For 24 March 2020: Fourth Tuesday of Lent
Read: Zephaniah 3:9-20
I sat on the front porch with my steaming tea and toast with jam. As I went to take a bite, I thought to myself: This peach jam is a little taste of last Summer’s sunshine. Spread across that bread was peach jam from peaches grown in the southern Illinois sunshine. It is a taste of home and the goodness which God provides us.
I found myself reading the prophet Zephaniah. I preached from today’s passage at a community Thanksgiving eve service many years ago. As I recall, there had been great economic upset in the country at the time. People were fearful. Lay-offs, company relocation, and wholesale closure left many without work. It was a difficult time for the community I served. I and the local Roman Catholic priest were asked to give remarks. I chose this passage from Zephaniah. It seemed eerily appropriate to our situation today.
When I gave those remarks, I did not shy away from naming one of the truths in that room that night. Families gathered there who were without work and struggling. They came to worship God, to give thanks to God, and to hear a word of hope from God. Zephaniah writes, “Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid! For the Lord your God has arrived to live among you. [God] is a mighty savior. God rejoices over you! With love, God will calm all you fears. [God] with exult over you by singing a happy song’ (Zephaniah 3:16b-17 adapted, NLT). We needed to hear those words in those days. I think we need to hear those words again: God has arrived to live among you.
We tried to grow peaches on the farm when I was a boy. Peach trees couldn’t tolerate the cold of the prairie. I will always love the taste and smell of a perfectly ripe peach. I giggle every time the nectar runs down my chin as I bite into that perfectly ripe peach. God created that tree which took nutrients from the soil and sunshine, combined them, and created a delight for all the senses. I see that peach as a gift, a gift from God.
Remember, Zephaniah tells us God has arrived to live among us. Where do I see signs of God’s presence? With viruses, poverty, and all the woes we can name, where are the signs that God is among us? I see that ripe peach as a sign God is among us providing for our needs in ways which both sustain and delight us. I see God among us when someone volunteers to help with a homeless ministry, a food pantry, or as a Scout den leader! I see God among us when strangers stop to assist one another for no other reason than it is the right thing to do.
God knows, as did the prophet, that we are in fearful times. Even though the times are fearful, the prophet’s word remains true: God has arrived to live among us. This is God message to us over and over. The prophets proclaimed it. Jesus embodied it. Paul preached it. It’s a simple message: “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b, NLT).