Here is my sermon from Sunday. It is offered in the hope that it will bring hope and comfort in a place of despair and grief.
Scripture: Isaiah 61:1-11.
I was going to say something very different until Friday came. I was going to talk about what is coming, about a vision God has for us, about something we cannot see. Now it seems so empty, unreal, theoretical.
We need to talk today about what happened on Friday. We need to tell each other what we think and feel after seeing images and hearing stories like the ones we saw and heard from Newtown, Connecticut. We cannot stuff our tears down into our souls and hope they will go away – they cannot. We cannot hide behind some policy argument and pray that our spirits will be healed in the meantime. Nor can we put away our memories of this shooting in the same place as the one we put our memories of Portland, Oregon; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona; and the others still more weeks and months in the past. Here in this space we must have the courage and the compassion to shed our tears, to share our anger and our grief, to wonder about our world and God’s movement in it. Because if we cannot grieve here in the presence of God and the community of disciples of the Crucified One, where can we possibly hope to grieve?
On Friday we saw parents running to their child’s school and then to the local fire station, terrorized by the thought that their child would not be there but still in their classroom. On Friday we saw a school building turned into a morgue, a place of death and destruction. As the governor of Connecticut noted, “Today evil has visited the people of Newtown.”
We gather today knowing full well that evil is real. We have seen it with our own eyes and heard it with our own ears and we can no longer run away from it. Evil torments us, terrorizes us, oppresses us. We turn our lives upside down in an effort to protect ourselves and our children from evil only for it to slither its way through a crack in our defenses anyway. So we throw up our hands and wonder if anything can be done to prevent evil from visiting our lives too. We despair, we cry, we rail against the injustice of it all, and we lift all of it up to God and beg Him to do something with it.
We are not the first to have the visitation of evil, nor will we be the last. The Israelites of old had their land, their temple, their freedom and their families all ripped away from them. Some stayed to work for empire after empire who took their crops for their food and their children for their armies. Others were deported and forced to serve their new masters. There were certainly the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners. There were plenty of ashes and tears.
And into this place where evil has visited steps the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah peers into the future (whether near or far we cannot say) and sees something more than the pain being endured in the present. He sees cities and communities being rebuilt. He sees garland instead of ashes, comfort where there is mourning. He sees justice against those who brought evil to his people. He proclaims a year of the Lord’s favor.
To be honest, today all these things seem very far away. They seem empty, unreal, theoretical.
They also seem revolutionary.
We live in the heart of the American Revolution. The great orator and governor of colonial Virginia Patrick Henry lived only a few miles from here. He also led and participated in the American Revolution against Great Britain. He saw the evils of oppression bearing down on the people of the colonies and he did not shy away from them. He noted, “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.”
But Patrick Henry did not stop at knowing the worst – he looked forward to something better. He had no qualms about acknowledging the reality around him and the reality of human beings, that we thirst for power over one another and seek to enslave one another given the chance. Patrick Henry also saw that it didn’t have to be this way, that there could be something more. He knew that it would be a struggle; he knew he would have to fight for it, even die for it. But he pressed on anyway to that vision of liberty for all. Thus began the revolution.
Today, this Sunday after Friday, we hear the call in Isaiah of another revolution. It is a revolution against evil in our world. It is a fight to honor every living human being, to break the chains of oppression and to comfort those who grieve with hope. It is the acknowledgement of reality and looking forward to something better, something purer, something God-infused.
Now the revolution among the American colonies was fought muskets and cannons as well as with words and documents. The revolution of God is fought not with guns but with relationships, not with declarations of independence but recognition of dependence. The kingdom of God outlined in Isaiah begins not with a battle at Lexington and Concord but with the surrender at Golgotha. The Advent hope we cling to on Sunday is directly linked to a different Friday, one that we can only the see the goodness of given that Sunday always follows Friday.
In the bleakness of winter the ground turns from green to brown and the winds grow cold. It seems that death has laid its claim all around us. It seems that it will always be Friday, that the power of evil has won, and that our grief will never be consoled. But remember the words of Isaiah: “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” Today it is hard to hear those calls of righteousness and praise through the sounds of mourning. But it is coming, and we know it because the cross stands empty to the sky and the tomb contains only a few pieces of linen.
And so we stand together, we cry together, we huddle together, we get angry together, we fight together, we proclaim revolution together, and we say what we believe together. We know that evil is real and we do not turn away from it. Instead we fight it with good, with love, with Christ. And still we believe despite the pain and suffering that comes and finds our doors. We know how this revolution ends.
This is our Father’s world. Not evil’s, not sin’s, not death’s.
This is our Father’s world.
O let us ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the ruler yet.
And someday soon we will offer the second part, singing it with all the brokenhearted around us.
This is my Father’s world:
Why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!
Until that day comes, until the revolution of the Christ-child is complete, we believe, we hope, we look to the stable and to the cross. We remember. And we also say together with voices cracking or shouting or somewhere in between, “Thanks be to God.” Amen.