Message: We can lose the Promised Land, go into exile. Please God, it will not become a permanent Exile, but we will by God's grace return to the Promised Land - and join Jesus in the great work of restoration.
This is the fourth and final homily on the Geography of Faith. Although I am bringing this series to a close, I will refer back to the Geography of Faith to help us make sense out of the Bible and our own lives.
So far we have seen how God rescued us from the misery of Egypt, led us through the Desert of Decision and brought into the the Promised Land. Then, last week we faced a terrible possibility - that you and I could lose the Promised Land forever. We could face an Exile like the ten tribes of Northern Israel: lost forever.
That was the first exile, but there was a second Exile that was very different. It happened about 150 years after the Assyrian Exile and it is known as the Babylonian Exile. The Babylonian Exile was different in this way: The Jewish people eventually returned to the Promised Land.
How did that happen? How did they manage to return to the Promised Land? If we can figure that out, it will help us to avoid permanent exile. So let's take a look. What did the Jewish people do when they wound up in Babylon, so far from their true home?
First and most important, they did their best to worship God. They prayed individually and in their homes. And they met with other families to read Scriptures and to pray the Psalms. They took the Commandments and applied them to their current situation. And they taught their children. You might see where I am going - the three "c's": cult, code and creed.
These three make possible a relationship with God. As the prophet Habakkuk says today, "The just one, because of his faith, shall live." We are saved not by our works, but by a relationship with God. Because of their relationship with God - cult, code and creed - the Jews in Babylon were ready to return. After fifty long years the opportunity came. A Persian, named Cyrus, conquered Babylon. In 538 Cyrus published a decree allowing the Jews to the Promised Land.
They faced a decision. After fifty years they had grown accustomed to Babylon. Heck, most of them were born there. Babylon is lush place, on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers - and many Jews prospered there. But, in spite of those temptations, a remnant returned. You and I should be eternally thankful for that remnant. They were the ones who pulled together the Bible - Moses and the Prophets - in one book. They compiled the Psalms and Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, as well as other books. And they wrote the great Wisdom Literature - Sirach and the Book of Wisdom itself.
These books may not have the glory of the earlier books: Exodus, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah - but they contain practical wisdom for every day. I have to admit that I get most pleasure out of reading books like Proverbs, Sirach and Wisdom. And when I am feeling down, no book helps me more than Qoheleth. His complete pessimism makes me smile. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity! You don't need to go the Buddha to realize that nothing in this world can save a person. Just read Qoheleth, also known as Ecclesiastes. It's best if you are really down: You know, your girl friend just dumped you, your parents don't understand you and nobody appreciates you. Don't reach for a bottle. Read Qoheleth.
You may have heard the phrase, "a sadder, but a wiser man." That applied to the Jewish people when they returned from Babylon. The Promised Land had turned into a desolate place - the Temple destroyed and Jerusalem in ruins. They could have despaired and in face of all the negativity, just started looking out for "number one." But they didn't do that. With people like Ezra and Nehemiah to encourage them, they began the process of rebuilding or restoration.
We are in the process of restoration today. It does not mean salvation by works. We are saved only by Christ. He has already redeemed us, but he invites to join him in the work of restoration. In the book, Rebuilt, Fr. Michael White makes this comparison:
"You lose your house through foreclosure because of stupid choices and bad debt; someone else buys it, but allows it to fall into disrepair; then someone else buys it back and returns it to you. They have redeemed it for you, but it's still a wreck. It's still in need of restoration."
Fr. White then concludes: "Redemption and restorations are two different, though intimately related, exercises. Christ redeems, and in Christ Christians restore."
Redemption and restoration: With that distinction I bring this series of homilies to a close. I hope they have helped you to make sense out of the Bible, but most important, to make sense out of what God is doing in your life. We have seen that (in Christ) God rescues us, redeems us, from slavery in Egypt, leads us through the Desert of Decision into the Promised Land. We can lose the Promised Land, go into exile. Please God, it will not become a permanent Exile, but we will by God's grace return to the Promised Land - and join Jesus in the great work of restoration. (In coming weeks I will focus on the basic steps we need to take in the work of restoration.)
To take up that work, we have the words of the prophet, Habakkuk: "The just one, because of his faith, shall live." And we make this prayer to Jesus, "Lord, increase our faith." Amen.
From Archives (27th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Resources for Geography of Faith
Geography of Faith Retreat by Bishop Liam Cary
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Parish Picture Album
(Septiembre de 2013)
An excellent 12 minute homily by Archbishop Sartain, followed by Creed and Prayers of Faithful. Also has original song by Susan Howard beginning at 17:28. Warning: best not to watch on Youtube because of an unsavory ad on the side.
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated September 2013)
My Top Ten Teaching Opportunities
Geography of Faith, Part Three (audio file of homily given on September 29, 2013)
Geography of Faith, Part Two (audio file of homily given on September 22, 2013)
Geography of Faith, Part One (audio file of homily given on September 15, 2013)
Geography of Faith - Overview (MP3 audio file of 50 minute presentation given on September 25, 2013 to parish Generations of Faith)
Outline of Geography of Faith
Geografia de Fe