Today's lectionary reading: Psalm 119:9-16; Isaiah 44:1-8; Acts 2:14-24
Selected passage for reflection: Isaiah 44:1-8 (ESV)
1 “But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
4 They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
5 This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’
another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’
and name himself by the name of Israel.”
6 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
7 Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
Let him declare and set it before me,
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”
Isaiah, the prophet. Isaiah, the book. It’s a big book, dealing with big problems. Isaiah prophecies that though Israel is chosen and beloved by God, they must deal with the consequences of their generational sin, not following God’s commandments. Then the Babylonians defeat and displace Israel. The book of Isaiah reminds the people that they are still loved and wanted by God when things look so grim… when they have been conquered by enemies and taken into exile. Then, after they return from exile, Isaiah helps them begin to pick up the pieces of themselves as a people, beloved by God. Isaiah reviews how the people can believe that God truly cares for, shepherds, nurtures and restores what has been destroyed. These are the big subjects Isaiah grapples with, in the same way Jacob struggles and wrestles with God.
I have found myself asking similar questions recently. How do those of us in the white American culture deal with our generational sin? How is it that we have lived so long with systemic racism, bias, and privilege, but we don’t see it until protests against police brutality and glaring inequities in healthcare access bring them into view? Where is God when people without resources die alone, struggling to breathe, wracked and ruined by a virus that has laid bare our inequities? And how do we deal with community trauma? Is it still possible to find the breath to say, “I am the Lord’s”? Can it be true that the dry places will have streams of water again? Will thirsty ground really have water poured over it? Can those who have so much to fear not be afraid?
May God, who carefully formed us from the womb, indeed help us. May the Lord pour the Spirit upon us and upon those who will come after us. Healing from trauma and a broken history is possible. If you find yourself in a thirsty land, trust that the Redeemer will ease water back into the soil and restore life again.
An accounting for sins too long perpetuated can seem like punishment. Facing the shame and guilt of being a participant in generational sin may feel like defeat or exile, but in fact, confessing the sin can be the means to restore relationships with God and neighbor. We must face and truly account for the communal sins of slavery and the perpetuated racism we have built into our laws and systems. If you find yourself defensive and struggling to believe you have had a part to play in the storyline of racism, consider again what your response might be - to instead allow the Redeemer to transform you, so you may experience and be part of the liberation and redemption.
God can restore what has been destroyed and reshape what is distorted. If you find it hard to believe this possible after so much has been lost, know that the Redeemer has chosen the one who wrestles with doubts and questions. The Lord of Israel loves the one who struggles with the difficulties and who participates in the story. Communities can protect the vulnerable, and we can find ways to resolve an epidemic. This will not be the final moment in this world. This is but a chapter in a long book. We are all witnesses and actors in this story. The Lord is like a steadfast rock, the first and the last, always one who redeems, liberates, delivers, and transforms, our Redeemer.
Are there areas in your life where it is like dry, thirsty land? Name them, and pray for healing waters to tend those wounds. Pray for the Spirit to be poured out over you and over those concerns.
Are there ways you can respond to the accounting of inequitable access to health and resources? Make a list of ways you can be a part of healing that needs to happen in your community. Pray about how you can participate in the better story of healing and restoring right relationships with each other, with God, and with the land.
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, remember us in our times of trouble. Be with those of us who are weary, those who are afraid, and with those who are struggling. Help us to remember what we can do to account for long held sins, so we may instead have streams of mercy flow over dry, thirsty land that aches for restoration to life as you intended. We are yours. Redeem, replenish, restore. So be it, and may we be a part of it. Amen.
About the Author
Mary Rodriguez provides case management in affordable, supportive housing in the city of Chicago. The majestic beauty of creation is like a salve, and she is so grateful to live by one of the world’s Great Lakes.