~O’ MY Lord; Is there a balm in Gilead?~

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For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.

Mary McLeod Bethune

This painting represents the struggles and injustices of African Americans throughout slavery. The eyes in this painting shows the bondage, oppression and slayings that was given at the hands of their oppressors. The tears in this painting shows the inner hurts and pains of slavery and bloodshed. The eyes are the gateway to the soul and it magnifies what’s on the inside. God has given us a new hope which is in his Son Jesus Christ. Not only as a person and race, but also as a people united under God.

 

Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you are probably reading the book of Jeremiah. This gloomy prophecy about the conquering and exile of Israel is enough to send anyone searching for some spiritual Prozac. Jeremiah is torn between two great loves. He loves God and serves God as a prophet with great passion. He loves the people of Israel and he is terribly sorry to see what they will have to go through. Questioning God, Jeremiah asks, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there?” – In other words: “God, aren’t you here anymore?”

It seems a good question for Jeremiah and for us as well when we look at a world at war, countries in crisis from disease, drought and oppression, religion that chooses legalism over compassion and dogma over discernment, and humanity lost in materialism and chronic self-absorption. It is not hard for us to see Iraq, AIDS, Darfur, church crisis and the latest celebrity obsession and say, “God, aren’t you here anymore?”

The Poet T.S. Eliot looked at the state of culture and society when he wrote “The Rock” in 1934 which said:

All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

T. S. Eliot seems to re-order Jeremiah’s question. The problem is not that God isn’t with us anymore – but that we are no longer near God. We have changed the life transforming power of Christianity to a set of rules and rituals. We have given up the wisdom of diplomacy and listening for a culture of war and force. We have traded having a knowing relationship with God and others for memorizing scripture, and relying on demographics.

Now, now – I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, – “wow – Aaron’s sure in a gloomy mood – he’s been reading that Jeremiah book a little too long! Maybe a nice psalm or some proverbs would cheer him up…” but have no fear. I have a great joy and hope today and so can you – because the New Testament reminds us we are blessed when we weep – for we shall be comforted. We need only look at history to see our future.

There is a Balm in Gilead

A balm is a healing ointment. Jeremiah is asking about the famous healing lotion made from the commiphora tree of Palestine, the resinous gum we know as Myrrh. (you know the Christmas story – Gold, Frankenstein and Myrrh…er…..Frankincense and myrrh…). Jeremiah is making a spiritual reference to the healing power of God. In the New Testament, baby Jesus will be given this balm to show healing does exist with him. That’s the good news.

Before 1865, African-American spirituals and slave-songs were sung throughout the south. These songs told the gospel and conveyed scripture to people who couldn’t read, and were used for everything from teaching English and counting to new arrivals, to keeping time in a threshing house, to communicating news about the underground railroad (“The Train is Bound for Glory”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” were both underground railroad songs). One of the great old hymns to come out of that era was “There is a Balm in Gilead”. An oppressed people who, like Israel, had been captured, enslaved, and ill-used were answering Jeremiah’s question with the New Testament assurance that healing was here to stay. How can we find that assurance today? Let’s look at the song:

Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.

First – look to the Holy Spirit for revitalization and renewal. When we feel like the plans for peace we have offered bounced right off the clouds of heaven, or the life work we have given our talent toward has produced mediocre results at best – we need to pray for ourselves and the revival of our mission and our call. Every Christian is called of God. Whether you are called to be a mechanic, a teacher, or a listening friend working on an assembly line – you are called to be there (or to move). Don’t let the joy be leeched from you by those around you with bad attitudes or the determination to be self-absorbed pessimists. Allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in you and make the life you are living a worthy pursuit of hope and healing.

If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.”
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.

Second – People of faith need to stop relying on the messengers and start living the message. I know that sounds strange coming from a member of the clergy, but I find it a key issue for our times. Clergy have specific roles we fulfill, but it s not our call to be the community. That’s your job. We need to stop letting other people (leaders, theologians, popular authors) read for us, think for us, determine our beliefs and be the witness for us. We need to take responsibility in our relationship with God and learn to use resources as guides, not crutches. I heard at a ministry conference two years ago that the M.Div. will soon be the “minimum standard” for all clergy, but a doctorate is required for “adequate Christian leadership”. Why do you need a doctorate to live as Christ taught a bunch of fishermen, peasants and tax collectors? Christ didn’t come to make us a collection of sheep led by the educated elite. Christ came to make us a community, lead by a vibrant, personal relationship with our Creator. You don’t have to be Peter, M.Div or Dr. Paul (or even Dr. Phil – thank goodness!) – Be you, use your brain and the resources God places around you, and share the gospel where you are.

Don’t ever feel discouraged, for Jesus is your friend;

And if you lack for knowledge, He’ll never refuse to lend.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.

Third – seek God’s wisdom and will. Don’t interpret point number two as meaning Christian leaders should not be college educated. There’s nothing wrong with education – it’s a worthy pursuit. However, our trust should not be in our own intelligence, experiences or credentials. Our trust should be in God’s wisdom, and God has placed that wisdom all over creation. Many Christians have cut off a plethora of God’s knowledge because it isn’t in the Bible or sold at the Christian Bookstore. There is a whole world of God out there – in the knowledge of farmers, through the power of indigenous cultures, in the arena of mathematics and physics (how better to understand how God made the world to turn?), in the mystical algorithm of language and music, and in the instinctual habits of nature. Stop discounting the steady stream of God in the world around you and start listening and learning all that God can have you know.

We need not to succumb to the gloom and doom of Jeremiah, because we know that healing of God is here. We need not reflect the cultural despair of T.S. Eliot because we know how to be near God. We can be people of Gilead with a life witness worth shining for the entire world to see. Then, the healing can begin.

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One thought on “~O’ MY Lord; Is there a balm in Gilead?~

    ~Pt 2 Called and Called Again~ « "Fresh Oil" said:
    June 16, 2015 at 2:24 am

    […] My Lord has the solution…Click to view […]

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