Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. - Zechariah 1:3
I have been leading a small group about the prophets on Wednesday nights for some boys in the youth ministry. Just this past week we finished our discussion on our final prophet, Zechariah, and it has been one of my favorite small groups to lead thus far. I would encourage anyone to read up on the prophets, not just for the scripture but for understanding the historical and cultural time period of the Israelites. It is absolutely fascinating! Our goal in the group was to better understand 3 things: the nature of God, the qualities of the prophets, and the mistakes of Israel. During the time of the prophets, we find Israel going back and forth in their faith. This is known as the Apostasy Cycle. Often they would start to worship new gods and something bad would happen, then they would repent and things would be alright. After years of this back and forth it finally caught up with them and Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Babylon then took all of the educated and powerful out of Jerusalem and took them back as prisoners. This time period is known as the Babylonian exile and it lasted from about 600bc to 530bc. The words of the prophets before and during this time were often extremely harsh and that is often how they are remembered. What is often lost in the prophets’ scripture is God’s message of love and hope. God never left God’s people even when the temple was destroyed. What we learned in the small group is that God’s people were very impatient and expected redemption right away, but it took a very long time. We also saw that they ignored Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel’s warnings and they didn’t accept the hope of God’s message. The irony of it all is that it wasn’t until Persia (who had their own God and complex religion) defeated Babylon that the Israelites could return home.
Imagine, your identity as a people (Jerusalem and the temple) has been destroyed for years and you have been forced to serve another kingdom. You are waiting for your redemption in your humiliated state and to top it all off you are rescued by a new empire that has no knowledge of your God. This is not what they expected.
So, they tuck their tails between their legs and head back home.
But God is still with them even in this meantime. God still loves them even in this meantime.
Our final prophet to study, Zechariah, tells Israel on their way back home that God will return to them if they return to God. They have a long way to go. They are not called to sit and wait. They are called to return home and rebuild, and yes, this will take a very long time.
I am reminded of our state’s current situation. For years now we have been warned this budget crisis would come and yet we have done nothing differently. As I sat at home that night reading articles and Facebook comments after the governor’s address I couldn’t help but remember Israel’s response before and during exile. Just like way back then, people today are wanting a quick and easy fix and they are looking at everyone but themselves to make changes. The Israelites didn’t have a government anymore and they couldn’t ask a king or prophet to fix it all. They had to start at the bottom, at the foundation of the city, and rebuild it brick by brick.
Change doesn’t happen at the top. It doesn’t happen at the White House or in the state capitol. It doesn’t happen in the Supreme Court or the Senate. It happens at the lowest levels. Change happens at the bottom, the foundation of the kingdom. It happens where Jesus is: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the ones without a voice.
Change happens at places like the Community Renewal Friendship Houses. Once a month our students have the opportunity to tutor, play, and exercise with elementary aged kids from the Highland neighborhood. This is an after school program for kids that don’t have the best opportunity to succeed. It just so happens the last time we went was the night our budget crisis came to light. I watched our white, middle class students interact with kids from a completely different world, and I saw the kingdom being built brick by brick. I saw the same message of hope and redemption the prophets were proclaiming in the midst of Israel’s collapse. I saw how we as Broadmoor UMC, can love.
Return to me, the sick, the poor, the marginalized, and I will return to you.
This isn’t a call to convert. This isn’t a call to rebuke. This isn’t a call to overthrow.
This is a call to get our hands dirty. This is a call to be ok with the meantime. This is a call to be hopeful during the rebuild. This is a call to hope in the promise of redemption. This is a call to start working with ministries like the Friendship House and Community Renewal. This is a call to change at the lowest levels. This is a call to love.
So start walking back home, pick up a brick, and start building.
We have a long way to go.
By Brandon Winningham, Director of Youth Ministries