Sunday, May 04, 2008

Behold, a meditation

Thought I would post the meditation I wrote for our recent women's conference in Tulsa. The theme of the conference was "Behold, I do a new thing."

“Behold, I do a new thing!”

The theme of our conference was a message to the people of Israel in exile in Babylon. Dragged off from their homes in Judah, the exiles didn’t know what to
expect on their arrival in a foreign nation. To their surprise, many found it comfortable. Many found prosperity. So many them thought, why worry about the covenant with God and the poor folk left behind when you can take daily power walks in Babylon’s hanging gardens, park your two chariots in the driveway, and buy the latest in fashion in the marketplace?

So there was tension in the community of exiles. The question at the heart of the matter was this: do we stay and adapt, taking on not just the trappings of Babylonian life but worship of the Babylonian gods as well? Or do we hang on to what makes us a community, strengthen our identity, build cohesion as the people of Israel in exile?

And then, breathtakingly, Cyrus the king of Persia conquers Babylon and offers the exiles an opportunity to return home. It is that offer that Isaiah refers: “Behold, I do a new thing!” God working through the politics of the time to restore God’s people to their home.

But what is this new thing? What are the people returning to? The land of Israel is shattered. The fields are laid waste. The temple, the visible sign of God’s presence among the people of Israel, is gone. Returning home, rebuilding the community—it’s going to be hot, dusty, dirty, smelly work.

On the surface, this “new thing” looked dismal. It looked like the dumbest idea ever—well, maybe the dumbest idea since Moses listened to a burning bush and dragged a ragtag group of slaves away from their comfortable well-fed captivity and around the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years.

Isaiah continues, “I am doing a new thing—do you not perceive it?” The exiles were challenged to look with their eyes of faith—to see freedom and homecoming instead of desolation and poverty.

Exile might seem comfortable—but it’s not with God. Our call is to be with God, no matter what the external circumstances.

All of the signs around us point to the fact that God is doing a new thing in the Episcopal Church. We are being called out of our comfort zone. Like the exiles of Isaiah’s time, we know we are being called to rebuild the community of God in new ways and in new places. It’s hot, dusty, dirty, smelly work.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve been at retreats, Cursillo closings, or other recent events and heard people get up and say—people I knew to be lifelong Christians, pillars of their church—“this is the first time I’ve experienced true Christian community.”

If that’s what’s been comfortable for us, then we have truly been in exile.

On the surface, the future we’re being called into looks uncertain, and the outward trappings might be a bit the worse for wear. But if we perceive with the eyes of faith, we might find ourselves emerging from exile, coming home and set free to do the work that God asks us to do to be the body of Christ for each other, and for the whole world.


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