1Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.
Prayer: Psalm 138
1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.
3On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.
4All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.
5They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.
6For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.
8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.
As we continue moving through the season of the church, time of the Spirit of Pentecost in the church's year of grace, again this week we have a reading from the long book of Isaiah. Backtracking to last week's outline of the 66 books of Isaiah:
• 1st Isaiah – chapters 1-39 before the Babylonian exile
• 2nd Isaiah – 40-55 during the Babylonian exile
• 3rd Isaiah – 56-66 after the exile, mostly addressed to people who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild city, temple, and their own lives. Some individuals and groups decided to remain in Babylon.
Each large section is mostly by the same author; each includes passages almost definitely written by one or more other individuals. All 66 chapters emphasize God's sovereignty, power, and rule; the entire long book reveals a broad universalism of God's love and redemption for all creation everywhere. Together with his eighth century counterpart Amos, 1st Isaiah brings us the earliest articulation of true monotheism.
Listen to God and look back! Look way back now—right now! Remember your source, your roots, your human ancestors. Notice what God has done and trust that same God's promises for your future. Notice where you've been, how far you've traveled, how you got to where you are, the hope you have for God's eternal future.
To remember literally is to reassemble something that has been broken apart, torn apart, dismembered, dissembled into multiple pieces.
Look back and remember! God spoke these words via Isaiah when many of God's people had been deported to Babylon—another(!) empire. They'd arrived and literally sunk roots in the Land of Promise after that long trek through the exodus desert after being liberated from Egypt. Please note: this is a v-e-r-y long timeline, and all of it could not have been part of the living memory of any individual, but everyone would have known the history extremely well because they would re-member, re-tell, and re-live it frequently. Isaiah reminds the exiles of their extraordinary history with God's extraordinary faithfulness. In Hebrew, listen and hear are the same word... In times of discouragement, we need to listen to, hear, and remember our own histories with God and God's faithfulness. We can recall our own sometimes surprising faithfulness, as well.
Look back to your past, to where you've been in order to gain hope for the future. Most likely you've heard (1)If you keep looking back you won't see where you're going; and (2)if you don't look back, you won't learn from the past so you'll make those same mistakes. Both are true.
• What family memories are especially important to you? Why?
• Any family memories you'd like to forget? Why?
• What memories of your current place of worship and service are especially important to you?
• What memories of your entire history with the church and churches you've been a part of are particularly important to you? As much as I enjoy encouraging everyone else to tell their stories, if we were meeting live I'd tell everyone the church at first for me was Corita Kent's art and Dietrich Buxtehude's music. Strange? Probably not, since God always contextualizes God's actions to each individual's and community's time, place, and interests.
In his first letter to the Church at Corinth, the apostle Paul recorded the chronologically earliest account of Jesus institution of the Lord's Supper in the upper room. We sometimes call this the Founding Meal. Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday especially remembers that time and place.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same manner he also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes.
Jesus' liturgy of Bread and Cup makes us one with God's people in every place and time. The Anglo Saxon Lord provided the loaf of sustenance to the people; Jesus was born in Bethlehem, "Little Town of House of Bread." In Semitic languages, cup has the same root as the word for door or entryway; in Jesus' world, a cup was an icon of a person's role or calling in life. Every celebration of Holy Communion remembers, retells, relives, and anticipates Jesus' and the entire church's past and future. When we celebrate Holy Communion (the Eucharist, Lord's Supper, The Sacrament—different names reflect various aspects of the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation), the Eucharistic Prayer includes a section called the anamnesis, or remembering. Typically it mentions creation, the exodus (freedom from empire), the promised land, prophets, homecoming, Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. As the anamnesis recounts the history of God and God's people, it makes God's past and future actions present to us here and now. If you have any old printed Sunday bulletins at home, check out the Eucharistic Prayers.
• When you remember Jesus, what memory from scripture or from your own experience comes first to you?
• What is your favorite Jesus story in the gospels?
• What do you most often emphasize regarding the Sacrament of the Altar (Martin Luther's terminology)?
Remembering during COVID-19: Hope for Our Future
The pandemic with its social, economic, health, and everything fallout has exhausted everyone. From a few casual conversations I know I'm not the only one in no hurry to return to live indoors worship or dine again inside at a sit-down restaurant. But does anyone want to enjoy Al Fresco lunch or dinner together soon? I might be open to that.
Six months away from church campus, six months of masks and physical distancing, six months of updates on infections and deaths, about restaurants, retailers, and real lives of real people. Our emphasis on doing God's Work with Our Hands is theologically accurate and necessary, but we need to take care not to place too much trust in ourselves or in other fallible humans who all are near the top of the exhaustion scale. As we affirm our baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection along with our identity as the Body of Christ we need to remember we are not Jesus. We are not anyone's Savior. We hear in today's scripture:
Listen to God, pay attention to what God proclaims and teaches. Look to our source and our roots in God's life and God's actions. Celebrate God's justice, light, deliverance, and reign. Hope in God's power and salvation.
Besides those words recorded by Isaiah, today's opening prayer from Psalm 138 celebrate God's presence and actions: God's name, God's steadfast love and faithfulness. God's word, God's ways, God's glory, God's deliverance. God's purpose. The work of God's hands! Interesting phrase as we prepare a virtual God's Work-Our Hands day. Trust God's promises. Hope in God, not in ourselves, not in each other, not in the church. Yes, the church is a divine organism dedicated to all creation, but it's also a human institution dedicated to God, and we all know a whole lot about those human constructs.
Listen to God's word; look to our source and our roots. Where we've been; what God has done and still promises. Several times recently I've mentioned the previousness of God— the reality God already has been to our future, the truth God already is at our future, and God waits for us to get there.
Maybe too many questions this week—making up for last week with none?
• How does re-membering the past give us post-COVID-19 hope?
• How do we do that?! Talking with people who've been there with us? Looking at photographs and scrapbooks? Reading the bible? Some other technique?
• Does knowing about previous vaccines help us believe we'll soon have one for this virus, or does it make us doubt, especially when we know (for example) seasonal influenza changes some every year so flu vaccine needs to be reconfigured every year?
• Does knowing linear time is one of God's essential gifts that helps us navigate our daily lives make it easier or more difficult to believe God has been to our future? Answering again for myself, having studied scripture to some extent and been on this earth a few decades, I think I know "the rest of the story" but resurrection from the dead always surprises me.