Powerful Weaklings

If you have ever done a life guarding course you will be familiar with the warning that when attempting a water rescue the life guard must be wary of the panic stricken swimmer. If the swimmer is drowning, their nervousness could be fatal not only to the swimmer but also the rescuer. It is only when the swimmer reaches a point of surrender that the life saver can intervene in a safe and effective way. The only way for the swimmer to be saved is to become a powerful weakling.

Neh. 4:10   In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”

The builders of Jerusalem are tired. You can feel the atmosphere of growing misgivings and unnerving rumours surrounding the pressures of rebuilding. The rebuilders can be heard saying, “I’m exahusted. There is just too much rubble. There is no way that we will be able to finish this task by ourselves.”

This language is not the language of quitters, it is the language of a tired company of builders wanting to see the reward of their labour. They want to see the project completed, but they are aware of their own limitations. Their strength is not enough. They require assistance. They need reinforcements. The only way they will be powerful is if they admit their weakness.

Years later, you can hear Mary sing a song similar to this plea for help.

Luke 1:51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

God did not turn a deaf ear to the people of Judah. He sent help in the form of the countryside labourers. He sent a prince from a far off land to win a fight that no one thought was winnable. Nehemiah would be the rescuer that the people of Israel would need. He would be their reinforcements. Years later God would send another prince and rescuer in the powerful weakness of a Carpenter. He would rebuild the ancient ruins that no one else could.

Sacrifices Pay Off

Ex. 22:20   “Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the LORD alone, shall be devoted to destruction.

Read Exodus 22:16-23:9

This past month we have seen nations and teams in floods of joy and floods of tears as their hopes at winning the World Cup either seemed to materialize or vanish before their very eyes.

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil encapsulates what many other people felt as they watched the game, “My nightmares never got so bad.” Argentina’s Javier Mascherano, who kept his team’s hopes alive with a heroic, last-ditch tackle on Arjen Robben during the semifinal against the Netherlands, said that the pain of losing was “immense.”

Every team that lost a match during Brazil 2014 made great sacrifices just to qualify for the World Cup. This small vignette gives us a window into every human soul. We all have things we desperately want. We ask these things to grant us validation and appreciation.

We hope that the sacrifices we make will eventually pay off.

This law in Exodus 22 and 23 is sandwiched between a host of random laws. We find this law directly in the middle of these laws. It is the centre point on which all the laws hinge. Martin Luther, the 15th century German reformer, stated that all commandments hinged on only one: worshipping anything other than God. We all make sacrifices. We sacrifice our moral integrity, we sacrifice our character, we sacrifice anything and everything for a central goal in our life, a dream.

Exodus tells us that one day these things we sacrifice to will be unable to deliver the very thing they promise. Four years from now Germany will have to hand on the World Cup to another team. Their sacrifices for glory and fame will become impermanent. They will lead to a sense of loss, frustration and failure.

The Christian life is a life of sacrifice. It is a life marked by the very sacrifice of God Himself on the cross.  His sacrifice is what saves us from loss, frustration and failure. We find the only validation and glory that will never fade. We were worth the very life of God. We no longer sacrifice for redemption, we sacrifice because we have been redeemed.

Happy, Clappy

Psa. 98:1 Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
Psa. 98:2
The LORD has made known his salvation;

he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

Psa. 98:7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Psa. 98:8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
Psa. 98:9 before the LORD, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

I remember hearing this Psalm fairly regularly in chapel at seminary. The Book of Common prayer places it in our evening devotional prayers. It was the jam that sandwiched and held together the Old Testament and New Testament readings. “Sing to the Lord for he has done great things!” When Archbishop Cranmer put together the Book of Common prayer he wanted us to respond in awe and wonder to God’s self-disclosure and vindication throughout history.Here there are no comparisons, no instructions in right worship: all is joy and exhilaration.

As the years went on in seminary, some of my professors tried to downplay the beautiful, wonderful and sometimes mysterious God of the Old Testament. Often they would describe Him as being a God who just did not take his medication. Thankfully, by the time Jesus came around, God learned to be merciful and nice. Though it sounded like a great idea to some of the folks in lectures. This jam sandwich would not let us escape the awesome beauty of this Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. Something in me knew that this Creator had always been loving and always been lovingly indisposed towards that which harms his beautiful creation. The last two verses of this psalm (v 8, 9) speak of the chorus of nature finally able to rejoice again. Paul echoes this very motif in Romans 8:19. This praise is artless and inarticulate, unlike the praise of man. But it too can be heard already, since the whole earth even now is full of God’s glory.

Nature will not come into its own until man himself, its proper master, is ruled in righteousness and equity. It is a truth which modern man is learning by default and with alarm.

The joyful noise of verses 4 and 6 meets us elsewhere as the spontaneous shout that might greet a king or a moment of victory. It is the word translated ‘shout aloud’ in Zechariah 9:9, the prophecy that was fulfilled on Palm Sunday. Jesus came not only to bring Judgement, but also to bear it(v.8,9). Let us erupt in praise at the story of this beautiful rescue. The price to Justice has been paid and we are redeemed.



Dashed Dreams and Resurrection Reality

Psalm 74:1     Why have you rejected us forever, O God?

Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

2       Remember the people you purchased of old,

the tribe of your inheritance, whom you redeemed—

Mount Zion, where you dwelt.

22            Rise up, O God, and defend your cause;

remember how fools mock you all day long.

23     Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,

the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.


Deafening Silence

“Why have you rejected us forever, O God?”(v1)

Have you ever felt like your dreams were dashed to pieces? The psalmist is recounting in vivid detail his dreams being shattered along with the gates and glory of Jerusalem.

Most commentators place this Psalm somewhere in the vicinity of 587 BC. The palpably real account of the destruction of Jerusalem and the “assembly place” (v.8) is only paralleled in this poetic and descriptive manner in one other place (Lamentations 2:5-9).

Amazing, Ancient Exploits

“But you, O God, are my king from of old.” (v. 12)

Somehow in the midst of this tremendous ordeal, the bard begins to sing of ancient exploits. He recounts the deeds of a  God who has subdued seas, provided for his people plenteously, and rescued his people. Suddenly, the deafening silence is not as terrifying as Asaph once thought it.

Continuous Struggle

Now, in the final verses, Asaph sings of his ordeals and laments the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah, but with less desperation. His “King from of Old” has punched a whole through death and made a way in the desert. The ordeals which once held sway over him and threatened violence are nothing but a shadow. The Psalmists’ enemies can no longer execute violence against him. The fears and threats are only “haunts of violence”(v20). Much as David said centuries before, this Psalmist need not fear death, for death is only a shadow. God, the Shepherd of Israel, has destroyed death by his death on the Cross and His resurrection life.

Not even the death of our dearest dreams can threaten the security we have in our King’s hand.

A Prayer

Almighty God, who in death has destroyed death, resurrect our dreams that we may with full confidence realize that the day and the battle are yours. May we live in the hope of your new creation for your praise and glory, through Jesus Christ. Amen