Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hamish, Shamish, Zephaniah, God, and Us - Zephaniah 3


I listened to a sermon by Peter Rollins this week, and he told a story that I’ve heard before, but he’s from Northern Ireland, so he has this great accent, and accents are lots of fun, so I’ll try to tell it in his voice.  (How’s that for a run-on sentence to start out a sermon?)
There was this guy named Shamish who was traveling by sea.  His boat sank, and he ended up on a deserted island.  He lived there all alone for twenty years, but his brother Hamish never gave up looking for him.  Hamish bought a plane and flew all over the ocean looking for his brother.  One day, he saw some buildings on a small island and decided to go down and take a look.  He was amazed when Shamish met him at the beach.
They hugged and cried and celebrated that Shamish was finally rescued.  But Hamish said, “Before I take you back, why don’t you show me around this place where you’ve been living for the past 20 years.”  
So Shamish took him to his “village” where there were three small buildings.  Hamish said, “What are these?”
Shamish said, “Well, this is my house.  It’s really quite comfortable, considering.”
Hamish looked pointed to another building, “Then, what’s this one?”
Shamish beamed with pride. “Ah, that’s my church.  I go there every Sunday for services, and I say prayers there on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  It’s a wonderful, holy place.  I love it.”
Hamish nodded and pointed at the third building, “And what’s that one?”
“I don’t want to talk about that.”
“Oh, come on.”
“No, really, I don’t even want to discuss it.  Let’s go.”
“Come on now Shamish.  You’ve been living here for twenty years.  The least you can do is give me the full tour.”
“Oh, all right, that’s the church I used to go to.  Terrible place.  Just awful.”


Then, there’s another story.  Peter Rollins didn’t tell it, but I just like talking in an Irish accent, so I’ll carry on.  When Shamish and Hamish got back to Ireland, Shamish discovered that while he was away, Hamish had begun running a circus.  So Hamish took his brother to his circus to show him around and let him see all the attractions.  They saw the elephant that could balance a bookcase on his trunk and the bearded lady and a magician who could swallow a sword and pull it out his belly button.  But what really surprised Shamish was the lion and the lamb who were peacefully sleeping together.  He knew that the other stuff could all be done with training or illusions, but he couldn’t figure out how they could get a lion and lamb to peacefully coexist in the same cage.  
Shamish asked, “Is that real?  Is that a real lion and a real lamb?”
Hamish said, “Oh yeah, they’re real, and they’re really together in the same cage.”
Shamish was still in shock.  “Well how does it work?  How do you do it?  How long have you had them?”
Hamish answered, “Well, it works out all right.  We’ve had the lion for years, but every so often we have to get a new lamb.”

Alright, now with these two stories in mind, let’s turn to Zephaniah 3, and we’ll try to understand what God has to say to us today.

1 What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem,  the city of violence and crime! 
No one can tell it anything; it refuses all correction. 
It does not trust in the Lord or draw near to its God.
Its leaders are like roaring lions   hunting for their victims.
Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time,
   who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.
Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain.
    Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions. 
But the Lord is still there in the city, and he does no wrong.
Day by day he hands down justice,and he does not fail. But the wicked know no shame. 
6 “I have wiped out many nations,  devastating their fortress walls and towers.
Their streets are now deserted; their cities lie in silent ruin. There are no survivors—
    none at all. 
7 I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now! Surely they will listen to my warnings.
Then I won’t need to strike again, destroying their homes.’
But no, they get up early    to continue their evil deeds. 
8 Therefore, be patient,” says the Lord. “Soon I will stand and accuse these evil nations.
For I have decided to gather the kingdoms of the earth and pour out my fiercest anger and fury on them. All the earth will be devoured by the fire of my jealousy. 
9 “Then I will purify the speech of all people,  so that everyone can worship the Lord together. 
10  My scattered people who live beyond the rivers of Ethiopia will come to present their offerings. 
11 On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed,   for you will no longer be rebels against me.
I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you.
    There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain. 
12 Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord. 
13 The remnant of Israel will do no wrong;    they will never tell lies or deceive one another.
They will eat and sleep in safety,
   and no one will make them afraid.” 
14 Sing, O daughter of Zion;   shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 
15  For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment   and will disperse the armies of your enemy.
And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!
At last your troubles will be over,
   and you will never again fear disaster. 
16 On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,“Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! 
17 For the Lord your God is living among you.    He is a mighty savior.  He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals;    you will be disgraced no more. 
19 And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.    I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together
    those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
   wherever they have been mocked and shamed. 
20 On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction, among all the nations of the earth,
as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!”

So what do Hamish, Shamish, and Zephaniah have in common?  And what does this have to do with God and us?  These three stories combine to give us two basic messages:
  1. There is pain, and if we don’t acknowledge it, it will eat us alive.
  2. There is hope, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we’ll give into the pain.
Most of the time we only acknowledge one of these messages.  Most of the time we can only see either pain or hope.  But Zephaniah takes us deep into the pain and at the same time keeps us looking at the great hope that is also coming our way.  We need to be honest about both - pain and hope.  We need to be open to the pain, without losing our connection with the hope.
Let’s work our way through this Zephaniah passage and see how it connects with our church - and with Hamish and Shamish.

1 What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem,  the city of violence and crime! 
Our church is not rebellious or polluted.  We aren’t full of violence and crime, but let’s be honest about one thing.  We have some sorrow waiting for us.  I’m leaving, and my family is leaving.  We’ve been here for eight good years.  We have loved you, and you have loved us.  Our leaving is necessarily painful - for you and for us.  We have some sorrow coming.  
It would be easy for us to ignore the pain.  We could just pretend like it’s not here, like we aren’t leaving, right up until the last possible moment or even after we’re already gone.  But that is like ignoring the lion that is in the room with us.  Eventually, the lion of pain will start eating sheep.  We’ll start tearing each other apart without even knowing why.  
It would also be easy - like Shamish - to just change churches.  This church is no good.  The pastor left.  I don’t really like the people.  But just like Shamish, we’ll still be the same person when we go to the new church.  Changing churches doesn’t change us !  We just take our pain and darkness to a new place.  
The path of healing here is to acknowledge the sorrow.  Acknowledge the pain.  Acknowledge the sadness and the doubts and all the mixed up emotions that we are feeling.  Get it out there into the open.  The pain is here, and if we don’t acknowledge it, it will eat us alive.  It would be deeply unhealthy for us to any of us to skip past the sorrow and just think about how good it will be once the transition is over.  That denies the quality of our grief and short-changes the depth of our love.  So let’s embrace this grieving process.  Let’s go through this process together as a church and say goodbye well.

But the Lord is still there in the city, and he does no wrong.
Day by day he hands down justice,and he does not fail.
You may be having a hard time understanding where God is in all of this.  It may be hard to accept that God would send me and my family somewhere else.  It may be hard to imagine our church being successful or satisfying for you with another pastor who has a different style of leadership and preaching.  Most of you have never known this church with another pastor.  Some of you have never even known another church or another pastor.  Some of you can’t or don’t want to imagine a new future for our church - a future without me.
The message from God for you today is this: “The Lord is still here in this church.  He does no wrong.  Day by day he does what is right, and he does not fail.”   Even if it seems unfair to “lose” your pastor, remember that God is just.  God will not fail you.  God does no wrong.  God is still with us.  God is still with our church.  God has a plan here.  Even though we can’t fully understand it, we can trust that God’s plan is good because we know that God is good.

8 ”Therefore, be patient,” says the Lord.  (NLT)
8 ”Just wait," says the Lord. (NCV)
Therefore, wait for me, says the Lord. (CEB)
Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord. (KJV)
8 그러므로 나를 기다려라. 나 주의 말이다. [새번역]
We are entering a time of waiting as a church.  Wait for the Lord.  Wait for what God will do.  God has not abandoned us.  God has a plan for us and our church.  Wait and see what God will do.  
A few weeks ago, at the Advisory Council retreat, Matt was talking with us about what it’s like for a church to go through a pastoral transition.  He said one of the biggest temptations for a church is impatience: “Let’s get a new pastor as soon as we can!  Let’s get moving.  Let’s hurry this process along.”  That’s not healthy, and it won’t be good for our church in the long run.  It takes some time for us to do this the right way, and it takes some time to find the right person.   Be patient, and wait on God to do God’s work among us.

9 “Then I will purify the speech of all people,  so that everyone can worship the Lord together. 
10  My scattered people who live beyond the rivers of Ethiopia will come to present their offerings. 
11 On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed,   for you will no longer be rebels against me.
I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you.
    There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain. 
12 Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord. 
13 The remnant of Israel will do no wrong;    they will never tell lies or deceive one another.
This can actually be a process of great growth for us as a church and as individuals.  This can be a purifying and refining time for us.  If God really blesses this process, there will be three different kinds of refinement for most of us.
First, God will teach us to focus our attention on him not on our pastors.  We trust in God, not in our leaders.  We follow God, not an individual.  Part of the pain and part of the healing for us is God wrenching our attention away from individual people and redirecting it to God and God’s Spirit and God’s activity in our world.  
Second, God will help our church to grow up, to mature, to come into our own as a church.  God will help our church people to accept their roles as genuine leaders.  As Peter said, “you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).  Part of this transition is our church figuring out who we are without me.  Who are we now?  Who is God calling us to be?  Where is God calling us to go?  And it won’t work to say that those questions have to wait for the next pastor.  The church is not the pastor.  The pastor does not define the church.  If I’ve had any success here at all, then you as a church have the strength to figure out your collective identity in Christ and your collective calling in God’s Spirit.  
I expect that the third area of growth will be in humility.  Throughout this process we will all need to be intentionally humble - realizing that we cannot manufacture a good result in this.  Sure, we all have a part to play in a successful outcome, but ultimately and truly, this is God’s work, and more than ever before success depends on God’s action among us and our openness to what God wants to do.  Pride is deadly during transition.  Only humility will keep us connected to God’s gracious presence here.  

They will eat and sleep in safety,    and no one will make them afraid.” 
14 Sing, O daughter of Zion;   shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! 
15  For the Lord will remove his hand of judgment   and will disperse the armies of your enemy.
And the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among you!
At last your troubles will be over,
   and you will never again fear disaster. 
16 On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,“Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! 
17 For the Lord your God is living among you.    He is a mighty savior.  He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
We need to note two things about this section.  First, did you hear any repeated themes here?  “No one will make them afraid. ... you will never again fear disaster ... Don’t be afraid! ... he will calm all your fears.”  Apparently fear was a big problem for Israel in Zephaniah’s time, and after last week’s message about a transition through doom and destruction, fear seems like a very appropriate response.  But Zephaniah calls Israel to look beyond the fear to the God who is with them in the transition.  “Don’t be afraid!”  Why? “For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty savior.”  
We are going through a big transition as a church, so fear and anxiety are very normal and natural for us.  We need to acknowledge and accept those.  But we also need to look beyond them to the God who loves us, to the God who delights in us.  “With his love, he will calm all your fears.”  When you are feeling really lost and afraid in the midst of all of this, allow God’s love to calm you down.  God has a good plan for you, for us, and for this church.  God loves you.  He is with you, and he is a mighty savior.
Second, what is the tense here?  It’s almost all in the future tense.  “They will eat ... the Lord will remove ... the Lord himself will live among you ... your troubles will be over.”  The action is in the future.  God will do something.  God will act to save you.  God will act to make all of this better.  Your life will be wonderful ... in the future.  
If you remember last week, you know that God is not saying life is great now, and life won’t even be great for these people next.  Now they’ve got problems, and next there is pain coming because of the problems.  But after the problems and the pain, there will be a great redemption.  
So God is telling Israel to rejoice now because of what will be.  The redemption isn’t now.  Now is pain, and next is pain, but they can still rejoice because redemption is coming.  Zephaniah walks this interesting tight rope.  Zephaniah preaches with this pendulum between pain and joy.  The pain will be huge, and the joy will be huge.  We can’t skip the pain, and we can’t forget the joy.
This is so, so important for our church.  We need both the pain and the joy.  We need both the present and the future.  We need to acknowledge our pain but also rejoice because God is bringing good things our way.  God will deal with this pastoral transition problem, and he will deal with it well.  God will do good things among us.  On that day, the message to our church will be: “Cheer up, Church!  Don’t be afraid!  For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty savior.”

14 Sing, O daughter of Zion;   shout aloud, O Israel! ...
17   He will take delight in you with gladness. ... He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.
18 “I will gather you who mourn for the appointed festivals ...
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles...
20 On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again.
I will give you a good name, a name of distinction, among all the nations of the earth,
as I restore your fortunes before their very eyes. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
God will do more among us than we expect.  God has more good planned for us and for our church than we can imagine.  So take delight in our church because God will take delight in us.  Rejoice and sing because God will sing over us.  Be gently and humbly proud of our church because God will give us a good name and restore our fortunes as a church.  
“What sorrow awaits us” ... and yet ... “Sing, O daughter of Zion;   shout aloud, O Israel!  Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! ... For the Lord your God is living among you.      He is a mighty savior.”

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