Psalm 92:10–16; Isaiah 66–Jeremiah 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:5b–2:9

Psalm 92:10–16: Our psalmist moves from the philosophical reasons why wrongdoers seem to succeed to celebrating their eventual destruction: “For, look, Your enemies perish,/ all the wrongdoers are scattered.” (10) And the poet is witness: “And my eyes behold my foe’s defeat,/ those hostile toward me,my ears hear their fall.” Notice the parallelism> In verse ten it is God’s enemies “”Your enemies”) who perish; in verse 12 it’s the psalmist’s personal enemies who fall.

But above all, and as is always the case, it is God who acts. Not us. Yet, in all the ongoing noise about the increasing “secularization” of our so-called “Christian society,” there is always the sense that it is we who must act because we’ve decided that God is either not listening or impotent.

In the place pf the now fallen wrongdoers, “the righteous man springs up like a palm tree,/ like the Lebanon cedar he towers.” (13) These two similes that evoke an image of hugeness and strength are far greater than the enemies and wrongdoers who merely “spring up like grass” (8) Not only are God’s righteous men (and women) far greater than these fallen enemies, unlike the grass, “they bear fruit still in old age,’ fresh and full of sap are they.” (5) How much better it is to be full of God’s sap and bearing fruit–and for us we Christians, we know what that fruit is– than to moan and whine about how unfair life is or how evil society is becoming.

Isaiah 66–Jeremiah 1:7: This remarkable  and prophetic book ends on apocalyptic theme and we can see where the author of Revelation got some of his ideas. God is coming back to all the earth in visible and dramatic fashion: “For the Lord will come in fire,/ and his chariots like the whirlwind,” (66:15) There will be a reckoning for all humankind: “For by fire will the Lord execute judgment,/ and by his sword, on all flesh;” (66:16). Isaiah clarifies who is included in God’s return and judgement in the prose that follows these verses: “I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory,” (18) 

And then a passage that can only be a prophecy of the growth of the early Church: “I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud—which draw the bow—to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.” It is the Gentiles who ultimately declare the glory of God beyond the boundaries of Israel, exactly what the Apostles–especially Paul of Tarshish–did. Isaiah ends this lengthy book that has focused on the promises to Israel on an expanded promise of a remade creation that includes everyone:
For as the new heavens and the new earth,
       which I will make,
   shall remain before me, says the Lord;” (66:22)

But there is also the promise that his people Israel will endure through the ages: “so shall your descendants and your name remain.”  (66:22b). Even though it is currently fashionable among “enlightened Christians” to poo-poo the idea that modern Israel exists because of this promise, it’s difficult to read these lines and not think of what has happened: that God’s people–with and without a nation to call their own–continue to exist and to prosper. One thing we come away with for sure: God makes good on his promises.

For some reason the Moravians include God’s commissioning of Jeremiah in today’s reading. It certainly demonstrates the continuity of the prophetic voice within Israel. Like Isaiah, Jeremiah has been deemed a prophet by God himself in these famous words:
   “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    and before you were born I consecrated you;
    I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah replies that “I am only a boy,” but God demurs:
   “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
    for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
    and you shall speak whatever I command you.”

Does God speak this way today? I don’t know, and I confess to being cynical about those who claim to be God’s special emissaries. As I suspect those in Jeremiah’s time did as well. But this line is proof that God works through whomever he wills, regardless of age.

1 Thessalonians 1:5b–2:9: Paul writes, “because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction;” (1:5), which is a clear reminder that Christianity is more than mere words, even though it sure sounds that way most of the time. The power of the Good News exists only in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

One thing we tend to skip over now that we are almost 2000 years away from Paul’s writings, is his sense of urgency and the imminence of Jesus’ return as he praises the Thessalonians who have “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” (1: 9,10) But I have to confess; it’s not easy to maintain that same sense of imminent return all these years later.

But, as always, it’s what we do while waiting that matters. Paul uses himself as the prime example: “we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition.” (2:2) I think the other thing to remember–especially as we move inevitably into a post-Christian world–is that we are to be courageous and that like Paul, “we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (2:4) And like Paul, we are to “work night and day” is carrying the Good News to those who have not heard. But again, it’s more than words, it’s actions that matter.

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