed like a violent wind and an unusual fire.

The Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was not some gentleman caller entering politely when invited. Instead, the Spirit appears more like a drunken sailor who bursts into the room and causes a big ruckus. There’s nothing subtle about the Spirit at Pentecost. The Spirit is electric, bombastic, and volcanic, causing a huge scene and upheaving the status quo.

Because of Pentecost, Christians are marked and defined by God’s Spirit living within them and being full of the Spirit. God wants to pour out the Spirit on all kinds of people to overflowing so that what comes out of them is “prophecy.” 

The prophet Joel and the Apostle Peter do not intend the word “prophecy” to mean predicting the future. Rather, they are referring to inspired speech coming from a heart overflowing with the Spirit. 

Just as an inebriated person says and does things they would not typically say or do because they are filled with alcohol, so the person filled with God’s Spirit says things and does things they would not typically say or do because their inspiration and courage come as a result of God within them.

Thus, we must cast off the unholy spirits of inebriation and receive the Holy Spirit of God.

Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost mosaic by Anna Wyner

God sobered-up the little band of Christ followers from learners to practitioners, sending them into the world with a mission.

Being on a mission from God is not really about ability; it’s about being filled and sent. 

First time parents may read and learn all they can about parenting before their child is born. Yet, when that little bundle comes into the world, and the hospital puts this kid in your arms and sends you out, you feel inadequate for the task. Parenting becomes a kind of supernatural affair where you pray and learn on the fly, finding out that you need something beyond yourself to get anywhere in raising this screaming, pooping, sleeping person who depends completely on you for everything. 

God sends us into the world to make disciples. And we may feel very inadequate for the task. However, this has more to do with receiving the Spirit. The Spirit comes looking to turn our lives upside-down with new life in Jesus Christ. 

Pentecost means that the Spirit came to shake things up and accomplish among God’s people what they could never do on their own.

Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. 

The Church in the New Testament was not a country club for people to simply enjoy the perks of membership.  The community of the redeemed, the Church, is actually more like a place where the people seem drunk because they are all talking with inspired speech from the Holy Spirit. 

Maybe we don’t need to be saved in the sense that we have already called on the name of the Lord concerning forgiveness in Christ. Yet, maybe we need to call on the name of the Lord to be delivered from our misguided attempts to see the Christian life as a pleasant affair.

Perhaps we need deliverance from disordered priorities and misguided loves. We may need to be saved from ourselves so that we are open to the Holy Spirit with palms up receiving from God whatever it is the Spirit wants to do in and through us, rather than telling God how we think things ought to go. 

Prayer, then, is more about receiving the Spirit and God’s purposes for us rather than giving God an earful and expecting the Lord to bless our plans.

Pentecost is the launching pad of the church’s mission – it was explosive because the Spirit is a kind of wild man who fills people up to overflowing so that what comes out of them is inspired speech and missional actions.

If a language barrier cannot stop the Spirit from operating, then how much more can God transform us and use us in the lives of those around us?

Joel’s prophecy, quoted by Peter, is only partially fulfilled. Events have been set in motion by Pentecost for the complete fulfillment of God’s justice. So, there’s some urgency for people to fill their vacuous souls with the grace freely offered to them in Christ.

The outpouring of the Spirit is a sign: The end is near. And the generous giving of the Spirit is inclusive – there is room for all kinds of people. Through the Spirit, God saves all who call on the name of the Lord.

Today is not just another day on the calendar. It is the Day of Pentecost! 

Just as marriages occasionally need a spark and a fire and a fresh wind, so we need the Holy Spirit to breathe on us, comfort us, and inspire us.

May we be filled with the Spirit as we anticipate what our God will do now, and in the years to come.

Spirit of the living God, through the reading and proclamation of the Word, may you refresh our spirits, reshape our desires, recreate our hearts, and reform our ways so that we will shine with your enduring glory, through Jesus Christ, our risen and ascended Lord. Amen.