A Community of Believers

No man is an island.  We exist in a society, in a community.  We grow up in a family, in a community of people.  As a Christian, we must live in a Christian community.  The Christian religious experience is always lived within a community.  Individual spirituality leads to a commitment not merely as an individual, but to the larger community of Christian believers.  Even the hermits understood that they shared in the larger Christian community.  Just as there is no religious practice without a religion, there cannot be any Christian belief except within a Christian community, a Christian Church.  An individual and communal faith goes hand in hand, not face to face.  God created us out of love, so faith is within a community.  If faith is not communal it is not complete.  Nevertheless, nearly half of American Christian believers are not affiliated with a church, because we live in a highly individualist country.  There is a certain hypocrisy that allows each of us to define our morality as what we would like to do.  We have lost the sense of personal and social responsibility for the common good as “me” and my individual personal experience becomes more important.  We are social by nature and need the common experience of worship.

The gathering (Ezek 20:34-20:35)

“I will bring you out

From the people.

I will gather you

Out of the countries,

Where you are scattered.

I will bring you

With a mighty hand,

With an outstretched arm,

With wrath poured out.

I will bring you

Into the wilderness

Of the people.

There I will enter

Into judgment

With you

Face to face.”

The kingship of Yahweh, as just mentioned, included a mighty hand, an outstretched hand, and anger poured out. Yahweh was going to gather the Israelites from wherever they had been scattered. He was going to bring them into a new wilderness of all the people. There he was going to enter into personal judgment with them face to face.

King Zedekiah learns of his imminent defeat (Jer 34:2-34:3)

“Thus says Yahweh!

The God of Israel!

‘Go!

Speak to King Zedekiah

Of Judah!

Say to him!’

‘Thus says Yahweh!

I am going

To give this city

Into the hand

Of the king of Babylon.

He shall burn it

With fire.

You yourself

Shall not escape

From his hand.

But you shall surely

Be captured.

You shall be

Handed over to him.

You shall see

The king of Babylon

Eye to eye.

You shall speak

With him

Face to face.

You shall go

To Babylon.’”

Yahweh, the God of Israel, spoke directly to Jeremiah. Jeremiah was to go and tell King Zedekiah about the coming defeat of Jerusalem and his own personal fate. Yahweh told Jeremiah exactly what to say to the king. Yahweh was going to hand over the city of Jerusalem to the king of Babylon, who was then going to burn it down. As for King Zedekiah, he was not going to escape. He was going to be captured. Then he would be turned over to King Nebuchadnezzar. He would then see him eye to eye and speak to him face to face. He would be sent off to Babylon. This prophecy is much like the same prophecy that Jeremiah had given to King Zedekiah earlier in chapter 32.

King Zedekiah and the prophecy of Jeremiah (Jer 32:3-32:5)

“King Zedekiah said.

‘Why do you prophesy?

Why do you say this?

Thus says Yahweh.

I am going to

Give this city

Into the hand

Of the king

Of Babylon,

He shall take it. King Zedekiah

Of Judah

Shall not escape

Out of the hand

Of the Chaldeans.

But he shall surely

Be given

Into the hands

Of the king

Of Babylon.

He shall speak

With him

Face to face.

He shall see him

Eye to eye. He shall take King Zedekiah

To Babylon.

There he shall remain

Until I attend to him.

Though you fight

Against the Chaldeans,

You shall not succeed

Says Yahweh.’”

King Zedekiah was upset at Jeremiah. He wanted to know why he was prophesying that Yahweh had told him that the Babylonians and Chaldeans would be successful. Why did he say that the city of Jerusalem would fall. That was a morale killer. Jeremiah prophesized that King Zedekiah would be captured and sent off to exile in Babylon. The king would get to see King Nebuchadnezzar face to face and eye to eye, since he was not going to be successful, despite the help from the Egyptians.

Moses (Sir 45:1-45:5)

“From Jacob’s descendants,

The Lord brought forth a godly man.

He found favor in the sight of all.

He was beloved by God.

He was beloved by the people.

Moses’ memory is blessed.

The Lord made him equal in glory

To the holy ones.

The Lord made him great.

Mosses brought terror to his enemies

By his words.

He performed swift miracles.

The Lord glorified him

In the presence of kings.

The Lord gave him commandments

For his people.

The Lord revealed to him his glory.

The Lord consecrated him for his faithfulness.

He sanctified him for his meekness.

He chose him out of all humans.

He allowed him to hear his voice.

He led him into the dark cloud.

He gave him the commandments

Face to face.

He gave him the law of life.

He gave him knowledge.

Thus Moses

Might teach Jacob the covenant.

He might teach Israel his decrees.”

Obviously, Sirach has Moses as one of these blessed famous godly men, who found favor in the sight of all people. He surely was a holy one as described in practically all the first part of Exodus, chapters 2-24. Moses was a later descendant of Jacob who was loved both by God and the people. However, Moses was a terror to his enemies, yet glorified in the presence of kings. He performed great miracles. The Lord gave him commandments face to face, as he was chosen and consecrated from all the people, because he was faithful and meek. He heard the voice of God in the dark cloud. He received the law of life and knowledge from God. Thus he was able to teach the covenant and the decrees to Jacob and Israel.

Death is imminent (Ps 18:4-18:5)

“The cords of death encompassed me.

The torrents of perdition assailed me.

The cords of Sheol entangled me.

The snares of death confronted me.”

This was a dangerous situation. Death was all around David. Perdition was close at hand. The chords of Sheol, the underground place of death, had him entangled. Death confronted him face to face. Just like 2 Samuel, chapter 22, death, evil, Sheol, and perdition were all around him, assailing him, entangling him, and confronting him. What was he to do?

Job wants to meet God (Job 23:1-23:7)

“Then Job answered.

‘Today also my complaint is bitter.

His hand is heavy,

Despite my groaning.

O that I knew where I might find him!

O that I might come even to his dwelling!

I would lay my case before him.

I would fill my mouth with arguments.

I would learn what he would answer me.

I would understand what he would say to me.

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?

No!

But he would give heed to me.              

There an upright man could reason with him.

I should be acquitted forever by my judge.’”

Job was still bitter. Despite all his complaints, he still wanted to find God. He wanted to meet him face to face in his house. Then he would lay out his cause with many arguments. However, he would learn and understand by listening. He believed that he, the upright man, would get a fair hearing. In the end, he would be acquitted by God, if only he could present his case.