Rejoice in the Midst of the Unexpected

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston 

Cheltenham United Methodist Church 

July 5, 2020

                                                                                                                                                                “Beauty in the Wadi Qelt” Photo taken by Pastor Rachel Livingston


Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! What great words of encouragement given by our writer this morning.  Words given to a hopeful people as they were seeking out redemption and the hope that God could provide.  Rejoice O people of Israel, from the North and from the south, unite together because what God has for you is great – it provides peace and redemption – take heart beloved because there is hope on the horizon.  These words were given to a post-exilic people, a people who were once the kingdom of Israel, but had been scattered into subservience for other nations. Those who had endured separation from their homeland and their families, those who lived under the chains of an oppressive ruling structure, those who lived in a state of denigration because of their genetic roots, those who had endured so much, those who had gone through a great tribulation and had come out on the other side.  These were words of reassurance that they were on the precipice of a new beginning, a new peace, a new reality that no longer involved their bondage or subservience to a government that knew not their God.  These were words to push them forward, words that announced that they were about to experience a new beginning, bringing in a messiah that brings peace, hope, joy, and liberation.

Additional Information: Zion references the holy city in the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Jerusalem references the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  These two kingdoms make up the people of Israel.   As our scripture focuses on Zion and Jerusalem, it is announcing that a messiah is coming to unite the kingdoms and bring them back to their former glory.


You see this passage was written to a people who had withstood the falling of the kingdom of Israel, the decimation of their land, their politics, their way of life – they suffered oppression and rejection all because they were born in the skin they were in and served the God that they served.  It was clear that at times during exile they were experiencing such harsh conditions that they didn’t know up from down and all they could do was cry out to God asking for some sense of hope, some sense of relief, some sense of restoration.  Yet these are the ones who came out – they are the ones who came out of the great tribulation.  They had seen God move in a mighty way because they had been brought out of exile, they had come to their new opportunity of great beginnings. They were able to speak the testimony of our scripture from Psalms this morning, God is gracious and merciful, God has compassion over all that God has made, and all of creation can give thanks.  They were able to bellow the words “To God Be the glory, great things God has done.”

There was only one problem, this liberation looked nothing like the post-exilic Israelites expected in their interpretation of freedom.  They were seeking freedom, they were seeking a change, they were seeking peace but it was nothing like what they expected, it was nothing like they predicted.  God had given them liberation, but that didn’t seem to block the chaos they endured, it didn’t return to the peace and dominion of their own land that they once had. The people may have been free from subjugation but they were in a time when the Greco-Persian wars were breaking out and the Persian government was seeking greater control over the area including the area now inhabited by the people of Israel.  So they may have been liberated, but they were always on edge trying to defend the freedom that was given them.  This new beginning wasn’t what was expected, no one could have seen this coming.  Something about this newfound freedom just seemed to be lackluster what they had prayed for was here, but something about it was just not like anything they had witnessed or expected. And yet our scripture is saying rejoice, to shout out loud for the greatness of God.


Additional Information: The Persians wanted greater control over the western province which include the land that the people of Israel inhabited.  They sought to gain control of all of the area that stretched out to the Mediterranean so that they can have control of the ports and the waterway.  This meant that even though the people of Israel were released from exile, they were still under oppression of larger countries that surrounded.  Even though they had been set free, they were still searching for the messiah that might restore their people to what they once were. 


Rejoice People of God! Shout Aloud! We are in a time of new beginning! While our story is different from that of the people of Israel, we are in a time of new beginnings! We are in a time that God has promised us to be a time of great promise, a time of great hope, and a time of new opportunities. We as a congregation are experiencing the brand new intertwining of pastor and congregation with new life and new possibilities.  But beyond that our world is changing and moving with new opportunities for new ways of doing things daily.  There is a newness in the air.  But while we are people of God, rejoicing in this new period, we must reflect on the fact that while the new promise is what we asked for it just doesn’t look the way we expected.

We are in unprecedented times to say the least. We are experiencing a global pandemic, a virus that hit our shores in which nothing has been like it for at least 100 years. Most of us have no communal knowledge of how to cope in all of this.  We are locked in our homes, with very little outlet – no way of coming together physically to fellowship and celebrate this momentous occasion together – and while some of our world is reopening, we hear of more numbers climbing of cases of COVID.  The statistics show that many have caught and died from this virus and the heart-wrenching thought is that more will suffer from this virus in many ways.  And yet we still do not yet know the end of the effects that flow out of COVID because so many people have and are continually having their lives disrupted by this virus.  Some of this heaviness is mourning what our life once was, some of us are feeling the heaviness of the sickness in our own bodies, some are feeling the heaviness of this virus hitting the bodies of our loved ones as we have to sit idly by, hoping and praying that God and health experts can bring healing for something that we as human beings still have very little understanding about.  If you are like me this time has come with not only the worry about the spread of the disease, but the heavy heart of so much that has been lost throughout the globe due to COVID – lives, health, homeostasis, and so much more.  It could clearly be stated that none of this is what we predicted or expected.

We are functioning in ways that we are not used to – even for us introverts, we are designed to live in community with one another.  In this time of newness and beginning, where we just want to love on one another – we can’t see each other in person, when we get together we have to stand six feet apart, we cannot hug, and when we are near each other need to wear facemasks that cover up our beautiful smiles.  Please don’t get me wrong, these are necessary precautions, and I encourage us all to continue following them, but they have put us in a situation in which we are living life that is limited at best. God has brought us to a new place of exciting new things and promise, but it is quite clear that this looks nothing like we expected or predicted. 

When this virus descended upon our nation, never did we think it could hold us hostage for months, cutting off several of our holidays, changing the way we do church and family traditions – no Easter Sunday dinners, limited Memorial day plans, and somewhat stifled 4th of July plans. Holidays have come and gone where we have had to dramatically change the way we do traditions, family gatherings, and life in general – leaving us to think how our new normal may affect our future annual traditions and life as we know it. None of this was what could have ever predicted or expected.

And yet we have been brought to a time where we have slowed down so much and been held in isolation so long that society’s eyes have been opened to the grieving and pain of our black brothers and sisters who experiencing racial injustice.  I am not speaking of politics here or asserting any political agenda – I am talking about the assertion of God that all people are made in the image of God and that any disruption of their living out this fullness in God, suffocates the ability of God’s love to flow freely in our world.  This realization has caused our world to shake in unpredictable ways with civil unrest and peaceful protests, and yet we realize again that we are faced again with the reality that none of this was what we predicted or expected.

And even as we stand here as a congregation, thanking God for the newness of now, the new beginnings that we will travel on as a congregation, the great opportunities for ministry to come – I am excited to be with you and get to know each of you and I am sure you are excited for the same because we are people of God and there is great opportunity as we work together in Christ, but if a year ago we planned and predicted what would happen on this day or what this time period might hold, we could not have predicted, planned, or expected that we would be standing here today, together, with the limitations that COVID has brought.

Our journey has brought us to a similar place of the people of Israel, excited and expecting the great promise of this new beginning, yet sitting in a predicament that because of our current circumstance puts limitations on what this new beginning might look like.  We are looking to God for answers because in more ways than one, we are in uncharted territory, and so many things are not what we predicted or expected.  And we have to accept the reality that this is uncomfortable. God where is the road map for all of this?


Additional Thoughts: We are in a place of new beginnings as a newly appointed pastor and congregation, where we can build new ministry and enter a new journey with God as our guide.  However we have had to deal with the unpredictable situation of : 1) We are limited by COVID-19 and have to socially distance away from each other 2) Society has been faced with issues of racial injustice that have caused civil unrest 3) we were not expecting to be together.  These things have greatly affected our emotion and thoughts as we are encountering this new place of beginnings.  Even with the greatest level of excitement for what is to come, our surrounding environment still affects how we perceive what is happening. 


We see in our text this morning that the author of our text presents a solution to the people of Israel, a solution to their pain, their struggle, their frustration. The writer of this passage brings the promise of a coming messiah, a messiah who brings peace and restoration to a people who have felt oppressed and in bondage.  The scripture references both Ephraim and Judah – which brings reference to both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel – Our scripture is saying that the messiah is bringing unity and peace – restoration in new ways that change the current situation.  A Kingdom that was once divided is now brought back together to restore their glory, but it comes only through the messiah – the one who comes in the name of the Lord bringing peace and restoration.

As we stand in this position of history, we have the privilege and ability to see that this promised messiah was Christ, our King, who came riding on a donkey, triumphant and victorious in Jerusalem asserting the royalty that would be claimed through his death and resurrection.  But even as we stand in this moment of history that allows us to see the larger picture, there is something that we may feel uncomfortable with, something that we cannot just brush over.  The point of struggle that we must wrestle with in this text is that for these people in the post-exilic era the discomfort of the unpredicted and the unexpected lasted for a long time, they waited looking for that messiah, crying out for that long-expected Jesus – seeking the one born to set the people fully free.  Their discomfort lasted for what seemed like an eternity – so much so that generations passed before the promised messiah arrived.  And even then he didn’t exactly look the way they expected.  He was not a warrior coming to command victory in a blaze of fire, but he came in humility standing with the outcast, making the blind see, and setting free the captives.  We have to be honest that the continual wait of the people of Israel creates some discomfort and tension in the text, especially when we are experiencing the situation of COVID that seems like it has already gone on forever.  We cringe at the thought of the possibility that our unpredicted and unexpected might turn into a delayed or a denied.

But one thing we must remember is that even through the discomfort, God was there, God never left God’s people, God was present, reassuring, and a stronghold for the people. And while the promise may have seemed delayed God brought about a hope that will carry on throughout future generations – the answer to all life’s unexpected and unpredicted – the solution to the discomfort and the struggles. You see God brought Jesus Christ who is the redemption for the whole world.



You see Christ is the promised messiah, the solution to it all.  Christ came taught a message of peace, love, justice, and mercy.  Christ transformed the lives of those around him.  Christ suffered death on a cross enduring the pain and suffering of our sin, Christ rose on the third day carrying the power over sin and death.  Christ is the life, the restoration, the salvation, the sustainer, the redeemer.  But you might ask, what does that mean in the midst of the discomfort of the unpredicted and the unexpected, when the reality is that all we hoped for was a new beginning of hope?  Well I must tell you brothers and sisters it means everything. What are we if we don’t center ourselves on Christ – what hope for tomorrow do we have?

Sisters and Brothers our central focus must be on Christ.  First and foremost, it is Christ that brings us a hope for tomorrow even in the midst of chaos.  When we look to Christ we are brought new joy because we have been saved and grow toward sanctification, all because of God’s grace delivered in the actions of Jesus Christ. But secondly we are transformed by Christ, seeking to lead lives that reflect that Christ lives within us. This means that even in the midst of realizing that none of this is how we expected, we are still on this journey looking for the direction of Jesus Christ, allowing the actions of Christ to embody us as we practice ministry, to embody us as we expand our ideas around new ways of doing ministry in the midst of a COVID pandemic, to embody us as we seek to reflect the love that is in Christ reaching out to the world around us, to embody us as we seek out our new journey of beginnings being the best Cheltenham United Methodist church we can possibly be – centered on Christ as we grow in faith, Serve others, and share the love of Jesus.  It is not by happenstance that we have been brought into this place, into this time of now – and though it may not be what we expected, new beginnings are made possible as we center ourselves on Christ!

Rejoice O people, unite together because what God has for us is great – what is coming we cannot fathom – it provides peace and redemption – take heart beloved because there is hope on the horizon. Rejoice! Shout Aloud! Because Jesus is with us He leads, guides, and directs us! and in him there is peace, in him there is unity, in him there is restoration, and in him is the fullest understanding of our new beginning!


Additional Thought: The main take away is that we must 1) focus on Christ because Christ brings us hope and 2) We must center ourselves on Christ, patterning our actions to after Christ that reflect that Christ lives within us.