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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Healing In His Wings - 11/13/2016

“But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2a)

I wonder if words like those we read today from the prophet Malachi infiltrated the thoughts and dreams of the Jewish people after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem – after the sack of the entire city by Titus in the year 70? It is the event Jesus foretells in our Gospel reading today.

It had been 70 years since the birth of Jesus when the temple was destroyed. It was about 40 years since the news of the empty tomb began to change the understanding of power in this world for many people.

Jerusalem is a walled city and it had been occupied by the Jewish people in an uprising against empire at this time. The temple was more than just the center of religious life. It was also central to government and the economy. The Jewish people, who had had it with being marginalized by the powerful and widespread Roman Empire, had squeezed the foreign rulers out and holed themselves up behind the walls of Jerusalem. The walls enclosed neighborhoods, storefronts, thousands of people and, at its heart, the Temple, where people came for Passover, for making sacrifice to God, where the Ark of the Covenant had once been housed and therefore, where God had once lived. It remains the geographic center of faith for many of God's children today  – Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The Jewish uprising in the 1st century was led, in large part, by a group called the Zealots. As external forces worked to get past the walls of the city for months, internally, the people were divided – they were fighting and killing each other. At one point, it was reported, someone even burned up all the food stores in hopes that the desperate situation would force God to enter into the battle to help them.

In the end, the larger and more highly trained and outfitted Roman-led armies prevailed. The untrained and divided people inside the walls had no chance against the armies. They breached the city's wall at several places and began to close in on the Zealots who had tried to barricade themselves in the Temple Mount area.

A historian of the time named Josephus said this about the destruction of the temple:

“As the legions charged in, neither persuasion nor threat could check their (impulsiveness): passion alone was in command. Crowded together around the entrances many were trampled by their friends, many fell among the still hot and smoking ruins of the colonnades and died as miserably as the defeated (Jewish people died). As they neared the Sanctuary they pretended not even to hear Caesar's commands and urged the men in front to throw in more firebrands. ... Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar the heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood ...” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jerusalem_(AD_70))

Josephus reported that most of the city and the walls around it were so utterly destroyed that anyone who came to Jerusalem after the siege would never even know to ask about the city and people that had once been there.

He also said more than a million people were killed in the destruction of the temple and about 100,000 others were enslaved. Scholars think the historian inflated those numbers, but we can certainly know that there were many, many people, mostly Jewish, who were killed or enslaved in the siege.

They must have felt like it was the end of the world. Josephus and others thought this had happened to the temple and the people because of their sins – that it was an experience of the wrath of an angry God. Perhaps many of the people looked around saw Malachi's words taking shape. “See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. (4:1)

But they were also a people of God with generation after generation of story about this God who freely made a covenant with them. A covenant that said this would be their one and only God, that the 10 commandments would be their law and they would be God's favored people –  forever. The legacy of these conquered people was story after story about how they had broken this covenant, but God hadn't. Even when angered by the people's continued folly, God never broke the covenant.

“But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2a)

I wonder if words like those we read today from the prophet Malachi are infiltrating the thoughts and dreams of the American people after a divisive and bitter presidential election in the United States this past week?

It is 2,016 years since the birth of Jesus. It is about 1,985 years since the news of the empty tomb began to change the understanding of power in this world for many people.

Going into this election, people of all different political viewpoints were frustrated.

Some were speaking out out loudly against entrenched politicians in Washington, D.C., who seem more invested in protecting their political careers then representing their constituents.

Some were frustrated with the economy or the state of healthcare coverage in this country.

Some were saying “Not far enough!” when it comes to our national efforts to protect and uplift the marginalized, the oppressed, the voiceless.

Some were concerned that the government was meddling too deeply in individual matters like the right to bear arms or the right to govern one's own reproductive health.

The nation was divided going into this election cycle and it came out of it even more so. I heard a lot of people say in the week or so before election day that they were looking forward to this election being over … I was among them … naively thinking, perhaps, that once the election was done, we could put this toxic divisiveness behind us – or at least this particular chapter of it.

But that hasn't been the case. Reports of people acting out in hurtful or destructive ways abound. Some protests by people who are not happy with the outcome of the election have quickly turned to more violent ends. Racist attacks against our black and brown brothers and sisters appear to be on the rise. People who voted for the winning candidate are hurt over others assuming they are sexist, racist, homophobic, Islamophobic. And women, minorities, LGBT folks, immigrants and Muslims are truly living in fear of the very real threats that some have indeed been making against them.

We are a nation divided.

But, we gathered here right now, and so many others in this nation, are also followers of Jesus – something we promise to keep at the very center of the way we conduct ourselves in this world. And that commitment points us to pretty specific ways of discerning how we are called to respond to this divisiveness – how we are called to be a healing presence in this world.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton said this the day after the election. “Many of us woke up with a sense of joy. Many of us woke up … with a sense of sorrow. After this long and divisive campaign, many of us woke up feeling weary. But,” she added, “we all woke up in the same country. No human candidate can guarantee our life or our future. That is work that God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus.”

This work is done – already and forever – by God through Jesus, Bishop Eaton reminds us.

And then we turn to the words of our Savior in our gospel story today. Use these times as a way to testify to the truth and hope of the Reign of God, he urges us. In times like this, we may be questioned and persecuted or ignored or ridiculed for keeping Jesus at the center of even the human agendas that we put our passions and votes behind. That testimony in times like this can be more powerful and necessary than ever.

Jesus also tells us to trust that God will give us the words of hope, forgiveness, healing and salvation that we all need to hear, no matter who we did or did not vote for.

And know, that when we come among one another, and gather around that font and around this altar to revere God's name, we do so in a world where the Son of Righteousness has risen – with healing in his wings for a weary and divided nation. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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