God restores

22nd Sunday after Pentecost (October 28, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Jer. 31:7-9; Ps. 126; Heb. 7:23-28; Mk. 10:46-52

This week we attended SEVEN, a powerful play weaving together stories of seven women’s rights activists from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Pakistan and Russia.  Six Jordanian women and the Swedish ambassador to Jordan presented the play at the Al-Hussein Cultural Center in Amman.

Kristy, Audra and Agnes — three young volunteers in Jordan — surprised us Wednesday by taking us out to dinner at Ghaith’s, one of our favorite restaurants

The four-day Eid-al-Adha (or Feast of Sacrifice) began Oct. 26.  The Muslim festival commemorates Abraham’s obedience to God – even to the point of being willing to sacrifice his own son.  In the end, God provided a sheep for the sacrifice.

To remember this event, many Muslim families slaughter a sheep, goat or camel.  One-third of the meat is eaten by the immediate family, one-third is given to friends, and one-third is donated to the poor.  The Eid is also a time of family gift-giving.

Muslim pilgrims throw pebbles at pillars during the “Jamarat” ritual, the stoning of Satan, in Mina near the holy city of Mecca, on Oct. 26 (AFP photo in Jordan Times)

Earlier in the week, Muslims from some 189 countries made the pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca and participated in the “stoning of Satan” ritual on the first day of the Eid.   The event reenacts Abraham’s throwing stones at the devil, who, according to legend, thrice tempted Abraham not to be obedient to God.

In the region this week:

  • Jordanian authorities arrested 11 Jordanians with alleged links to al-Qaeda.  The group is believed to have been planning attacks on several malls, embassies and hotels in Amman.
  • Aid officials expressed concern about the challenges Syrian refugees will face in the Za’atari Camp as winter approaches in Jordan.  Our friend Amy Hybels produced a four-minute video highlighting life inside the camp.  The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has plans to distribute MCC blankets and relief kits in the Za’atari camp.
  • The Syrian government and the Free Syrian Army agreed to a ceasefire over the four-day Eid, but the truce was quickly broken.

A car bombing damaged this building in Damascus hours after a cease fire began over the Eid (AP photo)

  • An Iranian filmmaker and lawyer were jointly awarded the European Union’s Sakharov Prize, awarded annually for dedication to the promotion of human rights and freedom of thought.

The theme of the Common Lectionary readings this week is “God restores.”

God restores us from places of exile.  In the Old Testament reading God promises to gather a great company from “the farthest parts of the earth” – including the blind and the lame (Jer. 31:8).  “I will lead them back,” God promises (v.9). Likewise, the psalmist writes that God will restore the fortunes of those who have been sent into exile.  “Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” (Ps. 126:6)

Our granddaughter Sydney enjoys playing in the leaves at her home in Virginia (photo by Holden Byler)

God restores us to right relationship.  The writer of Hebrews compares the temporary service of human priests with the service of Jesus, who “holds his priesthood permanently” (Heb. 7:24) and makes a sacrifice “once for all” (v.27). In so doing, Jesus is able to save us, restoring us to right relationship with God and one another.

God restores us to health.   In the Gospel reading, Jesus heals Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:46-52).  Reduced to a life of begging, blind Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” (v.48).  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks (v.51a).  “My teacher, let me see again,” Bartimaeus pleads (v.51b).  Jesus immediately restores his sight and Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way (v.52).

God restores.  But not always when we want or in the way we want.  The exile to Babylon lasted some 70 years.  Our own desert experiences and times of waiting sometimes seem to last forever.  Broken relationships often take years to mend.  Many of the people Jesus healed had been sick for years.

Our faith is stretched as we hold fast to the promise that God restores, even when – especially when — it feels like nothing is happening at the moment.

Sydney turns one on Oct. 29 (photo by Holden Byler)

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