Thursday, September 16, 2021

HOMILY: "Open Eyes"

A Meditation on Isaiah 35:4-7
Sunday, September 12, 2021
Community Church of Durham, NH


So Gretchen has read the words, the poetry of a prophet in exile. Isaiah. Whose beloved community aches for the homeland his people left behind. Whose beloved community grieves for the temple they cannot enter. Whose beloved community mourns a thousand bitter losses. A prophet, and a people in exile. It is from the very heart of that grief, in the belly of all that loss, that Isaiah speaks to us this morning. “Be strong, people of God. Do not fear!” Your pain is real. Your losses are many. But “be strong, people of God. Do not fear!”

It’s not easy. Often over these eighteen months, we’ve reflected on our own pandemic exile: the disruption of communities we love, the diminishment of political trust, and (of course) our isolation, our separation—our inability to gather in places like this to pray together and sing together and praise God together. To lean into one another and hold one another in a scary time. Our exile.

And our losses are real—not abstract, but very, very real. We’ve lost friends like Rose Ahrens and Joanne Sasner and Wally Dunham since we were last together in this place. Others have moved to new and distant places—friends like George and Karen Hilton and Gary and Beth Cilley, and university students we knew for just a little while and now they’re gone. And then there are the strange and sometimes hidden struggles—of teachers attacked at school for wearing masks, and teens missing whole years of high school and college, and so many of us battling dark despair in disabling isolation.


And Isaiah is still very much in exile—as we are—as he conjures this morning’s poetry, these verses of resilient hope and promise. His people are tired and their spirits are frayed and fraying fast. And the amazing thing is that their journey home—his people’s journey home—begins here: with poetry, with hope, with promise. Not the evening news. Not an angry public demonstration. But here: with poetry, hope and promise. Poetry provokes promise. The word imagines a future.

And I trust we can open our own hearts, our own weary and fragile hearts, to that same promise this morning. Will we? It takes some faith, to be sure. It takes courage to hear and believe and trust this kind of poetry. No doubt about it. Listen. Maybe, just maybe God is speaking to us. Still speaking. To the church.

Here is your God (says the poet),
Who will come with energy and motion.
With power and intention
God will come and save you!

Read those four lines with me, just those four lines. They’re right there in your bulletin. Beginning with “Here is your God.” Let’s read them together, aloud.

Here is your God,
Who will come with energy and motion.
With power and intention
God will come and save you!

You see, friends, the intention of God—the God whose name is Love—the intention of God is energy and motion. The intention of God is presence and wholeness. “God will come and save you!” Isaiah’s not talking about the kind of salvation that divides the world or conquers the nonbelievers or pulverizes the enemy. That’s not it at all. It’s so much richer, and so much more dynamic than that. God is so much more dynamic than that!

Isaiah’s offering a promise that God’s love brings wholeness to broken hearts, that God’s love brings reconciliation to divided communities, that God’s love renews our energies and spirits for new projects. “With power and intention, God will come and save you!” This isn’t the ranting of a fundamentalist. This is the defiance of a dreamer, the poetry of a prophet, the promise of our faith. This is the church standing up to ICE, and the Black Lives Matter movement dismantling white nationalism, and the farm where children of God grow food for the hungry.


So can we embrace this promise, this extraordinary poetry today? Are you game? Are you willing? Because here’s what it says, my friends. Here’s what the Word of God says to our beloved community this morning. It’s really quite extraordinary. It’s bold and beautiful and charged with energy and motion. God’s energy. God’s motion.

Then, says the poet…
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then, says the poet…
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the speechless shall sing for joy.

Are you hearing this? The eyes of the blind—opened. The ears of the deaf—unstopped. The lame—leaping. The speechless—singing. Because this is what happens when the people come home from exile. This is what happens when the Spirit of the Living God stirs in a brokenhearted people. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s about healing and connecting and communing, and it’s about union and communion and wholeness. The eyes of the blind—opened. The ears of the deaf—unstopped. The lame—leaping. The speechless—singing.

And isn’t it interesting—or maybe even stunning—that this same wholeness is ecological in nature? Cosmic in reach? The healing of our communities—this is Isaiah’s promise—the healing of our communities transforms the tired planet, the parched landscape, the earth herself.

And the waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert;
The burning sands shall become a pool,
And the thirsty ground, springs of water.

I mean. Wow. That’s poetry! That’s prophetic courage! And it’s a vision not simply of a people on their way home to Jerusalem, but a beloved community whose faith transforms a tired and warming planet. Wow. “Streams in the desert; and the burning sands become a pool.” It requires faith, and more than a little chutzpah, just to say these words out loud. But it’s gospel. In the age of climate change and catastrophic fear—it’s gospel.

What I’m hearing this morning—from Isaiah and from the God who loves life and nurtures hope—what I’m hearing is a word of profound hope, a word of resilient courage, a word for you and me and the church. “Be strong,” says the Spirit. “Trust in the promises of God,” says the Spirit. “Know that you are loved and blessed,” says the Spirit. “And do not fear!”

Friends, we are not called to a kind of simple-minded optimism. That’s not Isaiah’s faith or Isaiah’s message, or even Jesus’ gospel. We’re not called to denial and blind happiness, and a sense of spiritual superiority. As if, all will be well simply because we say it will. What we are called to is faith, attentiveness and courage—courage born in the love we experience, God’s boundless love, and the love we practice one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. That’s where Isaiah is taking us this morning: to streams in the desert, springs of water in a strange land, hopeful words of grace and love and holy promise.


So I want you to do a little exercise with me here, as I finish up my meditation. We’re not doing much singing today, and we won’t be celebrating the traditional communion for a while yet. So let’s be creative in how we open up to the presence of God, to the promises of God in worship. Close your eyes. For just a few moments. Close your eyes and imagine just in front of you a flowing stream, a fresh stream of clean water running off your favorite mountain, a beloved hillside. Are you there? That clear and flowing stream is just there, almost in your lap, flowing from your left to your right, dancing across your lap and across the pew into the next lap and the next and the next. Now put your hand in the stream. Feel the living waters. Cold, right? And clean and alive and full of energy and motion.

Now cup your hand in the water, bring it to your face and splash your face with those same living waters. The waters of blessing. The waters of grace. The promises of God. Imagine the rivulets running down your cheeks, across your lips, slipping off your chin.

Sisters, brothers, siblings in Christ: We bear this blessing, this promise together. Not because we’re more blessed than anyone else. Not because God’s saving us, but not everyone else. We bear this blessing, this promise together. Because we are loved. Because you are loved. Because the Spirit of the Living God intends to gather us in joy, and then to commission us in service, and then to reconcile us in love. That’s why we’re back. That’s who we are. That’s God’s promise this morning. And for all the days to come.


A Blessing for the Church (9/12/21)

Beloved of God, disciples of Christ:
You are here, among us now,
You are here, upon this earth,
Not simply to survive
But to love your life.

You are here
Not simply to survive
But to dance with us.

You are here
Not simply to survive
But to rejoice in creation.

So, go now, beloved:
Go—to share God’s good news and joy.
Go—to meet despair with hope.
Go—to bind up the broken
and build a world of possibility and grace.
Amen and ashe!