Beginning Again

Scripture Focus: 1 Chronicles 1.1-4
1 Adam, Seth, Enosh, 2 Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, 3 Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. 
4 The sons of Noah: 
Shem, Ham and Japheth… 

Psalm 79.1
1 O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; 
they have defiled your holy temple, 
they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
2 They have left the dead bodies of your servants 
as food for the birds of the sky, 
the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild. 
3 They have poured out blood like water 
all around Jerusalem, 
and there is no one to bury the dead.

Reflection: Beginning Again
By John Tillman

No act of judgment is the end of the story. God is always ready to begin again.

The banishment from Eden, the flood of Noah, and the destruction of Jerusalem are all referenced in our readings today. Each event is a horrific loss followed by God starting over with the faithful.

Chronicles comes from the pain of the Babylonian exile and looks to the past to see the future. The chronicler recognizes the need to return to the beginning to remember who God is and who humans are. Beginning with creation, the chronicler writes the longest genealogical record in the Bible. The chronicler tells the story of a God willing to start over, no matter how often we fail.

Adam lost Eden. Then he lost two sons. He lost Cain to the beast of sin that made him a murderer. He lost Abel to Cain’s rage. In Seth, God started over.

Noah lost his entire world. Then, he lost a son to an act of rebellion and shame. In Shem, God started over.

Psalm 79 cries out in pain and anger. The psalmist has lost home, the Temple, and many who died. Most likely written from Babylon immediately following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the writer mourns the loss of both places and people, both destroyed buildings and bodies.

The psalmist’s hot tears and stinging loss are not without hope. The writer foresees a time when mercy will come for the oppressed, freedom for prisoners, salvation for the dying, and judgment for the wicked. God, in the exile, is starting over. 

Most of us will never be physically exiled from our homeland or see our families slaughtered or enslaved. We endure other forms of exile and suffering. Losses of friendships, communities, and broken institutions feel like a death. On top of these losses, we have seen abuse and death within our communities of faith, our cities, and our nation. We can all join the psalmist’s lament, “How long, Lord?”

The psalmist assures us that God hears our groans, complaints, cries, and distress. The chronicler assures us that, no matter what has been lost, God is already at work to restore, repair, rebuild, and rescue.

There is nothing humans can ruin that God cannot restore. Are we ready to begin again?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed be the Lord! For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city. — Psalm 31.21

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
1 Chronicles 1-2  (Listen 11:18)
Psalms 79 (Listen 1:50)

Read more about From Your Nothing…Something Beautiful
Give your scarcity, your vacuum, your past to Jesus. Sense him hovering over it with you. From your nothing Jesus can make something beautiful.

Read more about Lasting Revivals and Normal Idols
Josiah cleansed Israel and Judah from top to bottom, but the next generation went bottom up. The changes didn’t stick. Why?

Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 31.10-12, 18
10 “ ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because the great cedar towered over the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height, 11 I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside, 12 and the most ruthless of foreign nations cut it down and left it.

18 “ ‘Which of the trees of Eden can be compared with you in splendor and majesty? Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below

Psalm 79.10-13
10 Why should the nations say, 
“Where is their God?” 
Before our eyes, make known among the nations 
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants. 
11 May the groans of the prisoners come before you; 
with your strong arm preserve those condemned to die. 
12 Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times 
the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord. 
13 Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, 
will praise you forever; 
from generation to generation 
we will proclaim your praise.

Reflection: Hearing the Groans of the Prisoners
By John Tillman

The psalmist, living under Babylonian exile, begs God to hear the “groans of the prisoners.” This is more than a reference to the writer’s own groaning. The poet is referencing the groans which caused God to “come down” (Exodus 3.7-9) to aid his people when they were oppressed by Egypt.

There are examples in scripture of both physical and spiritual salvation but typically they are connected or blended together. Moses’ liberation of the Jews from Egypt is the most iconic example of physical salvation and is the archetype biblical writers look to as a metaphor for spiritual salvation.

The ultimate example of God “coming down” is the incarnation of Jesus. We may think of Christ’s first advent as primarily about spiritual salvation, however, Mary is inspired by the Holy Spirit to sing of oppressors being toppled and the lowly being comforted. (Luke 1.52-53

Physical salvation is always top of mind for the persecuted and God’s wrath only sounds harsh to those who have rarely suffered. But God has more than physical suffering in mind and more sufferers than just his people in his heart.

Our readings from Ezekiel reference Egypt more directly as next on the list in Ezekiel’s long list of prophecies, judgments, and laments for other nations. These passages demonstrate that God is concerned with, and has dominion over, all nations, expressing wonder at their successes and anger at the harm they bring to others.

Why does God address these other nations? Why does God lament their falls and attempt to teach other nations by the example of their punishment?

Ezekiel realizes, and so must we, that all humans are not only under God’s dominion but God’s affection. God will not only visit judgment on them for evil but visit them in compassion during their oppression. Time and time again, God condemns through the prophets the same things—greed, pride, abuse of power. 

He is not just “our” God. He hears the cries of all those oppressed by their rulers. He judges all rulers and leaders who conduct themselves with pride and irresponsibility.

God is hearing the groans of those who are prisoners. Are we?

Who is suffering that we have ignored? God hears them.
Who is crying out that we would silence? God hears them.

Pray this week, that we would hear the groans…not seeking to be consoled as to console. (Prayer of St. Francis)

*Music: Prayer of St. Francis — Sarah McLachlan

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be seated on your lofty throne, O Most High; O Lord, judge the nations. — Psalm 7.8

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 31  (Listen – 3:31) 
Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

Read more about Freedom for Prisoners
Sin is our crime, our addiction, and our prison. Yet Jesus comes to free us nonetheless.

Read more about From Slavery to Service—Worldwide Prayer
May we leave behind our slavery and enter his service becoming thankful workers for peace.

The Blandness of Hell

Psalm 78:11
They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.

Reflection: The Blandness of Hell
By John Tillman

Hell, to C.S. Lewis, is a bore.

In his work Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Beyer admires Lewis’s improvement on the typical portrayal of Hell as more interesting than Heaven.

“One of Lewis’ remarkable achievements is that his writing reverses this [the portrayal of Hell]. His vivid imagination pictures Hell with less fire and torture and more dreariness, boredom, and grayness. He makes us see it as not only a place suitable for the Hitlers and Charles Mansons of this world, but a distinct possibility for ‘respectable’ people like us. He does this without making Hell the least bit interesting. Heaven, on the other hand, is a place of rich variety in contrast with the dull monotony of Hell.”

Hell is not only monotonous in its blandness but is not designed for the human mind. Beyer continues:

“The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all. To enter heaven is to become more human than you ever succeeded in being in earth; to enter Hell, is to be banished from humanity.”

Hell is a place of stagnation and sameness. Heaven is a place of creativity, art, celebration, and love. Hell is merely selfishness made manifest in the extreme.

Those who go to Hell, do so on their own. God lays no hand upon them—merely pushes the door open for them to enter and politely allows them to close it behind.

“The doors of Hell are locked on the inside,” C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain:

“I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man ‘wishes’ to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”

“The blessed,” Lewis concludes, “forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.”

In Heaven, we are drawn closer to God and there find joy and the communion of the saints. In contrast, Hell is a place of self-exile in which the only thing to grow closer to is the misery that we brought with us. When Sartre said “Hell is other people,” he was too broad. Hell is our self alone.

Prayer: The Greeting
Our sins are stronger than we are, but you will blot them out. — Psalm 65.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 33 (Listen – 4:53) 
Psalm 78,1-37 (Listen – 7:12)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 34 (Listen – 2:59) Psalm 78,38-72 (Listen – 7:12)
Numbers 35 (Listen – 4:41) Psalm 79 (Listen – 1:50)

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All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no Hell. Those who seek, find. To those who knock, it is opened.

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