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Congregational Reading
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.

3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us.

7 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.

19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.

Historical Background:
A group of Jewish Exiles who had been held captive in Babylon for a generation have finally been set free to return home. They return to the land of their ancestors, the land that God promised their forefather Abraham. They have hopes and visions of returning the land and its’ royal city, Jerusalem, to its glory so that it will be a light among the nations. Their dream is to restore the temple and seek to fulfill Solomon’s prayer.

But it isn’t so simple. Some of their brethren lack the zeal that they have. Also, the elite groups left in Jerusalem have taken over the rule of the city and they have their own designs for the future of Israel and Jerusalem. They have made alliances with other nations and adopted their ways. They aren’t as pure as they should be.

Seeking to express their anguish and understand their disappointment, this community of returned exiles lift their voices in lament and prayer ...
Read Isaiah 64:1-9

Where is God?
Israel remembers how God worked powerfully among the nations to deliver Israel from Egypt. And now they want God to do the same for them.
They are tired of waiting. They ask, “Where is God?” (Isaiah 63)

They feel abandoned. They are angry. They want God to rip open heaven, come down form his lofty perch and start mashing their enemies into mortar and use it to rebuild their temple. They want some justice, some punishment, and some restoration ... ... but it seems to them like God is nowhere.

Can you identify with these poor outcasts? The land that they called home seems more and more like a foreign country. The people who ought to know better have lost their way. Those who ought to set an example for other nations have become a global shame.

Can you identify with these poor outcasts? Do you ever wish that God would rip the sky open and start sorting it all out?

Affirmation and Challenge
The words of Isaiah affirm that we are not alone when we call upon God for justice and vengeance – even if we just whisper it. The words of Isaiah affirm that we are not alone when we feel like God is nowhere to be found.

But the words of Isaiah do not leave us without a challenge ... Stop and reflect on what this “summons of God” means. Let’s say God does rip open the sky right now and He’s ready to sort it all out. Let’s say that God does show up right now with his hammer and blowtorch. Let’s say He begins the retribution and punishment right now.

Think ... does He stop at our borders? Does He spare us? Why should he? Is God our attack dog on our chain?

  1. Israel thought this one out ... They were ready for the “shock and awe” of God that would humble her enemies. They were ready for God to go to work and put down the mad dogs that threatened the peace of Jerusalem. They were ready for God to burn out the impure and immoral in their land.

  2. In the midst of their prayer, a thought strikes them. (64:5b) Maybe it seems like God is nowhere because He’s angry with them. They have to admit that they aren’t as godly as they should be. No, they are impure. They are feverish because of the infection of sin. They have the stability of dry leaves blown in the wind. When they attempt to dress up in righteousness, they end up in soiled rags polluted with their own filth. It’s not pretty. And if God shows up to begin the apocalypse, they might just be the first in line.

The Courage to Confess
Do we have the courage to confess our sins? Can we identify with these Israelites now? Do we want to? Since Adam and Eve, we’ve had a difficulty confessing sin. We tend to blame others or blame circumstance, or even blame God – just as the Israelites do in Isaiah’s prophecy.

We’ve discovered convenient ways of managing this ...

  1. Justification and denial. Making excuses and rationalization.
  2. Generic confession of sin. We’re all sinners. Of course we are. This is an opposite extreme, for when everyone sins, no one sins.
  3. Overlooking the corporate dimension of sin. We like to think of ourselves as independent individuals. We are free agents, loners, and accountable only for ourselves. We don’t want to be responsible for the sins of others. That wouldn’t be fair. But there is a way in which we all participate in systems and structures larger than ourselves and there are elements of those corporations, governments, relationships and even congregations that can be warped by sin. Who is to blame? That’s the wrong question. The better question is, “Can we confess that sin before God and be redeemed?”
When we can do this we begin to draw close to the God who can make a difference. Especially when it seems like God is nowhere ...

God is Here Now!
Confession of our sinfulness – as individuals and as a people – causes the scales to fall from our eyes.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 30 November 2008

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