Monday, November 15, 2010

Who's in Charge?

This post has been linked to Amazing Catechists

Y'all remember last class we talked about the Christmas Prophet...Isaiah! Yes. We have a couple more of his prophecies to look at.

In this one Isaiah is telling the Jews to cheer up, God is going to make things better. I like this passage, because it shows that although God is masculine, and is our father, that he loves his children like a mother as well:

"Sing for joy...For the LORD has comforted his people...14 But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me." 15 "Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. 16 See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name." Isn't that sweet? It reminds me of how my wife loves our children, even though they are mostly adults now. Then Isaiah says, "All [your enemies] come to you. As I live, says the LORD, you shall be arrayed with them all as adornments, like a bride you shall fasten them on you."  (Is 49)  I like that part because it reminds me of how beautiful my wife was at our wedding. Just look at this picture, isn't that great, boys? No! Girls? I think y'all look cute!  Thank you! Boys, I'm tellin' ya, wise up: this is the future...your future.

So whenever God talks about his people being his children or his bride, I know just what he means.

Now, y'all may remember from last week Isaiah prophesied that: God was coming; a Messiah, an Anointed One, a king was coming, but he was a talking, persuading king, not a fighting king; and his kingdom would be made of all nations, all peoples, not just the Jews. God also describes this Messiah as his servant:

"Behold my servant, whom I am pleased; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations....Behold, the old things have come to pass, and new things I now declare...Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high." That all sounds pleasant; but then Isaiah says, "...many were astonished at him-- his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the sons of men..." What's that mean, marred? Like...dented? Yes, let's say damaged, beat-up. Again: "..his appearance was so marred, beyond human [re]semblance" What's that mean? He's so beat up he doesn't look like a person?  Yes, people were mean to the servant; that seems odd. "[And] he shall he sprinkle many nations." (Is 42) Who sprinkles people? Priests! Yes, with...Blood! and...Water! Yes, so if God's servant will sprinkle many nations, then he must be a...priest? Yes. And when a priest sprinkles you what does it show? You got your sins forgiven. Yes, you were cleansed of your sins. And this servant will sprinkle "many nations," not just the Chosen Ones...which is also odd.

Isaiah says so much about this "suffering servant" that we can only look at a few things...please, don't thank me. All this is from Chapter 53: "He was...avoided by men, a man of suffering...One of those from whom men hide their faces...and we held him in no esteem.Yet it was...our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted." Smitten means hit, like with a fist or a weapon. "But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed."  If someone has been "smitten" why would he have "stripes"? 'Cause he was whipped? Yes, good. "We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; But the LORD laid upon him the guilt of us all." That seems unfair. "...he was harshly treated...Like a lamb led to the slaughter...he was silent and opened not his mouth. Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away...he was cut off from the land of the living and smitten for the sin of his people...though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood." Poor servant, why should he suffer for other people's sins? But here's the good part: "Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Because he surrendered himself to death...he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses." So, who was unjustly put to death and took away other people's sins? Jesus? Yes. All this prophecy is about Jesus. We'll come back to Isaiah as we discuss the Gospels, and see how Jesus fulfilled so many prophecies.

Well, we've covered a lot of Isaiah's prophecies; now let's hear a story from Isaiah before we move on to Jeremiah. It's not a parable, though, it's real. Hmmm...I already need a volunteer! Get up here & stand by me! Your name is Shebna, Shebna. OK class, my name is Hezekiah. I'm the king of Judah, and he isn't, so I have all the power, and he...doesn't have any! That's right. But being the king, do I want to run around the kingdom all day collecting taxes and taking care of business, or do I want to lounge around the palace and eat pizza? You want to lounge around the palace and eat pizza!  That's right! Boy, y'all are smart. And even if liked running the kingdom I might have to leave town to visit other kings, or lead the army, or maybe I'd get sick sometimes...I'm just not going to be available 24/7...[I put my arm around my powerless volunteer] dear me, what shall I do? Make him your helper!  Now, there's an idea...does that suit you, Shebna? Yes! OK, Shebna, you're going be my prime minister...anyone know what a prime minister is? Like the president? Ummm...sort of. More like the vice-president. Who's the head of England? The Queen? Yes, Queen...Elizabeth. Yes. Queen Elizabeth has a whole lot of ministers, each one's in charge of something: the army, the navy, the treasury, stuff like that. She lets them use her authority to do all the things she doesn't have time to do. They don't have any power of their own, just however much of the Queen's power that she lends them. And she has one minister who is in charge of all the rest: the prime minister. If she's traveling the world he is in charge of all the rest while she's gone.

Shebna, I won't be here often and I'm leaving you in charge [I take out my key wallet & show the contents]. Here's my palace key, my chariot key, my castle key, my credit card, my bank card, and my library card. Take care of everything for me [I put the wallet on his shoulder]. Class, have I put someone in charge? Yes, Shebna! How do you know? You put your wallet on his shoulder. Yes...why didn't I just slip it in his pocket? So we could see. Yes. Now I won't give my wallet just to anyone...only to...someone you trust! Yes!

As it turns out, Shebna started using his position to make himself rich. Isaiah says, "Thus says the Lord GOD of hosts, "Come, go to this steward, to Shebna, who is over the household, and say to him: 16 What have you to do here and whom have you here, that you have built here a tomb for yourself, you who make a tomb on the height, and carve a habitation for yourself in the rock?" See, Shebna has bought him himself a very fancy tomb to be buried in; God only knows what else he's done..he...can'! Yes!

[I address Shebna] "Behold, the LORD will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you, 18 and whirl you round and round, and throw you like a ball into a wide land; there you shall die, and there shall be your splendid chariots, you shame of your master's house. 19 I will thrust you from your office, and you will be cast down from your station."  Shebna, you're fired [I take back my wallet]! Go sit down. Dear me, if I fire Shebna how will stuff get tended to? Get another prime minister! Can I do that? Yes! You're right, the prime minister-ship is an office; he's an official. I'll just get a new one. OK, I need another volunteer, get up here, your name is Eliakim.

"...I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe (hand it over), and will bind your belt on him (hand it over as well), and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah." [I act these things out on Eliakim] Class, how should I show you Eliakim's in charge now? Put your wallet on his shoulder! Yes! Isaiah says, "And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open." [I put the wallet on Eliakim's shoulder] So when someone in the Bible gives someone else a key...he's putting them in charge! Yes, geniuses! Go sit down, Eliakim, and give me back my wallet!

That's all for Isaiah, let's learn about our next prophet, Jeremiah. I will be reading from Jeremiah! yes, the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was born about 650 years before Jesus. By comparison, the Pilgrims came to America about 400 years ago. In Jeremiah's day, Judah had been conquered by a new, bigger enemy, Babylon, which had beaten the old enemy, Assyria. The king and the people had returned to their old bad habits, worshiping the baby-eating false god Baal, and taking the LORD for granted. Jeremiah tries to warn Judah that even worse may happen:

The LORD tells Jeremiah, "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word...Amend your ways and your doings, and I will let you dwell in this place." What's the house of the LORD? The temple?  Yes, built by...Solomon?  Yes. In what city? Jerusalem!  Yes. And remember, the seraph, the burning one, purged Isaiah's lips where? In the Temple? Yes. Jeremiah goes on to say, "4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' Of course it's obvious that Jeremiah is standing at "the temple of the LORD," so what's his point? No guesses, that's OK. He means that if the Judeans keep misbehaving, the temple won't save them, won't make any difference. And worse, he won't let them "dwell in this place," Judea. "For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not shed innocent blood in this place...then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever." How would the Judeans "shed innocent blood in this place"? Umm, by sacrificing babies? Yes, I think so. How awful.  "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house...only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of thieves in your eyes?"  Imagine if your house, or our church, was turned into den of thieves; why should God put up with that? He shouldn't! Right; Jeremiah says: "Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, says the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to this I did to Shiloh." What happened at Shiloh? Everybody got killed! Yes, more or less: Eli, the high priest died; his bad sons died, and his daughter-in-law died. Even worse, what was captured? The Ark! Yes. God abandoned Shiloh and never dwelled there again, due to all the sinful behavior.

So, did the Judeans listen to Jeremiah? No! Of course not. Jerusalem was a huge, fortified city with a spectacular Temple, not some bump-in-the-road like Shiloh with a moth-eaten old Meeting Tent. Get real, Jeremiah. But within a few years Judea rebelled against Babylon, and was crushed. The people were hauled off as captives to Babylon, the Temple was demolished, and Jerusalem was left desolate,! Yes, worse than Shiloh.

But the Judeans were humbled by their defeat, and inclined to repent. Jeremiah offered them hope: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. "  Remind me please, what covenant do the Judeans have with God? No's the one they made when "I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt" The one with Moses? Yes, we call it the Mosaic Covenant. And God is Israel's husband, that makes Israel his bride, and I can imagine how he loves her and how his heart breaks when she isn't faithful.  "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people..." Where did God write the Law he gave the Israelites? On the tablets? Yes, on stone tablets. And now "I will write it upon their hearts." Which is the better place to write laws, stone or hearts? Hearts. Why? Because then you believe it?  Umm, sort of; if someone's name is "written on my heart" love them! Yes. So law written on one's heart is based Yes. That's how parents are with kids. Parents don't want to make up a bunch of rules; they want you to obey them because...we love them. Yes. And because they love you- just like God. Finally Jeremiah says,"I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." That's like parents, too. I forget most of the bad things my kids have done, just as my parents have forgotten the bad stuff I did. Parents and God are alike: they both want to forgive the children they love, but the sorry! Yes. They have to repent.

Our next prophet is Ezekiel. How many more prophets are there? Well in our class, after Ezekiel there are only two more, Daniel and Malachi, but none of them take as long as Isaiah. OK. We're only going to look at one thing Ezekiel said...but first, tell me about Naaman and the Jordan river. He had leprosy and washed it off in the river. Yes, and did his sins get washed away, too? No, just the leprosy. Yes, physical healing, but not spiritual. Now listen to Ezekiel's prophecy, he was in Babylon, and wanted the Judeans to feel better about going home someday: "For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land." That would make me feel better; but he goes on:  "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Being sprinkled clean from idol worship isn't physical, it's spiritual, yes, getting cleaned from...sin. Yes. Do people ever have their sins washed away by water in church? Yes, at baptism. Yes. And when that happens it's like getting a new spirit and a heart of flesh. Y'all may not know that on the night before Easter there's a Mass called the Easter Vigil. Lots of adults get baptized at that Mass, it's pretty interesting. When you're older and can stay awake, get your parents to take you. Seeing them get baptized always reminds me of Ezekiel's prophecy.

On to Daniel. Daniel lived in Babylon with the captive Judeans; who knows the story about Daniel and the Lions' Den? The king put him in there with the lions but they didn't eat him. Right, that was the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Well, one day Daniel had a vision of God judging all the earthly kingdoms that had oppressed Israel at one time or another; they appeared as fantastic beasts. "And as I looked, the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away...13 I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a Son of Man, and he came to the Ancient of Days (that's God) and was presented before him. 14* And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away..." So after all the earthly kingdoms are swept away, a "Son of Man" comes on heavenly clouds, and is given a never-ending kingdom that includes "all peoples," as Isaiah would say. Who does that sound like? Jesus! Yes. Not only is that prophecy about Jesus, but when Jesus is arrested  after the Last Supper, he quotes Daniel's prophecy. But all that comes later on.

At long last we're down to our last prophet. Don't cry, but class is over for tonight, so we'll pick up next week with Malachi.

See you next week!