Sermon: A Promise

A Promise
Isaiah 40:1-11

Click here for audio.

I am reading now from the JAT translation from the sanctified imagination:

Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God!

Speak tenderly to them and tell them their time is served. That their penalty is paid. That they have received double from the Lord’s hand for all their sins.

A voice cries out: “On the streets of Ferguson, on the streets of New York, on the streets of Chicago, on the streets of Indianapolis – prepare the way of the Lord. Clear away the traffic and make a highway for the Lord. Every life shall be lifted up and every stumbling block banished…the uneven playing field leveled and the rough made smooth.

Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all people shall see it together. For the Lord has spoken.

A voice says, “CRY OUT!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” I have given up hope – all people are grass – they are as constant as a flower. The look and sound good for a while, but eventually they wither away. Their true colors show. And yet the breath of the Lord blows upon them. They might wither and face, but the word of the Lord is true. It stands firm. Forever.

So, Stand in the streets – O People – Stand with hands up and should the Good News: “Here is your God! Black Lives, White Lives. Side by side. What the Lord come with power and might. The Lord Comes. And the Lord will feed his flock. The Lord will take into his arms all the lambs. And carry them at his bosom. And lead the mother sheep.”

Comfort, O Comfort my people says your God.

The words of the prophet were spoken to a people who were in exile. Whose lives have been suffering the hardship of oppression for two generations. They had been in Babylon lamenting the loss of their lives in Jerusalem. They had hug up their lyres for they could no longer sing the songs of Zion. They wept.

There between the two rivers, captive they had been reminded of why it was they were there. Their ancestors, the leaders of their land had forgotten what it meant to live according to the law of love commanded by the God who had freed them from their first captivity in Egypt.

Instead of treating the immigrant with compassion they showered them with disdain and sought their elimination.

Instead of caring for the widow and the orphan they lined their palaces with gold and ivory.

Instead of being the reflection of God and responding to God in their people – they thought they were God.

The leaders of the land had neglected to give comfort to those they served. They had refused comfort to those who in need. They had had built up stumbling blocks and dehumanized life. They loved the comfort of their power, but neglected the comfort of the most uncomfortable.

This life of hubris spun evermore and evermore inwardly, and as it did they began to miss God. They began to ignore the cries of God. The please of God. They began to move ahead into their self-centered; self-indulgent lives. And as this spiral turned evermore and evermore inwardly, they began to trust their own power more than Gods. And they ended up conquered and captive – because they failed to see what God saw.

There in Babylon, the people heard these stories and repented. They turned around. And God, again, heard the cries of God’s people and promised them comfort. God said their time had been served, and even though God knows they will return to their old ways over time – God could not give them Comfort. God could not turn God’s eyes from them any longer. God’s love for them was so strong that God would remove any thing that got in their way – in order for them to return to God.

****

Comfort, O Comfort my people. Says the Lord.

We have been watching the world as we knew it unravel over the last two weeks. We have seen that the divisions that we thought were mended or mending have not. That the divisions caused by a treacherous history have caused valleys that would take much more time to fill.

As the nation reels from the outrage over the failures to indict in Ferguson and now in New York, as a family grieves the death of their 12 year old son, as the cries of Black Lives Matter begin to echo through our streets – we are shaken out of our comfortable lives.

For some of this this means we are being confronted with the fact that what we have ignored is coming back to show us it never left. We are being confronted with the fact that there are racialized systems in place in this country that keep people separated. We are being confronted with the fact that lives are treated differently – whether intentional or not.

Think about this – when there have been mass shooting in schools or public places (almost exclusively committed by white men and if they did not kill themselves in the process they were apprehended) the national conversation is about the state of mental health and how these perpetrators were mentally ill. Yes, this is an important and necessary conversation, but no where is the coverage about how these men were thugs or in gangs. There is almost no mention of any affiliations with supremacist groups or other questionable bodies. The images projected on the television are of them in their caps and gowns or in a school picture.

Contrast that with the fact that when a black man, John Crawford, was in an Ohio Wal-Mart with a bb gun, that he had taken off the shelf of the store which sold it – he was shot dead while standing talking to his girlfriend on the phone. Consider that this black man was killed holding a bb gun, while in the same store there were white people present carrying actual guns and they were ignored. What was it about there being a fear of a black man? Whether intended or not the value of one mans life is determined by his race.

This racialization has ingrained itself in our culture.

It has caused some of us to become part of a story that dehumanizes and reduces the value of lives based on race. Based on a narrative that tells us to remain comfortable with those who are like us.

While this is true from some of us – for others of us present the story is told from the other end.

For some here, growing up in this country has been like being an exile in a foreign land. Those who stood in the classroom and said the same pledge to the flag were told that they were some how separate but equal.

They have seen a system that dehumanizes them by telling them that they are on their own. That threatens them because they are black and somehow inclined to crime. They have been victims of a system that treats them as subhuman, calls them demons, just because their skin has been kissed by the African sun.

I am reminded of the story of a friend of mine. This friend is the pastor of our of our sister American Baptist Churches here in Indy. He is African-American. He told me just the other day about the time his 30 year old son was dropping off a parishioner after a meeting at the church. After this young man had dropped the woman off, as he turned the corner he was stopped by a policeman who demanded, did not ask or politely request, but demanded to know who he was, what he was doing in this neighborhood, and that if he didn’t give the officer the cars credentials in a matter of seconds he would be arrested. As the young man was leaning into the glove box to get his registration, the police saw that there was a white coat hanging in the back seat. “Oh,” said, “you’re a doctor.” And the officer covered his badge and name tag with his hand and backed away from the young man’s car and went on his way.

What was it that caused the officer to automatically assume that this young man was a threat just because he was black? Why would he demand certain things, but as soon as he realized that this young man might have some power he cowered?

We have seen the unfolding in the last couple of weeks of a deep division in our country, and it is calling us to ask – Where is the Lord? Some of us are feeling exiled because the truth we thought existed has been shattered and we are being confronted with things that we that no longer existed. We are coming face to face with the fact that not only is something in our country fundamentally broken – but it is something that has been broken since the first european settlers set foot here. That we have a rule of law that at one time thought it necessary to recognize certain human beings as worth only 3/5ths of a person.

Some of us are feeling exiled because we have never known true freedom because of the color of our skin. Even though chains of slavery were long ago outlawed – the changes of bias and bigotry continue their constrictive hold. Choking the life out of us one breath at a time.

We are there between the rivers of Babylon and a voice cries out in the wilderness.

Comfort, O Comfort my people!

God has heard the cries of God’s people and is calling us back. God has heard the cries of God’s people and has had enough. God is giving people the voice to say, “Here is your God! Your life matters. Black lives matter. All lives matter” God had heard the cries of God’s people and is bringing us home. Bringing us home to proclaim this new message.

Comfort, O Comfort my people! This is a promise.

This is a promise that when we turn back to God, when we head back home – there is comfort. There is comfort from our confusion. There is comfort from our questions. There is comfort from our doubt.

God is telling God’s people, that even though God know that it is our nature to turn away from God – God still will bring us comfort. Tearing down the stumbling blocks. Lifting high every life. God makes a way when it seems there is no way. Anything that gets in the way of God’s people being fully acknowledges as the image of God will get leveled.

If that means protests in the streets. If that means an African-American grandmother stopping to hug a lonely child. It it means a white businessman stopping what he is doing to embrace a forgotten and ignored child of God. If that means sending us into exile until we hear God’s voice calling us back into relationship with God – God will let happen what needs to happen.

And it doesn’t stop there. In this season of Advent we re reminded of our waiting for the Christ child. We are reminded that God took the final step and emerged God’s self in this world fully human. God entered this world as a child. As a poor, ostracized and oppressed child. God entered this world not looking like most of us – not as a white, blonde haired blue eyed baby – but as a dark skinned baby. The child of teen aged mother. The step son of a servant. Enslaved by a power structure that was only content accumulating wealth. A child in a world that said his life did not matter – a refugee.

God fulfilled God’s promise in Christ Jesus, but the promise continues. It continues when we turn back to God and head home. When we become bearers and witnesses of God’s comfort rather than the amor bearers of injustice. When we refuse to let our own self-centered comfort be our guide and instead share the comfort that is found in God with us.

Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God!

Speak tenderly to them and tell them their time is served. That their penalty is paid. That they have received double from the Lord’s hand for all their sins.

A voice cries out: “On the streets of Ferguson, on the streets of New York, on the streets of Chicago, on the streets of Indianapolis – prepare the way of the Lord. Clear away the traffic and make a highway for the Lord. Every life shall be lifted up and every stumbling block banished…the uneven playing field leveled and the rough made smooth.

Here is your God.

God is with us. God is for us. God makes a way when there appears to be no way.

Precious Lord, Take our hands.

Thanks be to God.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: