“Rhapsody on a Theme of Isaiah”
A Sermon, of Sorts
December 4, 2005
Second Sunday of Advent
The Other Reading (choral setting sung by the choir) -- “Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo
To pray you open your whole self********************************************************************************
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
We pray that it will be done
Comfort, Oh Comfort my people, says our God.
Was it just last week, that we stood with Isaiah, with the ancient people of Israel, exiled, lost, oppressed…we stood with them, begging for God to come near, to save us? Crying out for God to hear us, to remember us, like children abandoned in the dark?
Comfort, comfort my people.
Was it really five years ago, that I showed up on the steps of this church, my heart, my spirit, even my brain, broken…jagged pieces of my self that I knew not how to put back together, spilled out of my hands onto the cold muddy ground, and I could only look back. I could only look back, and sit in a pew, quietly, committing to nothing. I could only sit, quietly, while the pain raged inside my head and my heart.
Comfort, comfort my people.
Speak tenderly to them,
Tell them, their time of suffering is over.
This is a peculiar kind of sermon. As much as I tried to make this a good little Advent sermon, wherein I would explain to you, with poetic detail and witty yet appropriate humor, what these texts today are about, how they fit into the Advent season, and generally how we can all save the world…as much as I tried to make it that… well … something…God…kept turning it around on me.
For you see, the truth is, everything I know about these texts…I have learned from you.
Comfort, oh comfort my people.
Speak to them, tenderly,
Their suffering is over.
I know that I am not the only one here who showed up on the doorstep of this church, broken. Some of us joke about being “refugees” from other churches, other places…and while we may giggle, I think that may be true for most, if not all, of us. We are, all of us, in some way, refugees from places that couldn’t really figure out what to do with us, or how to welcome us around the table. Maybe our brokenness was too much. Maybe our power was too much. Maybe our tenderness was too much. Maybe our searching, maybe our doubting, or our questioning, or our voice, was too much. Maybe we were just looking for a place to be who we are, wherever we are on our journey, and have people be ok with that.
Yes, I think we are refugees…an exiled people, if you will, who have finally been called home.
Comfort my people.
And this is what I know to be true: That here, among you, and by you, my heart was swept clean of its sadness and loss and fear. Gradually, Sunday by Sunday, season after season, breathing in, breathing out, the pieces slowly came back together, I could stop looking back, I could start dreaming, I could open my whole self little by little once again, and feel safe, and loved, and even overwhelmed by joy. Sunday after Sunday, I’d come in, let your amazing voices, and your amazing love, wash over me. I could find my whole self again, because of the safety and love I found here, a love that said, “Anne, whoever you are in there, we love you. Whoever or wherever you need to be right now, it’s ok. We love you. You’re enough.”
This is what I know to be true. Comfort. Tenderness. The way, ultimately, made easy.
A voice rings out:
“Clear in the desert a way for God!
Prepare the way! Tear down the mountains!
Level the rough ground!”
Now, some of you have not been around here long enough to remember me back in my dark days. Those of you who do can attest to how lost I was inside myself. “Carpet-sucking depression” I think was the term used. So you see, I was not always the witty, put-together, and amazing woman who stands before you today. Oh no. But I think it is important, now that in just a few weeks (can you believe it?) you will be sending my cielo and me off to Denver, and even more so that you will be sending me off to seminary, and supporting me on that journey, as you have supported me so well thus far – it is important for you to know who you are, and what you have done for me, and what I know you have done, are doing, will do, for each other.
Let every valley be raised!
Every hill and mountain made low!
God shall appear!
And all people, as one, shall behold our God.
The interesting thing is that this really is an Advent sermon – or as I thought to title it yesterday, “Rhapsody on a Theme of Isaiah". For this is a sermon about a little church that moves mountains, and levels out the rough ground – this is a sermon about a little church that knows how to prepare the ground so that people can get to God. This is a little church that understands that God has no trouble getting to us – it is we who have trouble getting to God. And so this little church tears down the rules and the regulations and does its best to get out of the people’s way to God, letting people be where they are on their journey.
Do you need to sit quietly and not be involved for awhile? Fine. Do you feel OK picking up the offering, but would never do the offering pitch? That’s fine, too. Do you like to draw on the walls with crayons? We’ll figure out how to make that happen. Do you love softball almost as much as you love Jesus? Perfect! Do you long to sing your heart out to God, no matter if you can carry a tune? This is the place for you.
Let the rough ground become smooth,
The ridges become a plain.
If you are in need of healing, of comfort, of wholeness, if you are in need of a place to sing, to play, to dance, to raise your hands, to bow your head, to cry, to laugh, to celebrate, to mourn, to live, to simply be – well, this is a good place for all of that.
All flesh is grass
Grass withers, flowers fade…
This is a little church that understands that we are all born and die within a true circle of motion – this is a little church that understands that life is short, so let’s get on with what is important: The living and the loving and the struggling and the singing, oh especially the singing…
Grass withers, flowers fade,
But the word of our God is always fulfilled!
This is a little church that understands that in life and death, we belong to God. This is a church that understands that to be alive is to open one’s self to the whole of the universe, to the exquisite joy and pain of living. Breathing in, breathing out, knowing we don’t have all the answers, that there is yet more to know, more to hear, more to live, more to sing…always more to sing…
Go up to the mountain,
O herald of joy,
O herald of joy, Raise your voice,
Have no fear!
Today I feel I have the privilege of being your herald of joy. Because let me tell you something. This little church, this Bridgeport, may not be perfect. We’re not, we won’t ever be, and we’ll be the first to admit we’re just clumsy human beings tripping along as best we can. But Bridgeport is a church that loves God, and believes in a God of amazing inclusivity, generosity, and abundance. Bridgeport is a church which does not run away from difficulty. Bridgeport is a church where tough questions are asked, and the people who ask them are valued. Bridgeport is a church where the pastor takes all the right kinds of risks. Bridgeport is a church which works to figure out how to love anyone who walks through the door. Bridgeport is a church that is constantly asking “How can we do this better?” “How can we be more faithful?” “How can we be more welcoming?” “Where is God calling us?”
Behold your God!
Yahweh God comes in power
And with a mighty arm.
Shepherd God gathers up the flock
And carries them close, in God’s own heart.
Here on this second Sunday of Advent, we have moved from last week’s despair to this week’s joyful excitement. Honestly, that’s exactly how it’s been at our house for the last few months – sadness tumbling over excitement tumbling over anxiety tumbling over joy. It is, after all, life’s circle of motion.
But here, today, on this second Sunday of Advent, we get to live in that amazing hovering moment, of realizing, when things seem darkest, God seems far away – Look! Can you sense it?
It is the gasp…
…when feeling the baby’s first flutter in the womb
…when you feel the bubbling up of love
…when you receive the first photo of the baby girl in China, soon to be yours
…when you see the eagle soar over the ridge at daybreak
…when the words first spill out onto the page
…when the daffodils first poke up their heads, and you realize that the rain and the dark (and the rain and the dark) will not last forever
…when in the midst of depression, you look up and realize, you can see blue again
Something…Something! Something is trying to be…to be…to be born, to come alive, to strive forward, to soar! And here, at Bridgeport, on this day, we climb out of our despair to the mountaintop, and cry out,
Behold, Yahweh God comes
Our voice rings out
We cry out
What shall be born in us?
In beauty, we cry out
What shall be born in this place?
In beauty, we cry out
What will you have us be?
The way made easy
A loving heart
Comfort, tenderness, healing
A table for everyone
We pray that it will be done
That it will all be done
This is the sort of sermon where you sort of had to be there to hear the delivery...and also it helps to know the community. But hopefully, you can hear the love which I have for this little church through my words.