Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Word of Hope

 In a time in which it is easy not be hopeful.

I am home now from Phoenix and I spent some time this morning  - not only unpacking and doing laundry but putting away the fall decorations and starting to think about Christmas.  That always feels pretty good.

But the truth is that this is - for many people - a hard time of year.  All those external problems are there for us - like shortened days, cold nights, and literally more darkness.  There can be sadness for anyone who mourns because the holidays can magnify grief.

The scripture from Isaiah 54:: 1-10 begins

Sing, O barren one who did not bear;
burst into song and shout,
you who have not been in labor!

It is written for the people of Israel who are in exile.  Walter Brueggemann in an article I found online wrote  :  Not   unlike the society of ancient Jerusalem after the destruction and in the midst of the displacement, our contemporary society is at the brink of  despair.   
And, locally, nationally, globally there seem to be more and more problems. Two days ago in Columbus there was an attack at OSU which was disturbing for many reasons.  A young man from Somali ran his car into a crowd and brandishing a butcher knife stabbed several people.  I just saw online that Donald Trump tweeted : "ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country."   Like many people, I wonder what the future brings for our country.

 Brueggemann writes about "despair generated anxiety" that is acted out in many ways - like unrestrained greed, privatism (self interest over public good) , violence and nostalgia for the good old days.  The image of barrenness means - that there will be no new life created here.  It is an image of hopelessness.  I can remember 30 years ago - at the end of a marriage - as I was trying to raise three daughters and work - I identified so much with the whole idea of barrenness.  I have been there and it is easy to fall back into it.  The best days are over and who knows what is coming next?

And so this text is a word of hope as Isaiah writes:

For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing wrath for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love
I will have compassion on you,
says the Lord, your Redeemer.
This is like the days of Noah to me:
Just as I swore that the waters of Noah
would never again go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you
and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

If you take time with  this text, you will probably struggle with it like I do.  Does God abandon us, does God have wrath upon us?  Or is this the Old Testament God?  Or is this the words of the prophet who gives us his interpretation of going through times of barrenness?  I don't know

All I do know for sure is that God is real, God is love and God is hidden  - hiding in plain sight for each of us as we have the faith to pay attention, to wait, to trust.  And so as we begin this journey to the manger,  I hope to have the courage to face the times in which I feel barren, and the strength to struggle with the hiddenness  and the mystery of God and the faith to continue to spend time in prayer.and engage in what Brueggemann calls "obedient imagination in which unuttered possibility is uttered, thoughts beyond our thoughts are thought, and ways beyond our ways are known."
Here is a wonderful prayer by Walter Brueggemann from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth.

Do Not Fear
We are a fearful folk, and we dwell in the midst of a fearful people,
fearful of our world falling apart,
in terror and moral decay,
fearful of too many "dangers, toils, and snares,"
fearful of not doing well,
of being found out,
of being left out,
of being abandoned,
of our own shadow.
And then we hear, astonishingly in the midst of our fearfulness,
your mighty, "DO NOT FEAR"
do not fear, I am with you,
with you in wealth and in poverty,
with you in success and in failure,
with you for better or for worse.
We hear, we trust, we receive your comfort and are made new.
We thank you for the newness of our identity,
of our trust, of our calling.
Because of your new utterance of life to us,
we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.
We, your new people, thank you for your newness and notice that
your work newness among us, for we know about being,
lame people who walk,
blind people who see,
dead people who live,
poor people who are unburdened.
We rally round your newness that is both our hope and our work.
Your fearless newness into which we are immersed
is beyond our expectation;
But we are not offended by it;
not scandalized by you;
not ashamed of your newness;
not embarrassed by your healings.
We ask now for energy and freedom, rooted in your fearlessness, for we may live
toward and from and for your newness that bubbles up, even in the midst of us,
all around us to bhe uttermost parts of the earth.
We pray in the name of your fearless gift of newness who scandalizes the
world and makes all things new, even Jesus. Amen.

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