(A Lection Reflection on Psalm 126 and Isaiah 43: 16-21)
As those who know me will attest, I’m a big sports guy. My favorite sports are football and basketball, with college basketball being at the top of the list. And as you might expect, my most favorite time of my most favorite sport is right now: March Madness!
Who doesn’t love the drama, the effort, the miracle finishes, the amazing story lines? The underdogs, the upsets, the come-from-behind victories! And topping them all, indelibly burned into our collective memories and frozen in time, are the winning shots at the buzzer. If you love the sport, you’ll know these names and these shots: Bryce Drew, Christian Laettner, Keith Smart. If you’ve ever been on the winning side of a buzzer-beater, you know that feeling of sudden, thrilling exhilaration. We won!
So, when I read this week’s readings in Psalm 126 and Isaiah 43, my first thought was of buzzer-beaters: that moment when we move from certain defeat to sudden victory. From despair to pandemonium. From no hope to new possibilities.
When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
The Bible is full of those times when God seemingly stepped in and changed the outcome. If we believe that God can, at God’s choosing, intervene in the affairs of humans, then there may be times when we can say with the Psalmist “the Lord has done great things for us.”
And, if we look at the Isaiah passage, we see another invigorating statement of God’s intention to act on behalf of God’s people:
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Sure looks like God is clutch in the clutch; you want God to have the ball in God’s hands when the game is on the line, right? Leave it up to God, and the good guys will win in the end.
As Lee Corso is prone to say before a big football game: “Not so fast, my friend.” Before we can start our post-game celebration, we have to look at a few more verses. There’s more here than meets the (initial) eye.
The Psalmist says that before there is rejoicing, there is weeping. Before these are shouts of joy, there is sowing in tears. What does this mean? It means that before you can have a harvest, you have to plant — and in many cases, to have seed to plant you have to take from your food stock. In some cases, you are literally taking food out of your children’s mouths in order to plant. You have to give up the certainty of today for the hope of tomorrow. And that can be excruciating.
Have we sacrificed in some way for the good of the Gospel, or the good of the church, or the good of others? Have we worked, and sweated, and kept on, without any immediate reward, because we believed this was the work we were called to do? This is sowing in tears. And the Psalmist seems to say that it comes first, before the rejoicing.
Ultimately, like many, many things in the God-life, it comes down to faith. We offer what we can to God, and trust that God will honor it in some way. We put in the time, we pay the dues, we do the off-season workouts and the film study and the practice time, because we believe that God will take care of God’s part.
In Isaiah, God says that God is going to make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the dessert. Once again, God is going to break in and hit the winning shot. But be careful — don’t stop at verse 19. No, go on to verse 21. Why does God do this? “So that they might declare my praise.” The shouts of joy should become songs of thanks.
This reflection has already become overly long, so let me just close with this:
I struggle with both ends of the God-is-acting continuum: either the God-always-acts pole or the God-never-acts pole. I believe we are called to sow in faith, following the way of Love in our everyday lives, planting the seeds of faith and kindness and the Good News along our way. I believe that we do these things not because we expect miracles, but simply in obedience. And, I believe that being a Christ-follower doesn’t make us immune to the pain and suffering of the world, or of our own lives.
But … I also believe that sometimes, for reasons we may not always understand, God steps up and hits a game-winning shot. I believe the Resurrection was one for the ages. And I believe that ultimately, the way of Love will win.