Like Elvis Presley, we can be all shook up by love! But that’s (mostly!) a kindly shaking. We can be, and currently are, all shook up by much darker forces.
There is a prophecy in the Old Testament book of Haggai where God says:
I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come… (Haggai 2: 6/7).
This prophecy is recalled in the New Testament book of Hebrews, and applied to the coming of God’s kingdom. Everything will be shaken, and only what is permanent will remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).
We see plenty of shaking up of people’s lives in news from around the world. We see the awful effects of war and natural disasters. People’s lives are so shaken that they become refugees from conflict, destitution, injustice and situations which have become intolerable. And many can’t escape and continue to live in barely imaginable conditions.
Here, the whole shaking up of a communal way of life is rare. Maybe we’ve only known it happen (on large scale) gradually, or through the time of the two world wars. Individually, of course, we can be very shaken by things that happen to us or those we love.
The sudden changes and shaking up that we are encountering through the Covid pandemic is unprecedented for most of us.
The people of ancient Israel were regularly shaken by conflict. They would have known much about the fragility of life. But nothing could have prepared them for the devastating change of being defeated by the Babylonian army and being exiled (about 590 BC) en masse to Babylon and other parts of the Babylonian empire.
All their securities were taken away – the land God had given to them, the promised land. The temple in Jerusalem, the heart of their religious life, was destroyed. And the dynasty of kings from the house of David came to an end.
But terrible as the exile from home was, it was an extraordinarily creative time. A time for new thinking – a time for re-imagining how to ‘sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’. A time for re-imagining their God. He was (and is) of course, God of the whole world. And he was doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19).
The Israelites were called by the prophet Jeremiah to pray for the welfare of the city of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:17). They were to settle down there and discover how to live as exiles and learn to sing the Lord’s song in that strange land.
In Babylon, worship changed dramatically, and the loss of the Temple led to the establishment of a new system of local synagogues.
In a sense it was back to first principles. Who are we? What makes us different from other peoples? How do we worship? What sort of God is Yahweh? How can we learn from our mistakes and do things differently? What prophetic voices have we been ignoring?
For Israel the warnings were there, but ignored. The messages were loud and clear through the prophets and many other writings that we can now read in the Old Testament.
And us? Today, we are being deeply shaken. And yet we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
The Covid pandemic shouts at us. Reminds us of our frailty. Reminds us that we are together on this small planet and we must learn to co-operate to survive. Reminds us that we are becoming more, not less, dependent on each other.
Reminds us that we must protect the vulnerable. Reminds us of the deep injustices that create so much of that vulnerability. Reminds us that we must deal with corporate and individual selfishness and sin. That restraint and sacrifice are unavoidable if we are to turn the ship around.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God .. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…. Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40: 28 – 31).
We are not called to trust in a way of life which can be shaken, but in our God who is bringing (here and now and for ever) a kingdom which cannot be shaken. And he’s asking us to do it with him.