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On the Journey… Tuesday of Holy Week

March 31, 2015

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While driving around the byways of Ireland last May, I remember being fascinated by the fences that populated the fields and roadways. They reminded me of the many stone fences I had seen in England, Scotland, and Wales during my assignments in the UK with the Air Force. They make unique patterns, that look like a patchwork quilt from a distance (and especially from the air). The picture above was taken from the car park of the B& B we stayed at in Doolin, Ireland. And the picture below is a closeup of a wall that I took a picture of when we were driving around the Dingle Peninsula.

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These walls made of stone made me think of stories from my first pastorate in northern Minnesota. The majority of the parishioners in the two little churches I served were farmers. Many more were retired farmers or people who worked at a variety of occupations in the rural area. I can remember the farmers talking each spring about the initial crop that always seemed to be booming. And no, we aren’t talking about sugar beets or wheat or soy beans. The bumper crop they harvested each spring was a pile of rocks! They even a had a phrase for this harvesting… going out and “picking rock”! Most of the farmers remembered  “picking rock” as very young children for their parents each spring and when they grew up and became parents, their own children took up the “occupation” when they were old enough to “pick rock”. So what did the farmers do with these rocks? Most of the time they dumped them in an unused or un-tillable part of their property.

Where the US farmers considered these rocks to be useless, the farmers in the UK and Ireland found a way to make them useful. Buildings and fences were constructed out of the rocks that had been dug up from the fields. What one group saw as worthless, the other group saw as having some value. It was all a matter of perspective, I guess. At least after completing the hard work of removing rock from the field so that the field could be planted, you had something useful to do with the rock. The fences and buildings (barns, storage, and out buildings) showed you that your work had not been done in vain and there was a purpose in your doing that hard work (besides being able to plow and plant without rocks damaging your equipment). So, the work they had done ended up not being done in vain. They saw the results of their labor each time they walked by the structure they had built out of the stones.

These stone fences and the labor involved have led me to consider the Tuesday of Holy Week lectionary passage, Isaiah 49:1-7, and Jesus’ last few days in Jerusalem. It is Tuesday, and Jesus is back in Jerusalem. On Sunday Jesus entered Jerusalem at the head of a parade. On Monday, he cleared out the Temple (according to Matthew, Mark & Luke). It is now Tuesday, and the crowds are swarming into the city and the city is abuzz with the preparations for Passover. I wonder what was going through Jesus’ mind as he walked the streets of Jerusalem and contemplated the days ahead.  Did his mind go back to another prophet of God who struggled with what he was doing? Did he think about the prophet Isaiah?

In Isaiah 49:1-7, we hear Isaiah reminding himself and the people of the Exile that God had indeed called him to do God’s work. “While I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” (49:1) He also knew that God had made his mouth like a sharp sword… that God had made him like a polished arrow which had both been hidden away (49:2) Yes Isaiah, your words could cut like a sword and the truth of your words could hit the bulls-eye like a swift flying arrow. Yet, despite all of this, it appears that Isaiah was having a crisis of confidence! “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward is with my God.” (49:4) Was all of his work for naught? Had he made any sort of an impact as God’s prophet? He was looking for some assurance that it has not been in vain. I guess you could say he was looking for the evidence which showed he had not labored in vain. Perhaps he was looking for evidence like the farmer might look at the stone fence and be reminded that his hard work had accomplished something.

Oh Jesus, did you wonder as you wandered around Jerusalem whether or not all you had done had made a difference? Were you discouraged as your disciples continued to not understand what you had to say? Were you worried about all that, as Isaiah had been so long ago? Were you worried about whether or not your message had been heard? Like Isaiah, the truth of your words cut to the core like a sword and nailed the bulls-eye like an arrow. But were you discouraged and disheartened, looking for some piece of evidence that it had not been all for naught?

What was God’s response to Isaiah’s despair? “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:6) Isaiah, your words and your work in God’s name will bear fruit beyond your wildest imagination!  For the one you have foretold will indeed come and will be a light to the nations so that God’s salvation may reach to the ends of the earth!

Oh Jesus, in your moments of darkness and questioning, did you remember the promise to Isaiah? Did you know that it was your promise as well? Did you find comfort in that promise when all else seemed to be going nowhere?

As I walk the Holy Week Journey this year, I am walking it in a new way for me. Living each day with the readings and pondering what it must have been like for Jesus is a good thing for me to do. To be honest, there have been times in my ministry over the past twenty-eight years where I too have wondered as I wandered. I have wondered whether or not what I have done has made a difference. Sometimes I wonder if I am more like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.

Just about the time that my wondering takes a toll on me, God shows me a stone fence! God shows me how what I had/have been doing does indeed make a difference. It was a phone call from an AF Security Policeman to just say thank you for helping he and his wife through a rough time. It was a note or a card from out of the blue with words of encouragement for me. There were other reminders along the way that always help me to remember… The Lord who is faithful has chosen me! (49:7)

My prayer for you, dear reader, as we walk this Holy Week Journey together is that you too will know that God has chosen you! And may you be blessed to see evidence of God’s work in you as God shows you the stone fence results of your labor.

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