Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37
The Prayer of the Day begins ‘Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.’ So often in our lives we cry out to God: Hear me! Come to me now! Why are you not here with me?! Today’s scripture passages scream out with longing for God to make God’s presence and power known and felt.
The situation in our passage from Isaiah the prophet speaks to God for the people. The Judeans, the people of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, have returned from exile in Babylon. They hoped to pick up life where they and their parents and grandparents left off 50 years ago, but it was not to be. Their land was filled with weeds, the vineyards and olive gardens were overgrown and untended, their buildings were flattened, the protective walls around the city were just piles of rubble, and the temple – which Solomon had built – was destroyed.
Things were so bad, the people as a whole grumbled to God. We have here in Isaiah’s text a lament about how bad things were. This writing is 2500 years old, but it’s as fresh as if we were speaking it today. The people cry out for God’s powerful presence as the Israelites had experienced it in the past: manna, water from a rock, pillars of smoke and fire, a voice speaking from the heavens. But God seems to be absent, so the people are looking for reasons and answers.
They blame God – ‘You were absent, so we sinned.’ And they ask for forgiveness. ‘We recognize our sin and we repent.’ ‘After all, you are our God; you are our Father. We are your children and we need your help. So, now, act like our parent and help us!’ In other words: Stir up your power, O God, and come to us!
Working together, under the leadership of Nehemiah, the people were able to rebuild their city, their walls, and their temple. They restored the vineyards and olive gardens, and reshaped their religion with a focus on obedience to God’s commandments so they would never again be conquered and taken into exile. But the leaders’ focus became obedience to the rules, instead of caring for the poor and needy among them.
Five hundred years later, two thousand years ago, the time was right for God to act. The people needed a new direction for their faith practices, the Romans were very oppressive, and the people were crying out for help. They called out: Stir up your power, O God, and come to us! They were looking for smoke and fire and earthquake, not a human infant. They were looking for a leader like Moses to free them from Roman slavery. They were looking for a military hero, like King David. They did not want to hear what the prophets like Amos, Micah, and Ezekiel had to say about caring for the needy. They were not looking for God to be born as an infant.
The Gospel of Mark was written in the middle 60s, probably during the Jewish Revolt against Rome, but before the destruction of the city and the temple in 70. Once again, conditions were terrible in Jerusalem. The city was under siege, and Jews and Christians were joining the revolt, hoping that God would notice their fight and come to help them. They, too, were hoping for God to show up with smoke and fire and power to defeat the Romans. They were crying out, Stir up your power, O God, and come to us!
However, Jesus’ message in this passage is that humans cannot make God to do what humans want. God’s plans are God’s plans. God’s timing is God’s timing. The little story of the fig tree tells us that: Jesus and the disciples are in Jerusalem in the spring, and the fig trees do not yet have leaves and fruit buds. When it is the right time, they will sprout and grow and produce fruit, but only at the right time, God’s time. As people who love figs, we can only watch and wait for the fruit.
And we can only watch and wait for God’s activity. In every era, in every age, every century, people have cried out, Stir up your power, O God, and come to us! Now, as we face serious illness in our individual lives, and as we face economic meltdown, and as our elected – wealthy – politicians play games with Social Security and Medicare, and as wars go on and terrorists continue to plot against us, ... now, we think, would be a good time for Jesus to come. We cry out with those of every time and every place, ‘Stir up your power, O God, and come to us!’
Yet, I wonder. Would we notice Jesus if he did return? How would he come to us today? As an illegal immigrant? As a demonstrator in the Occupy Movement? As a starving infant in Africa? As a Palestinian living in Bethlehem? As a neighbor in need? As a homeless person living in the woods in Citrus County?
Would we notice Jesus as a neighbor with a casserole dish? As a fellow parishioner offering a ride? As a cashier with a kind word? As a stranger offering love when we thought life was hopeless? As a family member offering forgiveness? Would we know Jesus even if we were actively watching and waiting for him to return?
Let’s remember that God doesn’t do what we expect but what God know is best. When we cry out, ‘Stir up your power, O God, and come to us!’ Jesus actually does come to us. He comes through the Holy Spirit present in many of the people we encounter every day. He is present in the people who need us and reach out their hands to us, and in the people who reach out to us and help fulfill our needs.
They may not be what we were looking for, but they are God’s response to our cry for help. They are all instances of God responding and coming to us with power. God comes to us in God’s time, in ways that surprise us. Our job as believers is not to try to predict when he will come again, but to watch and wait for all the ways he is already present among us now.
Please pray with me. Stir up your power, O God, and come to us! Amen