Psalm 126; 1 Kings 8:54–9:19; John 14:25–15:8

Originally published 11/15/2016. Revised and updated 11/15/2018.

Psalm 126: This psalm anticipates God’s good actions:
When the Lord restores Zion’s fortunes.
we should be like dreamers.
 (1)

In fact this restoration will be so wonderful (and unexpected) that people will think it’s a dream. And when that actual restoration comes,
Then will our mouth fill with laughter
and our tongue sing glad song
. (2a)

Moreover, God’s action on behalf of Israel will be tangibly visible beyond its borders:
Then will they say in the nations:
‘Great things has the Lord done with these.
‘ (2b)

But as our psalmist writes from Babylonian exile, none of this has yet occurred. He wishes for God’s rescue in a dramatic simile:
Restore, O Lord, our fortunes
like freshets in the Negeb
. (4)

The wadis of the Negev desert are dry, but after a rain they run fast and deep. So, too, will Israel run deep with joy when God finally intervenes.

What that finally happens, what began in sorrow will end in joy in this beautiful metaphor of planting and harvesting:
They who sow in tears
in glad song will reap.
 (5)

How often have we experienced something that seems hopeless and dark, only to have God transform it into circumstances in which we can rejoice. For me personally, a diagnosis of aggressive cancer is about as awful as it can get. Yet, in the end I have experienced unexpected love and healing such that I have encountered again and again the joy that comes in realizing how precious life and relationships really are.

Our psalmist expands on the sower image, describing his present sorrow;
He walks along and weeps,
the bearer of the seed-bag. 
(6a).

But God restores his fortunes and restores Israel’s fortunes, and yes, has restored my own fortunes. The final metaphor of this psalm becomes not just one of rejoicing but also of healing as our planter will reap joy from that which was planted in sorrow:
He will surely come in with glad song
bearing his sheaves
.” (6b)

1 Kings 8:54–9:19: Solomon concludes his oration by blessing those assembled around him at the temple: “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel according to all that he promised; not one word has failed of all his good promise.” (8:56). But as always, there is an obligation on the people to obey God and Solomon reminds them of this. They are to “incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his ordinances, which he commanded our ancestors.” (8:58)

Solomon puts the temple to its intended purpose as he offers its first—and extravagant—sacrifice: “Solomon offered as sacrifices of well-being to the Lord twenty-two thousand oxen and one hundred twenty thousand sheep.” (62).  I presume a feast of roasted meat ensued shortly thereafter. The people celebrate for a week before departing for their homes.

Now that this project is complete, God appears to Solomon in a dream and tells him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me.” And God will “put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.” (9:3) Solomon has carried through on what he promised and God is pleased. The question for us of course is do we make empty promises to God, especially in times of trouble, and then neglect to make good on our promises? Or are we like Solomon in taking our vows seriously?

If Solomon continues to follow and obey God, the house of David will endure as God promises,”I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David.” (9:5) But as always, there is a warning should Israel turn away from God: “I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples.” (9:7)

Our authors are writing from exile and know all too well exactly what happened. Again and again Israel has turned from God and again and again God has relented. But Israel’s persistence in disobedience finally results in the destruction of the temple Solomon built—and of Jerusalem itself. The house of David goes dormant for centuries until it is unexpectedly restored by the birth of a baby in Bethlehem. But the lesson for us here is that both actions and inactions have consequences. Just as for ancient Israel, so too, for us today.

John 14:25–15:8: Jesus continues his long reassurance to his disciples—and to us—that although he is physically leaving the earth he is leaving the “Advocate, the Holy Spirit” in his place. He also leaves love and peace: “ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (27a) Just as the angels who visited Elizabeth and Mary told them not to fear, Jesus delivers exactly the same message to his —and to us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (27b) It is in this promise that we Christians can carry on despite human tragedy such as the fires in California and yes, also the ceaseless depredations and evil in the world when we witness yet another mass shooting.

I think too many Christians today have forgotten this all-important promise in the daily turmoil of their lives and the in our culture, which offers little succor and certainly no salvation. Peace and freedom from fear come from only one source: Jesus. Yes, many will tell us that belief in Jesus is merely an emotional crutch. They go on to state that the resources of courage and ultimately, inner peace lie completely within us if we would only master them. But they are wrong. All that lies within us is a heart and mind rarely at peace and too often fearful.

Jesus continues with perhaps the most famous metaphor in the New Testament: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower.” (15:1) We are the branches and for me, the power of the metaphor lies in the reality that branches are connected to the root but that it is the branches that comprise the vine. The root is basically invisible.

We branches make up the visible church here on earth. But if we cut ourselves off from Jesus we wither and die: “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (15:4) It is Jesus who provides the sustenance and energy of the church. It is why we must gather and worship as community. Jesus makes it abundantly clear we cannot know him as isolated persons. 

I think it is good that we are entering a post-Christian age. This will make the source of sustenance of the church—the branches—far more visible. It is not what we do on our own that matters. It is what Jesus does through us. 

Speak Your Mind

*