Wednesday 29 September 2020
Photo by Thuy HaBich
‘Getting over your exilic ennui!’
At the time of writing there are all manner of challengers. Covid-19 is still making its presence felt with the threat of a second wave accompanied with all the associated stress, isolation and uncertainty. Who knows what further changes Covid-19 will bring to our lives?
This weekend the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland meets for the first time ‘on-line.’ Among the many issues debated will be buildings and finances. The future is looking very uncertain. There are far too many buildings, many of them not fit for purpose or in the wrong place. And the finances are not looking good. The reality is that for the church much needed (and long overdue) change is coming. Exactly what form this change will take is still not clear.
Writing from a personal perspective, this coming Sunday I will be changing my clerical (dog!) collar for a pair of trainers and running the London Marathon (in Aberdeenshire)! I have done little if any training for the event, so I suspect I’ll be walking a good part of the distance.
Bible Reading - Isaiah 43: 16-22
This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
The wild animals honour me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
Context of the passage
Like much of the Bible the real meaning of the passage is only properly appreciated and understood in its original historical context. It is thought these words from Isaiah date during one of the biggest crisis recorded in the Old Testament - the Babylonian exile.
After the Battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon lay siege to Jerusalem. The ruler of Israel, King Jehoiakim managed to prevent the city being ransacked by paying tribute. This ‘tribute’ included money from treasury, temple artefacts, and handing over members of the royal family hostages. In the Rabbinical Literature King Jehoiakim is described as a godless tyrant who committed atrocious sins and crimes. He is portrayed as living in incestuous relations with his mother, daughter-in-law, and stepmother, and was in the habit of murdering men, whose wives he then violated and whose property he seized!
Four years later, King Jehoiakim refused to pay the tribute demanded by King Nebuchadnezzar, so the mighty Babylonian once more lay siege to the city, culminating in defeat and the death of Jehoiakim. The consequences were terrible. The city walls pulled down, the temple destroyed and the city left in ruins. This was followed by a series of deportations, where between 597 BC to 581 BC the population were moved to Babylon. The feelings of the people are summed up in Psalm 137, which concludes with arguably the most disturbing verse of the entire Bible.
The ongoing effects of Covid-19, the continuing struggle of the church to become sustainable and discover its role in modern secular Scotland, and the attempt to run a marathon in the rain without the appropriate level of training all lead to one destination - weariness. Most of us are extremely tired and weary trying to cope with Covid-19. There is an increasing sense of weariness in the church as people struggle trying to find the way ahead. My feet and legs and several other parts of my body will be weary and aching on Sunday as I attempt to cover 26.2 miles. And in the exile of ancient Israel the people were spiritually exhausted – worn out with stress and tears. Then comes God’s word to his people.
One person describes this passage ‘as proclaiming the good tidings of God’s advent and exhorts the people from their exilic ennui and despair. Here God reminds the people of who He is and who they are. He is the creator and they are His people. Now comes the time to shake off their ennui – their spiritual weariness because God is coming to restore them! Not simply a return to things of the past – because something new is taking root! One Jewish scholar suggests that in this second of Isaiah there is a shift towards a more inclusive outlook, where ‘foreigners’ become participants.
So how will God bring new energy to His people? How will the church adapt and change and experience renewal? How will we recover from Covid-19? There are of course no easy or simple answers. What we do know is that we are not the first generation is face such challengers and we are God’s own people. How God is going to work, at this is a mystery. But it will be something ‘new’ and unindicated and will bring energy and renewal.
Rev Sean Swindells
Cruden Parish Church.
Follow the General Assembly live at this link
in Jesus Christ you called disciples
and, by the Holy Spirit, made them one church to serve you.
Be with members of our General Assembly.
Help them to welcome new things you are doing in the world,
and to respect old things you keep and use.
Save them from empty slogans or senseless controversy.
In their deciding,
determine what is good for us and for all people.
As this General Assembly meets,
let your Spirit rule,
so that our church may be joined in love and service to Jesus Christ,
who, having gone before us,
is coming to meet us in the promise of your kingdom. Amen.
God, Protector of the widow,
the orphan and the stranger –
in a world where many know despair,
you raised your Son Jesus
to give hope for humanity and renewal to the earth.
Continue to strengthen and unify your Church
in its struggles against the forces of death in the world,
where violence against creation and humanity
obscures the hope of the new life you offer.
This we pray in the name of the Risen Lord,
in the power of His Spirit. Amen.
For all that is good in life, thank you,
For the love of family and friends, thank you,
For the kindness of good neighbour and Samaritan stranger, thank you.
May those who are vulnerable, hungry or homeless, experience support,
May those who are sick, know healing,
May those who are anxious or bereaved sense comfort.
Bless and guide political leaders and decision-makers, with wisdom,
Bless and guide health workers and key workers, with strength and well-being.
Bless and guide each one of us as we adapt to a new way of living.
And may the light shining from our windows across road and wynd, glen and ben,
kyle and isle be reflected in our hearts and hands and hopes.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Come, Holy Spirit, Come
We are not sure what it would be like
if the Holy Spirit blew through our churches again
as it did on the day of Pentecost.
However, we want to speak the language that you have given,
louder, and more clearly in our lives and church.
So we pray,
come Holy Spirit come,
pour out your fire of love upon us
to be the body of Christ
in a world that is often hurting, hungry, and cynical.
We want to bring the good news to the poor,
heal the broken-hearted,
preach deliverance to captives,
bring recovery of sight to the blind
and set at liberty all that are bruised.
As your disciples,
we pray for all who suffer, are poor,
despairing, burdened, blind and battered.
In your loving breeze,
we pray for health and wholeness for those who are physically ill,
for those who are mentally ailing,
for those who are money sick,
for those who are spiritually unwell.
We pray for the healing of your creation,
and the renewal of the face of the land.
We pray for those who are thirsty,
that they would drink from your fountain of living waters
and never thirst again.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
you will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.