Wednesday, March 28, 2012

God's God's Hope for a World of Exiles

As a Chaplain Resident this year with Alegent Health, I've been asked to preach a few Lenten sermons and I've decided to share them here. Alegent is a joint Catholic-Lutheran compassionate faith-based healthcare network across Nebraska, and which includes special concern for underserved and needy populations. This sermon is part of a series about "God on a Mission," echoing Alegent's new brand motto and following God's story through the various Old Testament readings of the Easter Vigil.

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners

God’s Word Has Been Sent Out… It Shall Not Return in Vain

Passages: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 and Isaiah 55:1-11
In our passages today we receive images of hope-of God calling thirsty, starving people to waters of life, and of God's promise that the Word he sends out will not return empty, but produce much life. These words of hope, however must have sounded shocking to the people of Israel who, in this time were pitiful refugees, languishing in the Babylonian empire which had conquered them several generations before. They had lost their homes, their king, their beautiful temple, and above all the Promised Land God had given their ancestors. They were a broken people, who had come to see themselves punished and hated by the God who made promises of land and hope to their ancestor Abraham.

But to these very people, literally without money and thirsting for the waters of lost milk and honey God promises a new covenant, an Everlasting Covenant that will bless not just them, but nations all over the world. These people, who were surely seen as outcasts and failures by their Babylonian captors are told peoples they do not even know will run to them for blessing. God reminds these people, at their lowest point of a bigger picture, that God's mission is not finished, and that that mission has a wider embrace than they had perhaps been able to see when they had all the comforts of their own land. God is going to so bring them home- but when he does, He's going to do even bigger things. They'd better get ready!

Our psalm, too echoes this, speaking of God bringing in his redeemed from all corners of the world, or all 4 of the directions, as some of my Native American friends would say. When it was first written, perhaps the psalmist only thought he was speaking of his own people- but in later times the Jews, and those Christians who would follow came to believe God's message was meant to be a blessing for people of every tongue, race and continent. Just when the night seemed darkest, God had a new word for us. As Christians, many of us believe Jesus, God's Word made flesh was the most surprising expression of that- God coming to us as HIMSELF as a human being, to win victory through death itself.

What does that mean to us today? John Steinbeck's novel "East of Eden" captures an older Biblical image of Exile from paradise, that all human beings are struggling to live in an imperfect world, a place of unfinished stories that leave us all feeling "homeless in Babylon" many times. As people working in healthcare, we are especially aware as people come to us with broken bodies, or thirsting for care they can afford in a world with so little bread. So much of the work done here, behind the scenes makes that healing ministry happen. But even as we seek to heal others, we must face the broken places, the invasions of grief, loss and disappointment in our own lives and families. We face those questions that strike so many faithful people-- "How could God let this happen!?" and "Where is God when it Hurts?!" We all face our places of exile, sorrow and despair, when we fear life has lost its purpose or, even worse, that God has left us alone. But God's message to us today is still a message of hope to exiles. That as we approach Lent's darkest hour, Jesus' own long night, we will see again a God who has been there, who has himself faced death as one of us, and come out the other side to give us a hope and a promise that will never fade. Though the nights are still long, God is STILL speaking to exiles and bringing healing water into our world today. And still calling us to Come, and Follow Me.

-Kieran Conroy, MDiv Omaha, Spring 2012

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