Greetings! I am Pastor David Hewitt of King of Glory Lutheran Church in Carmel, Indiana, and I welcome you to our latest “Boost from the Bible,” where we gather together to delve into the depths of scripture, always finding there God’s wisdom and love in this COVID time. Let us begin!
Just a few nights ago I watched a famous foreign film online – made by the acclaimed Spanish film director Luis Bunuel, entitled, The Exterminating Angel.
In this strange film parable – seemingly Bunuel’s indirect critique of fascism – a group of fairly rich people in Mexico City to one couple’s mansion for a meal and fellowship after viewing an opera.
We know from the first that something has gone wrong. All but one of the servants leave before the guests are seated for dinner and give no reason why. Then, after dinner and a short concert by a local pianist, it has become so late that the host offers his guests the chance to stay overnight. Strangely they all stay in the same large room – sleeping on the floor, on the couches and chairs, even in the cabinets that line the room. They find the next morning that they cannot escape the room – nor, in the days to come, can those outside this mansion communicate with or approach the building to find out what’s going on inside. This situation continues day after day for many days – days that, to those inside the mansion – seem to run together so much that they cannot remember what day it is or how long they’ve been there in this room that feels more and more like a prison.
Things rapidly deteriorate for these guests. A few die, some are very sick, and all are frustrated with the situation and, eventually, with each other. They find a way to get enough water to drink and enough food to eat, but they find it to be a dreary existence – certainly harder than what most of us are going through at present in these COVID times. Still, there are certain parallels between the film and our time – the sense of physical isolation from the rest of the world…the lack of options every day…the stress we are all going through – stress that we may sometimes foist upon one another, and so forth. I compared our situation back in one of my “boost” devotions in mid-July to being kind of “chained” in prison like Paul was near the end of his life – a prison not nearly so bad, of course, as a REAL prison, but still a confinement that we do not like and would be happy to get rid of. It’s a little like we’ve been BANISHED…banished to another world.
When the mighty Babylonian Empire destroyed much of Judea, Jerusalem and totally destroyed the Holy Temple there, the Babylonians also banished much of the religious elite of Judah, exiling them to Babylon itself – the famed seventy-year “Babylonian Captivity.” There, these religious leaders had plenty of time to examine their mistakes over the previous 300 years – their neglect of God’s precepts and their neglect of prayer to learn from God’s Spirit. Then, after 70 years, when it looked like the Persian Empire – which had conquered the Babylonians – was going to free the Jews and allow them to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple and their religion, Jewish leaders like Ezekiel, Ezra, and Nehemiah stepped up to direct a new national effort to be closer to God. These leaders probably looked to certain chapters of the book of the prophet Isaiah for encouragement and how to do this. One of those passages in Isaiah – our “Boost from the Bible” today – is from Chapter 49, verses 14 through 21, ending with part of verse 23. Remember that the word “Zion” stands for all the Jews:
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 [The Lord responds,] Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you [saith the Lord].
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me. 17 Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.
18 Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, says the Lord, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on. 19 Surely your waste and your desolate places and your devastated land— surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will be far away.
20 The children born in the time of your bereavement will yet say in your hearing:
“The place is too crowded for me; make room for me to settle.” 21 Then you will say in your heart, “Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away— so who has reared these? I was left all alone— where then have these come from?” 23 … [for]those who wait for Me shall not be put to shame.”
You see, here in the book of Isaiah an important prophecy had given HOPE to generations of Jews – especially those banished to exile in Babylon. When the banished Jews read this passage in the book of Isaiah, they hoped the prophecy would come true – which it did!—that one day not only would they return to the Holy Land, but, when they got there, so many would be born and survive that the formerly empty land of Israel would become prosperous and crowded!
We, too – if not in our minds, perhaps in our bodies and in our sometimes bleak emotions – might say right now, as the exiled Jews said back then, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” We need reassurance, like they back then, from God’s Scriptures in passages like this passage in Isaiah – where the Lord proclaims to US what the Lord proclaimed to the Jews in Babylon: “I will never forget you.” Let us let God exclaim to us what God exclaimed to the Jews, that “surely your waste and your desolate places and your devastated land— surely now you will be too crowded for your inhabitants, and those who swallowed you up will be far away.” Yes, one day these COVID days will be in our rearview mirror, and we will find, in its place, a newfound energy and sense of crowded opportunity; COVID will be “far away” and an economy that was once devastated will rise up anew. But in the meantime, as we see at the end of the passage, we must utilize God’s unending gift of patience for, as we read in Isaiah today, “those who wait for the Lord will NOT be put to shame.”
How do we know this? How can we put so much trust in the Lord and be patient in this situation? Well, I find it kind of amazing that, in the midst of reassuring the Jews – telling them they will return from a long exile and – for the first time in human history – rise up as a nation again – God reveals how deep God’s love is by proclaiming to them, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” [Show on screen the palms of my hands.]
Let me repeat that verse, and ask you if such an image reminds you of anything: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” The love of Christ Jesus for humanity was inscribed on the palms of HIS hands – once and for all time –when the nails pierced them and placed Him on the cross for you and me. Even today Jesus – as He, risen from the dead, showed Thomas and the disciples – carries those scars on His hands, as a sign and symbol that God remembers us, and is always there for all people, including me and you. Just as Jesus made it through arrest, torture, crucifixion and death, so Jesus will get US through this turbulent time.
At the beginning of this devotion I described an old Spanish movie I had seen. One reviewer recently wrote of [that movie], “The Exterminating Angel is a nightmare whose time seems to have come again. In a time of political uncertainty unparalleled in recent memory, our shared sense of ‘what next?’ [of] panic and inertia, finds its echo in these people [in the movie] who can barely rouse themselves to leave a room, or take any decisive action beyond attempting to survive.” May we turn to God not only to survive this time period, but to ask God’s will in everything we do, knowing that, just as our God took care in a most extraordinary way of the Jews after 70 years of exile, in the same way God will take good care of us.
May God continue to bless you!