Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"...God goes new."


Isaiah 65: 17-25
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
November 13, 2016





I started to write a sermon talking about change, about how hard it is, how it demands things of us, requires of us stuff we’d rather not do, sacrifices we’d rather not make.  About how change happens too slowly or too quickly or not at all and how community responds to that.  And it all felt so empty and meaningless in the face of all that’s happened this week.  The words became so much blah, blah, blah in my mind. 
So many different opinions and viewpoints and emotions to read and absorb and process.  So many news stories of violence and hate speech and shameful, hurtful behavior.  So much fear, anxiety, terror, anger, and grief.  So much finger-pointing and blaming and projecting.  Everyone talking and hardly anyone listening, really listening—especially to someone who has an opposing point of view.  The echo chamber strikes again.  The family feud of Us and Them is thriving.  What the heck could I say that would make any difference, that would add a word of hope rather than be just more words?

            Even talking about God right now can feel hollow.  Having faith in an external, benevolent, active force for good has done much to help the human race evolve and grow, yet we always come full circle to our deep flaws of fear, hatred, and judgment of others who are different from us, no matter who we voted for.  Restorative justice still eludes us.  Greed and self-interest outstrip our capacity for sacrifice, generosity, and the abundance that surrounds us.  We’re painfully dismayed that as a species we still can’t feed, medically care for, educate, and house every human being.  Hearing that God is about to create new heavens and a new earth, we begin to wonder just when is God going to get around to it.

It feels like we’re blundering in the dark, but history declares loudly that we’ve been here many times before.  There are some who say we don’t know what our president-elect is going to do, let’s wait and see before we rush into activism, resistance, and protest, but that’s our privilege talking.  The most vulnerable among us rightly fear the worst and need to feel and be safe, to know we are ready to fight for and with them.  And it’s easy to be overwhelmed by fear and anger, especially given the rhetoric from both major parties this long election season and following.


            Over and over again this week I’ve heard the words that Martin Luther King Jr. quoted, that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.  Yet time isn’t linear but rather more like a spiral.  Sometimes it feels like that bend is a curve and the curve is a circle, and we keep circling around the center, the point, the goal, the purpose of all of this.

            What keeps hope alive in me is that God’s dream of new heavens and a new earth, of the Beloved Community, is not over.  It’s still there.  It’s there as long as I don’t give up on it and you don’t give up on it.  Stephen Breck Reid at Baylor University calls God’s dream “God’s own project”.  In the Isaiah text, God’s people had come home from exile only to find the rubble of what was left of their home.  Think Aleppo, Syria.  The work ahead of them was unimaginable.  God’s project of wholeness was grossly overshadowed by the effects of displacement and persecution.  People continued to suffer from hunger, illness, economic injustice, and political chaos.  When the new temple in Jerusalem was completed, it was a pale imitation of the one built by King Solomon.  If we listen carefully we can hear the echoes of the Hebrews as they made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land:  O God, why did you bring out us out of Egypt only to kill us with hunger in the desert?  This project of yours is more painful, more tortuous than the slavery, the exile we knew.

            And so God continues relentlessly to put the dream, the project of the Beloved Community in front of God’s people.  Though the way is dark, and we can barely see one step ahead, God—this moral arc, this force for good, the Love that does not insist on its own way but rather beckons—keeps calling us forward to work for the dream, the project.

            Remember that this project began in the dark, in the nothing, the void.  God knows the darkness intimately.  Like any act of creation, whether it’s a seed in the dirt or an ova and a sperm in the uterus or atoms colliding in the cosmos, it all begins in the dark.  And so the first step in this project was to turn on the light.  Author Terry Pratchett once said, “No matter how fast the speed of light is, it always finds the darkness has arrived before it.”  But the light still shows up.

            Earlier this week I heard someone say, “I know we’re supposed to go high when they go low, but I’m really getting tired of always having to go high”.  Frankly, we’re all going low because it is really hard to go high right now.  Which is why when we go low, God doesn’t just go high: God goes new.  And just because we can’t see it, because of all that darkness, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  It’s hidden, just like God, that moral arc we can’t see the end of, the force for good inside all of us, the love that beckons instead of coerces.
             
         The word hallelujah literally means praise to the half-seen, half-hidden God:  Hallelu, meaning “praise” in plural form and “jah”, which is half of the holy name of God, Yahweh.  Faith is when we can praise God, even in the dark before the light comes.  On the first day of the week when it was still dark was when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb.  Resurrection happens in the dark.  We have to be willing to stand, to work, to pray, even to praise in the dark.  When we work on God’s project, when we dream God’s dream, when we are Church, we put a crack in that darkness and the Beloved Community becomes more visible through us.  Our beloved friend Leonard Cohen said that’s how the light gets through.

I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who has seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
 


(Note: I had not seen the following video nor heard what was performed when I thought about the congregation singing "Hallelujah" at the end of the sermon.  The Spirit was mighty this week.)

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