When we remember to love one another by showing compassion to the widows, the orphans and the poor among us – that is God at work. When we look at our own lives, and rise to the challenge of being loving, even in the face of adversity and hurt – that is God in action. When we, as a people, rise to make justice and love known in our world – that is God in action, and a sign that history is about to turn. Love saves. Literally. Love saves.
Message by Rev Jenny Carter, November 5, 2017
(Based on Isaiah 40:1-11)
There are two things that make all the difference in this life – two things that make living a full life possible. One is love. The ability to show love, not just to those in our inner circle, but to all living creatures regardless of whether we know them well or not, is one of them. Love is what fuels our universe and fuels our faith. The second is hope. To have hope, real hope, to look to the future and see that change is possible, that our current difficulties and struggles will come to an end – and life will become better – makes it possible to move forward instead of becoming stuck in a pool of despair. There is no life to be found in despair.
The other thing about love and hope is that they are always inextricably linked with one another. If you have love – know and show love – hope naturally follows. Hope is not just a by-product of love – but a part of it. Hope is born of love. If you have love and hope, then there is no night so dark, no situation so dire, that living a full life is not possible.
Our reading from Isaiah is a passage that speaks of love and hope. Chapter 40, where our reading takes place, is so totally different than what the previous 39 chapters were about, it is as if cold water has been splashed on our faces and now we are awake. The first 39 chapters consist of the prophet telling the people about the suffering that they are enduring as slaves in Babylon – and how they brought this on themselves. Not a real popular message. Then again, prophets are not put on this earth to be popular, but to speak the truth.
As you will remember, the Babylonians swept into the Judah, and in three huge deportations, took most of the populace back to Babylon, and kept them as slaves. The first deportation was the ruling class and religious elites, then came the merchant and educated people, then they took the workers. What followed was three generations of slavery. People who knew what “home” looked like, died slaves. Children who had never seen “home”, or Judah, were born as slaves. Pretty dismal. A psalm from this period would lament, “How do we sing to God by a river in Babylon? Let us lay down our harps.”
The prophet’s message in the first 39 chapters is that they brought this suffering upon themselves. The people “had it all” and they blew it. On one hand it sounds like victim blaming – I mean if a bigger army comes riding into your country, and you are outmanned and out gunned – or in this case, out arrowed – how are you responsible for that? But that is not the prophet’s point. The prophet was talking about all of the actions that lead up to the actual Babylonian invasion. The time where the people forgot who they were, and to whom they belonged.
Like us, they were covenant people. They lived with God in a covenant of love, justice and care. The only thing the people needed to do was to love one another – to treat one another, especially the poor, the widows, the orphans and the foreigners with care and compassion. From the royalty on down to the beggar on the side of the road, everyone was a part of the covenant – everyone was to live in to it. Yet, as the prophet tells it, for generations they had forgotten about how they were to live. That they were to love one another by being compassionate and just with one another. And, in their holy amnesia, they were ripe for the plucking by the empire building Babylonians.
So for 39 chapters we hear all of the sins of the people laid bare. But then we have this chapter. It opens “Comfort, O Comfort, My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim that her penalty has been paid.” Very soon, the people will be able to go home, because God is at work in the world, and events are going to unfold in such a way to make their return possible. Their redemption is at hand, so close, that they are to go up to high places and watch for it, catch it as it makes its first appearance.
Imagine how these words would have been received. How after generations of slavery, they were going to be free – they were going home. Their freedom wasn’t quite accomplished yet, but they knew it was coming. God was putting things in to the works, history was turning, and they were going home.
This is hope – hope born of love. While the people may have forgotten to live in to the covenant, God didn’t forget. God remembered the people, and heard their cries, and history turned so that the people might be saved.
This saving love of God – this love and hope message – is why we are called to praise God. We praise God – or give thanks to God – for all the ways love has saved us, or given us freedom, or allowed us to help others find theirs. When we remember to love one another by showing compassion to the widows, the orphans and the poor among us – that is God at work. When we look at our own lives, and rise to the challenge of being loving, even in the face of adversity and hurt – that is God in action. When we, as a people, rise to make justice and love known in our world – that is God in action, and a sign that history is about to turn.
Love saves. Literally. Love saves.
The Sabbath is a gift to humanity. It is a time where we can free ourselves from the busyness of our daily lives – take a step back from our own personal Babylons – and not just rest (which we all need) – but take the time to put things into perspective. As you will recall, praising God is a Sabbath activity. Yet if our praise is to be something more than mere lip service – beautiful, but empty words – then we need to focus on how love has changed us. How love has helped us find our own sense of home. How love has changed the world in the past, and how love is changing it now. Once we get in touch with that – praise is as deep and meaningful as any activity could be.
Every Sunday we praise God. Every Sunday we give thanks for God’s action in our lives, and the difference that action has made. Yet communion Sundays, which today is, is perhaps the reformed tradition at its praise giving best. As we go through the great thanksgiving – pay special attention to the words. Listen for how God and Spirit have been with us since the beginning of time. Listen for how God has sent us prophets and leaders that have helped humanity out of one sticky situation after another. And especially listen for how Jesus – the ultimate hope born of love – has not only come into the world, but has come in to your life. The gift of love – as evidenced in the Christ – is yours. It’s yours today, tomorrow and forever. Take the opportunity to own that love today. Take it in to your hearts, and into your living.
Then, get up on the mountain top and look out upon your life – because whatever is keeping you bound – whatever is keeping you stuck – is about to end. New life is coming to you, and it is coming soon. May your heart fill with hope, as you wait for your freedom and your journey home to God.