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2 Chronicles 36.17-20 ESV
17 Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. 18 And all the vessels of the house of God, great and small, and the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king and of his princes, all these he brought to Babylon. 19 And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. 20 He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia…
I remember the day well. September 11, 2001, I was a sophomore at Young Harris College. Rev. Fred Whitley had called roll and we were a few minutes into his New Testament lecture for the day. The door opened and two of my fraternity brothers came into the class late. Rev (as we called him) addressed the boys and they explained that they were late because there had been a plane crash in New York City, that it was all over the news. Rev remarked we had plenty of time to catch the news after class.
Little did he or we know that in a couple of hours the entire campus would be gathered around the gazebo outside the chapel, as Rev addressed the crowd with words of comfort and an announcement that there would be a special chapel service for prayer and hope.
I ran back to my room after class and noticed along the way that the campus was in chaos. Huddled around the television were my roommates, swearing they would all enlist to fight the terrorists. Our emotions were all over the place. There were tears, curses, pacing, and even quiet anxiety. Two buildings. Two planes. Thousands dead. The largest city in our country in absolute terror. News then broke about the other planes and the destruction at the Pentagon. It made you wonder, “Is this the end?”
That kind of fear paralyzes not just people but entire establishments. It didn’t just rock a city, it rocked a nation. It was loud; it was frightening; and it left us with a gaping hole of uncertainty. What’s next? Who did it? Why? How many are hurt? Is it over? Will it happen again? When will it happen again? Will it be worse next time? Will we be ready?
For weeks and weeks, churches were packed. There was a surge in faith and in patriotism. But at the center of it all was a search for identity. The only way to sort through all these emotions was to figure out how this affected us and then work through what we discovered. What do I stand for? What do I stand against? What will I allow? What will I accept? What will I tolerate? Is this what hatred feels like?
It wasn’t just buildings or a city that found itself in ashes. People found themselves there, too. When our identity is in question or taken from us, we find it almost impossible to function. Who we are and what we are about is in disarray. Who will save us from the ash heap of our lives? How can we rise above the destruction?
Our Scriptures provide us with some amazing accounts of the people of God rising above the destruction that sin and evil have brought about in our lives. We can look to the example of faithful followers of God like Ezra and Nehemiah, as their books in the Old Testament provide us with examples of overcoming the loss of identity.
These two men helped Israel ground their identity in the God who seeks to save and restore. The people of Israel were in exile, taken from both their home and their faith. As time went on, they struggled to remember who they were and what they were all about. The powers that be granted them the freedom to come back to their homeland. As they returned, they had to re-discover themselves. Ezra and Nehemiah led the campaigns that would restore both their home life and their worship life. Jerusalem would be fortified once again and the people would rebuild the temple in order to worship again.
Ezra and Nehemiah teach us that devastation disorients our lives. God created and oriented humanity for a loving relationship with Him. As sin disoriented us, Christ has come to re-orient our lives back to our original orientation. 9/11 did a number on our culture, causing us moments of despair and bouts of hopelessness. We lived in fear for quite some time.
Our faith is no different, in that when we are pressed down we feel that our lives are being squeezed out. We want to be saved from our circumstance or our condition. This is when our faith is so important. For when we are pressed down we must remember that we will not be crushed. St. Paul said it best, “8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12 ESV).
Our faith is our hope because we ultimately remember who is in charge, even when evil rears its ugly head. We experience sin and death in the devastation around us, both personally and in society. But as Christians, for those who have put Jesus at the center of our hearts, we experience resurrection power, too! This is why we are pressed but not crushed, because Jesus has overcome these things.
With Jesus, we can rise above the problems of this world and experience life in a way that is restored and renewed. We are an out-of-the-ashes people. We are people who believe in an empty tomb. With that kind of faith, we will experience life the way the Psalmist described it, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
Remember, that at the center of our crisis is our Christ, rising above the pain, the fear, the despair that the world suffers from each day. I say, suffer no more! Be resurrected people, lifted up and above the evil of this world through the power of the Holy Spirit! Ground your identity in Christ Jesus, not in your fear and doubt. Let God give you joy and peace. Amen.