Do you ever get distressed when others are praising God for the blessings they’ve received? Do you feel left out in the dark while others are in the sunshine of God’s love? Perhaps you want to shout with the psalmist, “Restore us, God! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!” (ceb). Restore me! Renovate me! Save me!
Then come the recriminations, the accusations against God. God has given us “bread made of tears” (ceb) and more tears to drink “three times over!” (ceb). God has incited neighbors against us and enemies to laugh at us. God has broken us. So it’s up to God to fix us. The refrain comes again, “Restore us, God of heavenly forces! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!” (ceb).
The lectionary skips the next bit of the psalm, but it is worth a look. It’s a parable: the history of Israel as the story of a vine. God brings the vine from Egypt, clears the land, and plants it. It grows to fill the land, covering the mountains and even the tallest trees. And then God tears down the walls so that boars and bugs can devour the vine. The beloved root God planted has been burned and chopped down. Unless God does something quickly, it may disappear completely. “Restore us, God! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!”
There’s a story about a monk who asks his teacher, “When will I see God?” The teacher takes him to a pond and holds his head down until bubbles come up, then pulls him out. As the monk lies gasping, the teacher asks how he feels. “I thought I was going to die. I’d have given anything for a breath of air.” His teacher responds, “When you feel like that about God, that’s when you’ll see God.”
“Restore us, Lord God of heavenly forces! Make your face shine so that we can be saved!” (ceb). Amen.
The readings from the Hebrew scriptures have a common theme: The people have sinned and turned away from God, and now they cry out for God to forgive them. Even though they have created the separation from God, the authors are confident that God will restore them. These images of longing for God are appropriate as we begin the season of Advent, and the expressions of thankfulness coincide with the celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States. Paul opens First Corinthians with thanksgiving for the Christians in Corinth. They have been richly blessed by God (although the rest of the letter shows that they, like us, are far from perfect). Again this week, the Gospel reading refers to the return of Christ, a day known only to God.
Read Isaiah 64:1-9. When have you treated God as a vending machine and held a grudge against God? What restored your faith or changed your perspective?
Read Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19. When have you been frustrated by others’ praises of God’s blessings? When have you cried out to God, “Restore us”?
Read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9. How do you ignore your spiritual gifts? What might your faith community look like if everyone employed their spiritual gifts?
Read Mark 13:24-37. What is your job in the household of God? How do you stay alert?
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