READ: Isaiah 44:24 – 45:7
Humility remembers that we are people who were formed from the earth (humus) and will someday return to the earth (Genesis 3:19). Humility affirms that God is God and not you and me. God creates and you and I are part of God’s creation. Our creativity emerges from the Creator. Humility is the opposite of pride which exults the self. While pride can divide, humility can unite out of a compassion for all people (Romans 12:16). The humble value others (Philippians 2:3).
We practice repentance because we know we need God and that our sin or shortcoming create distance between ourselves and God. Sin is anything that does not love God or other people. It does not matter whether it is our thoughts, words or actions, any time we fail to love, we sin. Repentance is a spiritual practice that leads to a change of our heart and attitude. When we examine our life, recognize our relational failure, desire to change and confess that to God, the Lord assures us that we are forgiven. In the eyes of God, the sin is gone.
When we sin against another person by our words and actions, the same pattern works to heal the broken trust. Repentance is a process. If we are hard-hearted, it takes time and it is more than just saying right words. It requires our own remorse. Trust is rarely restored immediately. In fact, it may never be restored because it takes two people to agree to accept the repentance and confession if forgiveness is granted. No one has to forgive another. Forgiveness is a choice by the person who was harmed.
Repentance is a Christian way of life. We all sin. Repentance is a process that makes our relationship with God right. In a spirit of humility, God changes our attitudes and behavior from the inside out.
Jack and Helen
Helen and Jack are pushing fifty. Back in the day, they were big partiers. It does not matter if you are rich or poor, people party. There are parties in million dollar homes, $150,000 dollar condo’s, $60,000 bungalows and low rent apartments. Jack and Helen are your low rent apartment party types. Jack reminds me of a man who just jumped off the set of Happy Days. An old style greaser. Helen was a pretty woman who has put on some hard miles had little medical attention over the years.
When I first met Helen and Jack, they had mellowed out and were just trying to survive. Rumors in communities can be vicious and unforgiving. Helen is known for her sexual exploits over the years. It could be our own insecurity about our sexuality but for some reason it seems this couple cannot walk into a store without this raised eyebrow look or a whisper being spoken by one person to another. It is no wonder why they keep to themselves and rarely go out unless they have to buy something.
There is a painful shadow that haunts Helen’s soul when she risked opening herself up to me. Obviously, when you receive both direct and mostly indirect ridicule in a community, you put your guard up. Helen’s friend Clarissa had encouraged her to talk to me. She and Jack came to my office and after a few awkwardly silent moments, Jack tried to open the conversation so Helen could begin to speak. After several more conversations, we finally began the big work of exploring a forgiving God, forgiving yourself and the best ways to handle an unforgiving world.
Healing years of pain often can be a life time process. It is hard to grasp a forgiving God when we cannot forgive ourselves nor forgive others. There is that word of truth in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. It sounds conditional like God will forgive me if I first forgive others. This is not how I understand how the grace of God works. What I see at work in Helen is that she can only grasp the forgiveness of God as she begins to let go of her past, forgive herself and others who have hurt her.
How can any story rival the amazing details of the first Jewish Exodus? Let’s revisit the big details of this story: the Jews are in slavery in the foreign land of Egypt. A Jewish baby that was given up by his mother is found floating in a basket in the river by the ruler’s daughter who promptly takes him into the palace and raises him as her own child, naming him Moses. As a grown up, Moses knew he belonged more with the Jewish slaves than in the palace. He run for his life to the Arabian desert after killing an Egyptian soldier who was beating one of the slaves.
In Arabia, Moses finds work with a wealthy shepherd, marries one of his daughters and has a family. While watching sheep near a mountain called Sinai, Moses hears a voice in a burning bush calling him to return to Egypt and free the Jews.
After a series of catastrophes sent by God to convince the ruler to let the Jews leave Egypt, it came down to the biggest one of all: the death of the first born children of Egypt. Yahweh, the new name of the God who spoke to Moses in the bush, told Moses that each Jewish family was to prepare a feast of lamb and put the lamb’s blood on the door post. God sent an angel of death who killed the first born of every house that did not have lamb’s blood on its door. The angel passed over (Passover) each Jewish house. The ruler told Moses the next day to leave. They left quickly and crossed the Red Sea which God parted just for them. How can a story get any more riveting than that?
God used a Jew and an angel to pull this exodus from slavery in Egypt off. The LORD worked outside of the Jewish box to free the Jews from exile in Babylon. God chose to use a ruler of another empire, the up and coming Persian Empire (modern day Iran) to liberate the Jews from the Babylonians (modern day Iraq). The oracle or call to Cyrus, King of Persia is called the oracle of Cyrus (44:28 – 45:8). The supreme importance of the oracle can be seen right away: it ties the prophet’s message of comfort to a contemporary event, and does so in a way that shocks Israel and makes a radical break with everything of which she had hitherto been persuaded, for it says that God makes Cyrus, a heathen king, his agent (anointed), through whom he intends to perform his work of setting Israel free (Westermann, ibid., p. 154). It seems clear that God rarely if ever works in the same way twice! What holds true is that God works through willing people to do what is just and good.
Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 B.C.E.), the second ruler of the Neo-Babylonian (Chaldean) Empire, conquered the Jews and destroyed the Temple and much of Jerusalem and the countryside in 587 B.C.E. He began his deportation of the Jews to Babylon in 586. Four rulers later, Nabonidus (556 – 539 B.C.E.) served as the last of the Neo-Babylonian Emperors. He was defeated by Cyrus the Great, the first king of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire (539-530 B.C.E.). The battle was called the Battle of Opis, in September 539 B.C.E. What we know of this history is found on a cuneiform clay tablet called the “Nabonidus Chronicle” located today in the British Museum (see Appendix 1). This tablet is part of a collection of cuneiform tablets called the “Babylonian Chronicles.”
Cyrus had a legacy of being respectful of local religions and cultures. As an Achaemenid ruler, he was a Zoroastrian and his leadership was influenced by the Persian belief in their god: Ahura Mazda. Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion which may date back to the second millennium B.C.E in Persia and became the state religion by about 600 B.C.E. The moral code of Zoroastrianism is summarized as: good thoughts, good words and good deeds. The tolerance shown by Cyrus to the Jews when he not only allowed them to return to Palestine but provided funding for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem influenced post-exilic Judaism. The record of the return of the Jews and the rebuilding efforts in Jerusalem including the temple and the wall around the city can be read in Ezra and Nehemiah.
Second Isaiah 44:24 affirms that God alone has created all that is and has chosen the Jews from the womb This message frustrates those who practice divinization (44:25). God affirms that the Jews will return home to live in Jerusalem and the city will be rebuilt (44:26). Babylon, like Egypt before it, will find its rivers dry so the Jews can depart (44:27). This shall all happen because God has chosen his agent, Cyrus the shepherd, to accomplish God’s promised liberation for the Jews (44:28). Cyrus is God’s anointed one (45:1) and he will be rewarded by God for his actions (45:2-3). While Cyrus does not know Yahweh, he is still an instrument to accomplish God’s purposes (45:4-5). God is the source of all that exists (45:7).
This universal understanding of the LORD as one who will work through whoever is responsive, used King Cyrus and his military to liberate the people of the covenant. Secondly, the promise given to the Jews by Yahweh was kept. God never forgot the Jews.
- To live in the same community for a long time gives strength to the neighborhood. It can also mean that we have a memory about a lot of things and about many people, good and bad. Jack and Helen have a long and tattered history kept alive by the whispers of the well-intended. Is there room for Jack and Helen in the church? Can they ever be freed from their past among long standing community members and part of the church and be accepted for who they are today? How do we clip the lip and stop the gossip?
- If all things and all people are made new in Christ, what can or cannot Helen do in and through the church? If Helen felt called by God to lead in some capacity within the church, are we good with that?
- It shocked the Jews to hear Isaiah say that God had chosen a foreigner to free them. God was doing a new thing. Are we open to God doing a new thing today? What might a new thing look like?
- The point is that God will use whoever God chooses and whoever is open to do good things in God’s name. God make us open to you! Where have you seen God at work in our community? If it is of God, it has to be accomplishing good things for people and our world.