Ezra 1:2 “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.”
As we read through 2 Chronicles we read about the demise of the Kingdom of Israel over many years. The kings of Israel and Judah (the two halves of the kingdom) had been unfaithful for centuries and judgment finally caught up with them. The Babylonians conquered them, took all the valuables in the kingdom, destroyed their cities, and led most of the surviving Israelites to Babylon to be slaves. Moses had led them out of slavery in Egypt many centuries before, but they were slaves again.
However, in our passage for today, we read that a new king emerged – King Cyrus. God has stirred in Cyrus who announces he will allow some of God’s people to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. I’m sure they were thrilled! BUT – how were they gonna rebuild the temple when they had no money?
When God gives his command, God also gives his provision.
Most of you know that, before returning to congregational ministry in 2013, I spent seven years traveling across the US and Canada serving churches of all kinds as a resource for leadership, discipleship and mission. For a host of reasons, the size, strength, and vitality of many churches has been in decline for some years now. The people look around and see a congregation that is a shadow of what it once was. I’ve heard hundreds of stories of the “good old days” when the church was full of families, children, adults of all ages. But no more. Sound familiar?
When things have been “shrinking” for years, it’s easy to get stuck in a “scarcity” mindset. In other words, people can begin to focus on what CANNOT be done because of of all the things the people NO LONGER have – be it people or money or youth or whatever. Many communities have gone from thinking ANYTHING was possible during the good old days, to thinking NOTHING is possible today. I understand the grief and sense of loss that can inspire this mindset. Things are not what they once were, there’s no denying that.
But… that doesn’t mean it’s over! You may be down, but you’re not out!
The passage for today reminds us that, even after the lowest of lows (God’s people defeated and sent into exile), God can renew his mission through the people. And when he does, you can rest assured the people will have EVERYTHING they need to accomplish the mission – or even MORE than they need! Which brings me to some questions for you:
1. Are you part of a church community that has seen its strength and vitality wane over the last number of years?
2. Has a scarcity mentality begun to take hold? If so, how so?
3. Let’s assume that, if your church is still alive, it’s alive for a reason – for God’s reasons. Can you name a key mission that God has given your church? A certain people group God wants you to serve? A key geographic area where you can reach out with love?
4. If we understand that God always provides for those he calls for his purposes, what is keeping you from living out your mission? How might the Lord be offering provision in unexpected ways?
5. What would your church be like if you KNEW with confidence you could not fail in God’s mission? (Hint: the only way you can fail is if you don’t try)
Lord God, as was true of your people in exile in Babylon, many of our churches have been going through difficult times. It can appear to us that we have nothing, and can do nothing. Give us grace to see your hand moving in our midst. Give us discernment to see your mission for us, and the courage to step out in faith. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.