You’ve heard about Josiah, haven’t you?
Not your cousin in Memphis who’s a programmer for Fedex and whose parents poured overthe Old Testament way more than ya’ll did when you were being reared.
I’m talking about the one for whom your cousin Joe (he shortened it atcollege) was named. King Josiah. The one whose reign began at age 8 when all his other friends were playing X-Box and battling in Air-Soft wars.
By the time he was 20 or so, he was purging Judah of her people'scatastrophic habit ofhedgingtheir theological bets. You see, they had given themselves over to the gods everyone else was fussing over. Alongside Yahweh (aka The LORD), of course.
Just covering all their bases. You know, just in case it turned out they might get better crops by throwing a periodic party for Baal (the Canaanite “storm-god”).
This, by the way, is sort of the thing that Yahweh, well, hates. Kind of like a good wife assaulted with news of her husband’s mistress. And of course, there aren’t any other gods besides the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who has, at last, revealed himself to us in the person of his Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Well, Josiah, after gussying up the temple and getting worship back up andrunning as God had dreamed it up, has the formerly lost “Book of the Law” (which may well have been the book of Deuteronomy) read to him. And here’s what’s so stirring to me. He freaks out, to put it theologically, over what he hears.
A “Tear Your Robes” Alarm and Sorrow
In other words, he treats God's wordlike it is something.
As if it carries weight for the life of God’s people.
Josiah RESPONDS to its warnings and threats with alarm and sorrow-with literal “tear your robes” alarm and sorrow.
In this heightened state of alertness, he asks Huldah, the prophetess (interestingly, you don’t meet many Huldahs in Northwest Georgia) to check with the LORD to find out what’s going to happen to them for having been so calloused and neglectful to His concerns.
And while God assures a nasty judgment is eventually on itsway againstthe God-neglectors for their serial infidelity in the face of His constant kindness, Josiah is assured it won’t happen to them in his time. And you know what averts the earned judgment? Well, let’s listen to Ms. Huldah relay God’s rationale for the verdict:
“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 34:27)
Heart responsiveness. Or as the King James so delicately puts it, “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God...”
Which reminds me of Isaiah’s corroborating statement from the the Lord of Hosts in Isaiah 66,
"This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”
It’s stunning how often and favorably God responds to the responsive heart in the Scripture. It’s uncanny to think how many promises of mopping-the-floor-with-the-disobedient are overturned by God himself when he encounters a people willing to take him seriously, and let his word be the primary weight in their lives. A weight that wakes them up, turns them around and brings them back to their senses.
Of course, our Savior was nothing but ready and eager to respond to his Father,and lucky for us, his tender-hearted responsiveness forced him to walk headlong into ourcrushing judgment and in our stead.
Why wouldn't we respond with alert attention tothe words of Him who means us such good?
So I write today, with a prayer for all Christ’s church throughout our city, that we might find ourselves increasingly responsive to our Lord’s overtures, wishes, commands, and even threats. I suspect we’ll find ourselves consoled AS we tremble at his weighty and influential word, because we won’t any longer have to tremble at the latest cable news reports of whichever impending doom or insurmountable challenge appears to begreetingus at 9 am or for the next one at 7 pm later in the day.
“Hatch a Heart in Us At Last”
It is maddeningly easy to forget that we have actually been created to respond.
God calls, we reply.
He initiates, we react.
All that his people are and do, ultimately, should be construed as a response to the Voice of Him for whom all things were made and are now being remade. His overtures provide the basis for all our best actions, thoughts, and feelings----and returns.
In fact, Josiah’s tender heart highlights the privilege we have of responsive return to our Savior as we edge toward the Lenten season.
During this space of days when we seek to cultivate an attentiveness to our disheartening inattentiveness to our Lord and his concerns, we seek the alterations of grace that themselves would make us tender-hearted and responsive before God....we take up the needful wisdom of the ancient monk in Frederick Buechner’s Godric as he artfully pleads for a new vital center:
“O thou who art the sparrow's friend, have mercy on this world that knows not even when it sins. O holy dove, descend and roost on Godric here, so that a heart may hatch in him at last. Amen”
Of course, it can be a downright consoling thrill to realize that the One who commands us is the one who keeps us. His command is his care, and our response is our happy acceptance of that care.
Our attentiveness, even if it is only eventual, after our frequent failings is our acknowledgement that there’s really no where else for us to go but to Him who opens paradise to us. It’s a sign, like the prodigal son, of our coming to our senses at last.
St. Chrysostom, the 4th century Bishop, recognized how this tender-hearted trembling before God was always available and alive with paradise possibilities:
“Repentance opens the heavens, takes us to Paradise, overcomes the devil. Have you sinned? Do not despair! If you sin every day, then offer repentance every day! When there are rotten parts in old houses, we replace the parts with new ones, and we do not stop caring for the houses. In the same way, you should reason for yourself: if today you have defiled yourself with sin, immediately clean yourself with repentance.”
Abraham Heschel, the famed Jewish Rabbi, corroborates for our profit as he delineates with profound certainty that it isn’t failure before God that most trips us up, but the failure to come back to him with our failure, so we might be repaired. Heschel reassures, “Sin is not acul-de-sac, nor is guilt a final trap. Sin may be washed away by repentance and return, and beyond guilt is the dawn of forgiveness.The door is never locked, the threat of doom is not the last word.”
Christ has removed the threat of doom, left the door open, and issued a pardoning summons for any, like us, or Josiah, who come to see just how calloused and neglectful of God we’ve become. We simply come to him, like Julian of Norwich creatively suggested, confessing like a dirty child to her mother,
“Often when our falling and our wretchedness are shown to us, we are so . . . greatly ashamed of ourselves that we scarcely know where we can put ourselves. But then (Christ) does not wish us to flee away, for nothing would be less pleasing to him...”
Instead, we admit to him in our red-faced distress: “I have made myself filthy and unlike you, and I may not and cannot make it right except with your help and grace. . . . “
Effusively, Julian elaborates, “For the flood of mercy which is his dear blood and precious water is plentiful to make us fair and clean. . . . His sweet gracious hands...are ready and diligent about us. . . . It is his office to save us, it is his glory to do it, and it is his will that we know it; for he wants us to love him sweetly and trust in him meekly and greatly.”
Perhaps this Lent, we’ll become a hasty throng of tender-hearts racing to the “sweet and gracious hands” of our Savior for cleansing, consolation, and healing connection. And maybe, the more we experience the relief of our run to Him, the less sense it’ll ever make to run away.
Contact Eric Youngblood, pastor of Rock Creek Fellowship on Lookout Mountain, at email@example.com