Last year I ordered something online and it didn’t come. So I emailed the company and they answered. They suggested that I call their “Office of the Director of Fulfillment”
I thought “WOW! What a great job!” Can you imagine? Where do you go to school for that?
So I dialed the number.
They answered. May I help you?
What do you want?
This was apparently not the first time they had heard this. After a moment of silence, she said, “What specifically may I do for you?”
Note that in that little exchange, something very important happened. My order was actually disordered. Something had gone wrong. A little bit of chaos had crept in to foil our transaction. The company made it right – putting things back in order and thus giving me a sense of fulfillment. That was a very small thing, but why must we live in a world with so much disorder and, worse, evil?
C.S. Lewis put it this way. Our world includes two primary factors that expose us to accidents, hardships and evil. The first is that the universe has physical laws that keep it in order. If I drop this book, it is going to fall every time. It would make a loud thump. If someone were walking under it, it still has to fall. It won’t turn into a pillow on the way down.
And sometimes the physical laws lead to hardships like tsunamis or cancer, which while very natural strike chaos into our lives.
The second is that we are each blessed with free will. We each make choices every day. Some may be good, others bad. Some may be wise; some may be mistakes. Some may be completely sane and benign, but put us in the path of someone else who has made a very bad decision, like a drunk driver or, worse, a deranged person with a gun. And chaos strikes yet again.
When we see such awful evil crashing into innocent people’s lives, our hearts are broken. Then we quickly start to think about what can be done to reign it in – to assert more order to restrain the chaos, to restrain the evil, and to help them heal.
Truly, the law is meant to restrain evil and balance the chaos of our competing rights and actions. In today’s reading from Nehemiah, the people of Israel have been restored to their lands after the Babylonian captivity. They don’t want to ever fail God that way again, so they gather annually to hear the Law and they celebrate it. The JOY of The Lord is their strength.
But it doesn’t last. The Law helps, but it doesn’t guarantee faithfulness, Lessons get forgotten,
We find Jesus at the very outset of his ministry, after temptation in the wilderness. He first goes to teach in his home region of Galilee, and he’s apparently gathering some early interest. He eventually returns to his hometown of Nazareth.
The very first thing Luke records Jesus teaching about is from Isaiah 61. Luke quotes it in brief, but it is well worth looking at a bit more – at least the first four verses. Take a moment to think through your personal inventory of struggles right now. What is worrying you? Where is your stress? Where is chaos breaking into your peace and order? Hold those items in mind, in prayer, as I read.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:1-4)
That’s fulfillment. Or at least a promise of fulfillment. Was the Lord speaking these words of hope to the poor of Isaiah’s time, or to Jesus’ time, or to us?
I say YES! Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God, but it is not complete yet. The fulfillment of God’s promise and our access to it is through him. He has fulfilled it. Everything that could and will go wrong with our order is fulfilled in him. He redeems it. He redeems us. He sanctifies us. And he has prepared a place for us. Our job is to know, love and follow him and bear witness to him in the chaos.
The families of the victims of that Sebring SunTrust need good news. The police who responded and their families need good news. Children who even hear about such violence need good news. People are poor, and captive and blind and oppressed in so many ways. The chaos of chance and evil brings darkness.
In the name of Jesus and by the power and leading of the Holy Spirit we will bear the good news of Jesus Christ to them in word and action. Let there be light. Let there be life.
This afternoon we’re going to celebrate our new ministry together. Meg and I are so very thrilled to be here. Yes, because you’re wonderful. Yes, because Lake Wales is beautiful and yes, because we are home. But we are thrilled first because Jesus showed us this path and called us to it so that together we can continue to help him proclaim and unfold this fulfillment in your lives, in our lives and in this community. People need this good news. People need him.
Let all our eyes be fixed on Him and follow where he leads.