Psalm 146:6–10; 2 Kings 20:1–21; Acts 7:4–16

Psalm 146:6–10: Our psalmist reflects on God’s qualities, first as Creator: “maker of heaven and earth,/ the sea, and all that is in them.” (6a) God is the exemplar of fidelity: “Who keeps faith forever.” (6b) And in one of the great running themes of the Hebrew scriptures, God always cares for the downtrodden. God “does justice for the oppressed,/ gives bread for the hungry,/ the Lord looses those in fetters.” (7) The unspoken message here is clear: If God does these things, then those of us who claim to love God must do the same—and with gladness.

God is the source of healing—both miraculous and mundane: “The Lord gives sight to the blind./ The Lord makes the bent stand erect.” (8a) Moreover, “The Lord loves the righteous.” (8b) Even though we tend to think that righteousness is the requirement to healing, notice the reversed order here. Righteousness comes after healing. When we are healed—whether physically,psychologically, or spiritually—righteousness, which I’ll define as a deeper faith, arises from healing because we are grateful to God. This has certainly been my own experience in the face of cancer.

Our psalmist returns to the theme of God guarding over the weak and unprotected: “The Lord guards sojourners,/ orphan and widow He sustains.” (9a). But God also intervenes in the lives of those who reject the way of righteousness: “...but the way of the wicked [God] contorts.” (9b) It is encouraging to know that plots and conspiracies are inevitably revealed. All things and events in God’s creation ultimately tend toward truth in the long run.

The psalm concludes, as we would expect, by observing that God transcends time and the puny affairs of humans: “The Lord shall reign forever,/ your God, O Zion, for all generations.” (10) In the end, our hope rests in God’s transcending goodness and righteousness.

2 Kings 20:1–21: Even though Hezekiah has been the exemplar of a righteous king, he is still human and has become sick. Isaiah—ever the bearer of less than good news—announces,“Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” (1) Hezekiah is not ready to die and in prayer, reminds God that “I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight,” (4) as he asks for healing. Before Isaiah gets outside the palace he receives another revelation and returns to the king, telling him that God has heard his prayer, will indeed heal him. But wait! There’s more: God will add 15 years to his life plus ensuring Judah will not be overrun by Assyria.

Isaiah also possesses medical knowledge and instructs the servants to put a lump of figs on Hezekiah’s boil. Nevertheless, Hezekiah not yet convinced and asks for a sign from God that he will indeed be healed. In one of those astronomical incidents that always make me suspicious, Isaiah grants Hezekiah’s wish to have the sun reverse course for 10 hours. Uh, huh.

Healed and back in the saddle, the king of Babylon sends a group get-well-wishers to Hezekiah, who rather unwisely shows them “all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses; there was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them.” (13)

Isaiah hears of this indiscretion  and when Hezekiah tells them he’s revealed all of Judah’s treasures, Isaiah predicts that “Days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord.” (17) This certainly makes sense and why governments need to keep secrets from potential enemies.

Still clueless, Hezekiah thinks Isaiah’s prophecy is good news because at least Judah will enjoy “peace and security” while he’s alive. But then, presumably 15 years later, he dies.

The lesson here is that even righteous people who follow God will do stupid things and then fail to worry about the long term consequences. This is exactly our American culture today: we think that as long as things look good and we paper over problems, everything will turn out alright. But as Judah learned to its sorrow, this is over-optimistic whistling in the dark. So too, I believe, will our present world where unwise actions always breed poor consequences.

Acts 7:4–16: Stephen gives the third great sermon in Acts, tracing in great detail the history of Israel from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the twelve patriarchs. He relates the story of Joseph, the famine in Canaan, the journey to Egypt, the reunion between Joseph and his brothers, and the return of the bodies of Jacob and the patriarchs back to Shechem.

I assume this sermon is moving to some point, but not today…

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