August 21, 2019

August 21, 2019

August 21, 2019
Isaiah 27 and Psalm 74
by RuthAnne G. Henley
Clergy of Draper Circuit (Draper, VA)
New River District

We woke this morning in a world awash with conflict. Although we enjoy relative security where we live, the body of which we are a part is enduring unprecedented persecution. Many people are reluctant to admit the scope of the problem of Christian persecution because doing so disrupts our peace and adds to our already considerable stress load. But failure to acknowledge the suffering of our brothers and sisters in more volatile regions has twin consequences. It cripples us as intercessory prayer partners and voices of intervention, and it removes us from the role of the Good Samaritan in Christ’s depiction of the disciple as a responsive neighbor.

Our Old Testament passages this morning (Isaiah 27 and Psalm 74) speak to us from times of intense persecution. Because of breaches of the covenant, God has stepped aside to permit human forces to overrun the promise land, and the chosen people are suffering. This is hard to watch, but harder to endure.  

Imagery is a powerful tool for sharing insight. The psalmist and the prophet use a term rich in jarring imagery. Both reference Leviathan. This coiled sea creature, real or imagined, has the aspect of a serpent of gigantic proportions and immense destructive power. When I think of it, I see Eden’s sly snake dropping his clever disguise and rising to his full stature, dwarfing the humans he is bent on destroying. The psalmist and the prophet lament the fact that the enemy of God is loose in the world, tormenting the children of the promise.

Humanity is no match for Leviathan. We know that. We invent heroes who stand and fight, but our real experience of sweeping evil is one of grief over its consequences and guilt for failing to address it before it reached malevolent maturity. Only One of us has stood before Leviathan with enough power and authority to thwart his reign of terror. We rally to that One and follow Him through the monster’s death-throes.

When Jesus entered the Temple and found it transformed into a glorified flea-market, His response was uncharacteristically violent. In this encounter, Jesus came into a place that was, from its inception, devoted. It was still devoted, but at that moment its devotion was to lesser things. A bottom-line business approach had been adopted to make religion profitable, and the place that was meant to respond to the faithful in their moments of crisis had become a source of wealth for the religious leaders. They were making a comfortable living off the backs of the poor, and they were doing it in the name of God.

Make no mistake about it, Leviathan was loose in the Temple courts.

In our New Testament passage (Luke 19:45-48) Jesus came among us to offer us peace with God and release from the bondage of sin. His mission was the redemption of humankind, and the reconciliation of creation with the Creator. Standing on the site designated as a beacon to that sacrificial mission, Jesus was contending with the creeping darkness of religious profiteering. He grabbed Leviathan by the tail and threw him out of the House of Prayer.

As this story sweeps over my soul, I find myself standing back from my program planning, asking myself whether the ministry of the local church in this age more closely resembles the sanctuary God envisioned or the business model of the Temple that woke the wrath of the Lamb of God. Are there things that need to be purged from our common practice? Do we exist to comfort the afflicted, or are we contributing to the struggling mass’s affliction?

Leaning into the imagery of the day, I ask myself timeless questions. Am I turning a profit for Leviathan or being a prophet – speaking truth to power - for the sake of redemption? Whose mission am I serving when I serve the local church? And when Christ returns, as He surely will, will He find in this meetinghouse a place of devotion to the solace of prayer? If not, Leviathan may be the least of our worries.