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“By the rivers of Babyon—there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Zion.” This lament of the exiled Israelites is haunting. In fact, all the texts this week are haunted by lament, at least to my ears. I guess we come by the mourning of our past naturally. People of faith have been longing for a time when things were better for many generations. It sounds almost trivial when I put it that way, but the yearning for better days is very real. Perhaps even more so when we are confronted with the struggles of today.

As I read Psalm 137 I am reminded of other words that also have the power to bring tears to my eyes. Whenever I participate in a protest, I have moments when I hold back tears. The chant that gets me every time I hear it is:  “Tear down Babylon! Black people are the bomb! We ready! We comin’!” For me it holds the same image, the same promise, of those early captives being forced to sing their songs of praise to a God who seems so far away. Tears flow into an ancient river.

While, too often, progressive white churches in the US are looking back to days with full pews, the songs of a captive people fill our streets. Jesus admonishes his disciples in the Gospel text. They want more faith, but they seem reluctant to let their hands, feet, and voices do the work to which God calls them. We can lament a time that has passed, a time when we felt nearer to God. However, if we are not willing to weep with those who are weeping, are we doing the work of the church?

Habakkuk’s words are so poignant, given all the places in the world where we “see wrong-doing and look at trouble.” I find myself wondering if we are really at our watch-post, waiting to hear God’s word for us. There is a vision of justice… of peace… of harmony… among all God’s children. It’s been written in Christ. The day will surely come. Are we doing all we can to make ready?

The words for today are tearful but far from passive. Lament for what was, even if we have glorified those days gone by. We ought not stop there, though. God is out there on the streets, waiting to hear our songs of faith, waiting to see if we will pass these stories of life and salvation on to another generation in the way we come together as the body of Christ in this generation.

If we wonder how that will happen, Psalm 37 promises that if we commit our ways to God, God will act. And Paul’s word’s in 2 Timothy reminds us that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” It’s that spirit of power and love that will see us through the tears that flow now. It is God who will work through us, if we are willing.

Many of us will be celebrating World Communion Sunday this week. At first I thought weeping and lament would clash with gratitude for the gifts of Christ’s table that draw us together. Yet, the body is still broken and blood still flows through our streets. We come to the table seeking wholeness, healing, and hope. We come to claim our place in God’s covenant of Love, Grace, and Forgiveness. Tears are appropriate as we consider all that divides us. Songs of hope are equally appropriate as we consider the power that unites us.

Are you leaning more toward lament or hope? What songs echo through these readings and stir your heart? What is the Spirit whispering to you in the winds that stir the rivers of Babylon?

Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, vlog, and books at Beachtheology.com.

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Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe.

4 thoughts on “RCL: By the Rivers of Babylon

  1. I am thinking of starting with the Habakkuk reading, preaching on the Luke reading and then into communion.
    Hab 1:1-4
    what would you ask God?
    Hab 2:1
    are we listening?
    Hab 2:2-4
    God’s vision
    Call to worship and lighting the Christ candle

    tomorrow’s job is to get the liturgy done – really everything except the sermon, and if that gets written it will be a bonus and a miracle.


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