By Michael Smith
A Reading from Ezra 1:1-11
1 In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:
2 “Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Any of those among you who are of his people — may their God be with them! — are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel — he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4 and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill-offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”
5 The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites — everyone whose spirit God had stirred — got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6 All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. 7 King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 King Cyrus of Persia had them released into the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives, twenty-nine; 10 gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred and ten; other vessels, one thousand; 11 the total of the gold and silver vessels was five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar brought up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.
God appears to be full of surprises for the chosen people. For example, God used a foreign king, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, to ransack the temple in the destruction of Jerusalem and subjugate its citizens; God used another foreign king, Cyrus of Persia, to free the same people and send them home to rebuild and restore the City of God. “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away,” observed Job, but “blessed be the name of the Lord” anyway (Job 1:21).
There is much uncertainty locally and around the globe, politically, environmentally, and epidemiologically these days. When will our world get back to normal? Will the reality we knew ever be the same? What is going to happen to the Church during this era of institutional decline? There are many opinions expressed in an attempt to answer these questions, but deep down we know that no one really knows how things are going to work out.
We do know that God has surprised God’s people in the past, and we should probably expect the same in the future. We also know that God uses political realities to bring about divine purposes. In the meantime, what should we do? Like Job, perhaps we need to “bless the name of the Lord” anyway.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Grahamstown (Anglican Church of Southern Africa)
Grace Church, New York, N.Y.