“When it rains it pours” – beyond the Morton Salt trademarked slogan

member and her flooded car
member and her flooded car

When it rains, it pours.

That’s a pretty common saying right? If someone were new to this country, or you know just little and isn’t familiar, with all the subtleties and oddities of our language, how would you explain it, because literally not all rain is a downpour.

So it means, usually when one bad thing happens, you can expect a bunch more bad things to come your way. Kind of like a flood of bad luck. Right?

Kind of like our world today. I was listening to an interview with a representative of Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) speaking about their work, she (the rep) mentioned that they have never had so many serious crises not just in countries but in regions all around the world. But it wasn’t just her words that struck me, it was the frustration, the pain, the sadness in her voice, that in the Ukraine, Gaza, that in Central America, countries in Africa children are dying because, not natural disasters, but our own manmade decisions to kill–conflict, wars.

When it rains it pours. There is Ebola spreading in West Africa. Families in El Salvador and other Central American countries fearing for their children’s lives, sending them thousands of miles to seek safety in this country.

Some politicians still refusing to act or even accept the science that climate chaos is real. We have too many politicians who are feeding hate and bigotry who seem only to want to cater to the super rich.

When it rains it pours thousands of children die in this country by guns they find in their homes, their neighbors’ homes, by guns shot in neighborhoods, in parks, in their homes.

When it rains it pours, people are sick and struggling. There aren’t enough jobs in town here, there’s hardly regional transportation to get to the jobs, to lesson the deep pockets of poverty.

Maybe its just me, but I feel like at my wits end.

Probably how Jesus was feeling at the beginning of the story from our Gospel. Jesus had been teaching the crowds, and then he had to explain himself, explain the parables to his closest followers, the disciples. He has gone back home to Nazareth, where his old friends, neighbors, and even family reject him. Jesus has heard that John the Baptist was executed after a big banquet King Herod had thrown.

It is no wonder, Jesus wanted to get away–tried to leave the crowds behind–even if just for a moment. But they would not, they would not go away, the sick, the struggling they were not going to be ignored or abandoned. They know a good thing when they see it. They follow him, and that’s a real testament to their tenacity or of course their desperation. They follow.

Jesus sees them. He sees their need. He knows and touches their pain. He heals them, but the day gets long, and there are too many, and they are out, out of town. They are hungry. The disciples want to send the people away.

I’m sure looking at the flood of needy and hungry, the disciples might have agreed, when it rains, it pours.

By any chance does anyone know what else that phrase means?

Morton Salt. You might ask what does rain have to do with salt? It was a slogan used by, and actually now trademarked by the Morton Salt Company. It goes back a long way. You see, salt tends to get clumpy when it gets too humid, the sodium chloride attracts water molecules. Well somewhere along the line the Morton company figured out that if they add another chemical, the salt wouldn’t clump, and that even when it rained, it (meaning the salt poured).

So, it’s also/ actually a positive slogan.

Getting back to Jesus is surrounded out there in that wilderness, surrounded by a sea of sick, and probably really, really hungry people, not the I missed my 2pm frappachino and cookie crowd, but the lucky if we eat three times or even twice a day people, 5000 men, and of course, women, and children.

Jesus doesn’t give into the temptation to just send them away, he doesn’t chastise, he doesn’t yell at them for not thinking and planning ahead. No, out of his care and his love, he tells the disciples to feed the hungry, to as The prophet Isaiah, feed them all. Each and every one. So Jesus takes what they had blesses breaks it, and the food multiplies, there is an abundance, there is enough for all and some left over. When it rained need, when it rained struggle and pain. God uses the disciples, uses the church to pour out God’s abundance.

So much, so many have focused on this the multiplying of the loaves as the miracle–either through divine intervention or the power of the human heart to be generous. But, as at least one other preacher points out. The miracle isn’t the amount of food. The miracle is that God in Jesus actually cares. Because this isn’t the first time, this isn’t the last time. We are always in need. We are always sick, struggling, sinning, and stumbling, saying mean stuff like the disciples, like send them away, there won’t be enough..

That’s what we hear still today. That When it rains troubles. God doesn’t turn away. God doesn’t just lean in. But God sends us jumping in to pour out the abundance, that is God’s kingdom, that is God’s will for this world, not just for a few, not just for one people, one country, but for all.

When it rains it pours, some of you know our member Lara. You might have even seen her on the news on Friday. She works down by the airport, she is a hairstylist, raising her four kids as a single mom, as a hairstylist. You know that storm that blew through on Friday? Well the parking lot at her work flooded. It flooded her car. That’s why that pictures in our video for today.

You see her, sitting on the hood of her car smiling. Not because everything always goes easy for her, not even because she always has a sunny chipper attitude. It something else. It’s something deeper, and stronger. She believes that when it rains, it pours– that after pushing the car out of the flood waters, people have been helping her to dry it out, taking turns with the shop vac, dropping off gifts and donations. When it rains, God sends us to share what we have and really that’s God’s abundance.

So when you hear the next terrible tragedy, don’t just wonder what would Jesus do? Pray, ask, act what would Jesus want you to do. Because the good news for us today, this day and everyday. Is that God is today. Because when it rains, it pours– God’s overflowing with is grace full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God cares. God still cares. So Jesus says to his disciples, says to give to us, all who are hungry, all who are thirsty, all who are weak and struggling, come, come, and together we will be fed, we will feed one another, we will love and welcome, we will really have communion together. Come together. Amen.

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Don’t “Like” Jesus

It’s not a lie. Really, Peter is not lying. When he denies Jesus, and says I am not– I am not a disciple of Jesus. Peter is not lying. You see at that moment, the moment he opened his mouth to deny Jesus, to save himself- he quit being a disciple.
When questioned that night by the woman gatekeeper and by the slaves around the fire. Peter is asked are you a disciple of Jesus. Peter says– I am not. He says no–and he’s not lying.

While Peter may have physically followed Jesus who has been arrested by temple police and is being questioned by the religious leaders and authorities, Peter physically follows but to save himself he bails. He chickens out; he lies and in his words the truth has come out. He is no longer a disciple, no longer a student of Jesus.

His lie speaks the truth.

What Peter is admitting in denying Jesus is that there is no on-again off-again following Jesus. We can’t just follow Jesus when it’s convenient and safe. Peter may at that moment is what we say a fare weather Christian. You know the type, when everything’s going smooth and good, when it seems like blessings are all around, then God is good. It’s easy to “like” Jesus. You who are on facebook, you know what I’m talking about. You know how easy it is to just click that “like” button. But it doesn’t really mean anything. There’s nothing to loose.

But that night outside Annas, the religious leaders house, Peter had lots to lose, and he was scared.

I know what that’s like, and I’m pretty sure we all know what that’s like. Peter’s not the only one whose faced a dilemma–when to claim your faith. You know what I mean. Think about those times when you wanted to say something, you know you should speak up or act out for what is right, for what our faith says is right, and instead we’ve shied away. Kept our mouths shut, our heads down, perhaps even closed our eyes and covered our ears to deny what’s going on. We don’t want to get involved because, well because it might hurt or cost something. We may not be like Peter and in this country actually face physical harm, torture, or death. Although that is not always true.

The cost could be a friendship, the cost could be peace at home or at work, or with neighbors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Lutheran Christian who died for his faith in God and his work against Hitler, tells us “when Christ calls [someone], he bids [them] come and die”.

As I said it may not be literal physical death, but it may. This week I heard the story of
Mona Iskander. She is the mother of Fadi Samir, a nineteen year old Egyptian who was arrested and mistreated and abused. He was charged with being a member of the radical islamic group the islamic brotherhood. But as the crucifix tattoo on his arm shows, he is a radical follower of Jesus who is speaking out about the injustice in his country. And his mother, while she fears for her sons life, encourages him, supports him, and speaks out as well.

This week some of you may have heard that on Thursday, Fred Phelps, founding pastor of the small but infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, had died. Under Mr. Phelps leadership and teaching this very small family church hit the news a lot because they protested at soldiers funerals. He preached a hate-filled message against the acceptance and equality for gay, LGBT people in our country. He taught that natural disasters and man-made horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were God’s punishment for acceptance of homosexuality. Some other Christians, To their credit spoke out, some Christians counter-protested and demonstrated the true gospel–that of God’s love.

Those are just two examples.
In each of our lives we will have more. Some big, but many much littler daily ways when being a real follower of Jesus will be a challenge, and we will face the dilemma to challenge what we see around us, what we hear, and what we say or to just say nothing, and deny Jesus.

Peter’s denial isn’t the only point of this story. . The reason that The gospel writer John could show us Peter like this, show us who Peter was in that moment denying Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. The reason John can tell us like it is isn’t because Peter somehow grows a backbone and at some point becomes a hero of the faith. The story is really about Jesus.

You see, while Peter is outside denying Jesus, Jesus is inside and he’s not denying anything or anybody. We don’t hear him call out to Peter, hey bud I got this. But that’s what’s happening. Jesus knows us. I mean really Jesus knows what’s going on. I’m sure when he responds to Annas by suggesting they listen to the words of his followers, the ones who have deserted and are in the midst of denying him, Jesus knows what’s going on. He knows our strengths, our good deeds, our good thoughts, and more importantly he knows our weaknesses, he knows our fears, knows our limits. And he says to us. I got this, because I got you. I will not abandon you; i will not run away, or turn from you. I am with you to the end, whatever end that may be. I will not deny you. That is the faith that allows us to be honest. You know in that confession we said a bit ago. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us allows us to really say confess those things, allows us to be truthful to ourselves with one another. And so importantly, as Peter will find out faith in the love and forgiveness of Jesus gives us the opportunity, the resposinsibility, and the strength to do more than just click a thumbs up. Because even when Jesus is tortured by and suffers a state sanctioned execution, Jesus does not deny, but forgives. That is the one we follow. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us gives us the strength to speak, the strength to act, the strength to be a disciple to face injustice wherever and whenever. It may, it probably will cost us something, but remember Jesus says , hey I got this. I got you. Amen.

“I see paradise trees”.

I see paradise trees.  That’s what Micah said to me as we stepped out the doors of the Orlando, airport in Florida.

“Paradise trees?  What are those”? I asked him,   And he pointed to the big palm trees across the street.  “Oh  I see them now (I told him) Thanks for showing them to me.

It would make sense that he would see those palm trees and rename them, “paradise trees”.  After all, those trees don’t grow up here in the frigid semi arctic of Wisconsin.  And isn’t the typical picture of paradise white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and skies, maybe a puffy white cloud, and a palm tree–paradise tree–too. So for the rest of our vacation we saw paradise trees.  Of course we had seen them before, but then they were just leafy green palm trees.  It took a new vision to now notice and recognize them as paradise trees.

You know, I bet paradise trees are in the kingdom of God.  Now I’m not trying to describe heaven and add palm trees to images of the pearly gates, people floating decked out in white robes, wings, and golden harps.  Because that’s not the only thing Jesus is talking about in our story for this morning.  You see heaven and the Kingdom of God, well they not exactly the same thing.

Heaven, heading there, going there, that’s a done deal for those who believe.  As Jesus says, “those who believe are not condemned”.  That’s what Paul is telling us in his letter to the church in Rome, chapter 5.1:   Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”.

Faith in the love of God in Christ, means we don’t have to even worry about heaven, getting there or going there.  That’s a done deal, done for us through the simply and only, or as we Lutherans like to say, solely through God’s amazing love.  That belief makes us confident and bold, it gives us comfort when things are going rough, when life gets really tough, like it does.  We know that this all here, well it’s not the end, we have something even bigger and better to look forward to.  That’s the hope that can get us though each day.  Heaven is where we are headed. No need to worry; end of story. 

Except it’s not the end, because there’s this whole kingdom of God stuff. The thing is Jesus isn’t done with us and the promise of heaven.  He doesn’t come to this world just to focus on the next, on what happens after this life, but to change us in this life, to change life right now, to change this world right now–to give us eternal life, and that eternal life is something that starts right now, as Jesus says we have it.  right now.  You see God isn’t just the God of heaven, but of of heaven and earth. Don’t we pray every Sunday, if not every day, thy or your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

As Jesus says in his talk with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, this leader of the Jews, it’s all about seeing.  Seeing this kingdom, this God power, this rule and reign of God in this world right now.  As Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” So, it takes  a whole new way to see, a new vision to recognize it, a whole new set of eyes that we get when we are reborn from above.

Here’s where we get the born again Christian, because the Greek word, anothen, can be translated as “again”, but in John it’s better translated as “from above”.  Almost the same thing, really. 

 The thing about this vision, though, is that it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s from above, from God.  It got it’s start in us when we are reborn in the waters of baptism,  but we need to practice seeing this way; we need to come again and again together so that others can point it out to us, we need our vision fixed again and again.  We baptize only once, but we come back repeatable,  to that new birth.  , practiced and formed and reformed, because it will be tested.  Evil wants us to close our eyes of faith, and just rely on the flesh as Jesus says.

 Here’s the thing, the eyes of faith look at the same world as the eyes of our flesh. And Let me tell you the flesh can have really good eyesight.  You can see real sharp with that 20/20 vision.  The flesh won’t miss a thing.  Seeing with the eyes of flesh will notice any imperfection, the flesh sees all the flaws, the flesh sees all the evil and wickedness of this world.  The eyes of the flesh see hypocrisy and violence.  Oh sure evil likes to hide; it likes to camouflage itself and pretend to be good, pretend to be harmless, but even the eyes of the flesh can see through that ruse.

 The difference between eyes of the flesh and eyes of kingdom/faith, is that where the flesh sees death, faith sees life, where flesh sees despair, faith sees hope.   With our new eyes, our new vision we see water turned into wine, we see healing from the touch of love, the kiss of forgiveness, we see Jesus calming the waves of water and waves of fear, the eyes of the kingdom see Jesus sitting with sinners around a table at a tax collectors home, and sitting with us sinners as we gather around this table today–young and old, rich and poor.  We see Jesus standing with us when we work and speak for justice and peace. 

 Just like I needed Micah to help me see the paradise trees, we need Jesus, we need God’s Word, we need one another to see paradise trees blanketed in snow, see paradise places where people are together, paradise people praising God, see us being paradise people being Jesus in our lives and in this God’s world.  With these eyes of faith we see a whole new world, God’s kingdom, paradise on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Advent Devotion – Isaiah 57 – Road Construction

Isaiah 57:14-21

14It shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

15For thus says the high and lofty one

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the humble,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

16For I will not continually accuse,

nor will I always be angry;

for then the spirits would grow faint before me,

even the souls that I have made.

I admit it, I like to drive.  When we are on vacation, I can just sit behind the wheel driving for hours, and there’s nothing like driving over a nice new smooth road.  As many of us well know, this past summer there was road construction all around St. Pauls.  It was pretty annoying.  I couldnt just cruise up and down 27th street.  I had to find all sorts of alternate routes. Some days I even rode my bike (which was a great gift). But now, the cones and barrels are all gone; the big trucks and other road repair machines are gone.  Theres nothing but a nicely widened smooth street.

Id like to think that God promises us a smooth ride.  But thats just not the case.  Obstructions, potholes, dead ends abound.  Sometimes they mysteriously show up, sometimes were given at least a signa warning.  Often these barriers and hindrances are of our own making.

While some blame everything on God, to me it seems like God is actually giving us an alternate route in life.  Instead of getting stuck in complaints and negativity, we can think about the pains and struggles in life as a form of road construction.  Sometimes we need to take a detour.  Smooth spots are the product of work, often hard work. We may not enjoy ourselves in the midst of these rough places, but God is right there with us.  With God’s help we can slow down, we can look more closely at ourselves and those around us.

So, next time you see those flashing lights, orange barrels and construction workers.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving and for safety for those hardworking and sometimes maligned men and women.  Then take a moment or two to look at your life, honor the bumps and potholes, give thanks for the smooth spots, look for Gods grace at work in your day.

Faith in Action.  This may not be terribly practical but it can be quite thoughtful.  Look around and see that person who is working, toiling, often thanklessly.  Write that person a thank you note and give it to him or her.  You dont need to sign you name; you could just write Your friend in Christ or “In Christian love”.

Prayer: God of rough places and smooth spaces, we give thanks for this life.  Help us to take every opportunity to be more loving to ourselves, others, and you.  Amen.

“What a Waste” — Sermon for December 15, 2013 – Narrative Lectionary, Isaiah 55.1-11

Leaving lights on and wasting energy, leaving the water running and wasting water, not finishing dinner and wasting food, people littering and treating our neighborhood like its waste, dillydallying when we need to be going somewhere or getting things done, in other words wasting time. These are just a few of my not-favorite things. These are my pet peeves. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to list them. Looking at them, the thing that peeves me the most is wasting. I don’t like to waste things. But it seems, we live in a throw away world/culture. Appliances only last so long. We waste–time, energy, resources, people. Our culture treats al sort of things and even people as disposable.

This, however, according to the prophet Isaiah in our reading for today, is not the case with God.

We hear these words of the prophet Isaiah, words declared thousands of years ago, uttered hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus which is what we are preparing to celebrate in a short couple of weeks–Micah how many days did you tell me? 10?

The prophet speaks God’s words of invitation, come drink and be satisfied, be filled, come and feel what it is like to be filled with good things. Stop wasting yourselves on the things that do not last, be filled with the life that knows no end, that does not waste away.

The power of this invite is that it is not limited. It is not limited by number, only so many guests may attend, it is not limited by ability to pay, to reciprocate, to earn or deserve it, it is not limited by perceived worthiness. The invite goes out to all.

I am certain that there are those out there who would hear these words, hear what God is saying, inviting each and every one, inviting all and declare, “What a waste,”. Because not only do we waste our precious natural resources, we waste our people. Our culture/society has a way of wasting lives, of consigning people to disposable status. We look around at others and even at ourselves, we see what people do, the crimes that are committed, the abuses that are perpetrated, and it is tempting and easy to just want to throw away the key, so to speak.

Christmas, the coming of Jesus which we are preparing ourselves for, Christmas is not only in the stores but in the news. The war on Christmas isn’t about manger scenes and holiday advertisements. The true war on Christmas is being waged by people who throw others away, who believe that love, forgiveness, generosity, compassion is a waste. Often we see our differences: political, cultural, and ethnic, and experiential and determine well, that person is just not not able, not worthy, of our investment of time and energy. We toss the. In the discard pile.

But God’s call, God’s invitation, God’s love goes to wealthy and the wicked too–whether we deserve it, or not, whether they accept it or not. It’s easy for us to say what a waste. We should conserve our resources, make sure that the good people get what they want out of this life–even in the church.

But God sees it another way. As the prophet puts it well, “
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Where we see waste, God sees opportunity, where we see waste God sees a beloved child. God’s word is wasted on no one.

God invites us to trust, to trust that where we may see waste God sees something different, potential, opportunity,, maybe but definitely a child of infinite worth. God’s love is more powerful than we can ever imagine, that God’s love can do the unimaginable, it can change the human heart.

The examples are all around– from an Isreali mother Robi Demelin whose son was killed by a Palestinian to a Palestinian Ali Abu Awwad, who have claimed each other as family instead of enemy, who travel and speak about peace. Who were here in Milwuakee just over a year ago to talk about their work in Israel and Palesting.

Another, all to timely example is of Scarlet Lewis and her son JT, who just one year ago their Jesse was shot and killed in the Sandyhook massacre. This mother and son, instead of turning inward and bitter, instead of turning to violence, turned to others. JT connected with survivors of the genocide in Sudan in Africa. He has raised money to send a girl their to school. They have done this because they have consciously made the decision to forgive. To forgive the man who terrorized and shot their son, their little brother. These people and so many, many more answer the Divine invitation to life.

Their life, their energy, is not wasted in enmity and vengeance. They choose to give of themselves. Because God’s word, in whatever form it comes to this world is ultimately not wasted.

It is not wasted on us, even here. God is calling us to a new life, a life of trust, a way that looks around at those all around us, that looks within us, and doesn’t write anybody off. Nothing we do, say, give, in God’s name, as disciples of Jesus is a waste, The church, here, us, we are people who have taken drugs, we are people who’ve walked the streets, we are people who have committed crimes, we are people who have been so angry and disappointed, and hurt and yet we hear God’s Word: are people who are answering God’s gracious invitation.

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.”

“Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.” To you, to me, to all.Thus says The Lord, amen.

Advent E Devotion II – Stubborn

Ezekiel 2
4He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them. 5For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel— 6not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. 7But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. 9Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 10He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; 11then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; whether they hear or refuse to hear.

I wouldn’t have thought that stubbornness would be a spiritual attitude. As Christmas approaches we all can probably picture a child in some store stomping his or her feet, pitching a fit, and throwing a tantrum. Face it we’ve either suffered through this as a parent or grandparent or witnessed another adult deal with a stubborn child. Being stubborn just seems so contrary to what we think of as “Christian nice”. However, in some instances being stubborn is evidently a spiritual strength. And that is because unlike a child (or even an occasional adult) God isn’t whining about some toy, desert, or petty preference.

God has an important and life changing word for us. And that’s the problem. Often we don’t want to hear that word. We don’t want to be told to stop; we don’t want to be told to change. We think the way we are doing and being is good enough. The problem is good enough isn’t Godly enough. Our divisions do not please God. It does not make God smile to see so many hungry children and families, to hear the sound of weapons of war, to have her creation used and abused. I could go on and on, because that’s what God chooses to do. Since before the prophet Ezekiel, till now, and till whenever, God is going to go on and on. And when we stop and think and pray about it we can give thanks for Godly stubbornness. We give thanks that God is in this match of wills with us because God:
WILL NOT back down
WILL NOT give in
WILL NOT abandon
WILL NOT leave
WILL NOT forsake
WILL NOT give up on us!

Faith action: During these days of list making, sit down and make a “God List”. What is important to God? How does it compare with what our world says is important? Carry that list with you as you shop, as you go to work, as you go about your days.

Prayer – God of Holy stubbornness, help us to discern what is worthy of such a strong stance. Help us to pray, speak, and work for your peace and justice in this world. Help us to welcome your stubborn expectations, your stubborn forgiveness, and your stubborn love for all. Amen.

Hope in the Storms, Isaiah 9, Narrative Lectionary sermon for Nov. 17, 2013

During the preaching of this sermon, the tornado sirens were activated and we moved into the basement.  Some slight adjustments were made adding wind and a bit more storm references.

Pulling a calendar out

I’m confused. It’s so damp, muggy, warm and stormy out there? 

I am confused!  What’s the date today?  (November 17th).  A week or so before thanksgiving.  Ok, so it’s wet and warmish.  I’m still confused, because well to tell you the truth, I thought it was Christmas.  What would make me so confused to think it’s Christmas already?

  Music, stores, decorations

 

And to top off that, today we heard these words from the prophet Isaiah.  You may or may not know this but these have been part of the scriptures assigned for Christmas, for at least 500 years or so.  In preparing for today’s sermon, I read a sermon written on this scripture passage, the sermon was written for Christmas Day, 1531, and preached by Martin Luther.

 

For hundreds and hundreds of years, hearing the promise of a son born for us, we’ve put the baby Jesus in the cradle of the prophet Isaiah’s promise.

 

Of course, the prophet Isaiah and the people who heard his words the first time were not looking to wait some 700 years for that baby.  They were looking for God to come, God to act, for them right then.  They heard the words “us”, “for us”, and they believed, just as Luther preached, and just as we want to hear that these words are for us right now.

 

Because,  I need this word and I’m pretty sure you need it to.  We need these words of hope and promise, because it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see that the way the world is, the way our lives are, can’t be the way it’s supposed to be.  The prophet Isaiah uses the language of darkness and light. Hope in the saving power of God is like a light shining in the darkness.  And well those words were fine for him,and I get the imagery, but I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this yet, but I don’t like to use that language–that of darkness and light.

 

In our day, equating trouble, evil, and suffering with darkness reinforces in our culture the stereotypes that black is bad and white is good.  It gives racism a vocabulary. Of course we know that evil comes in all colors.  We know that terror happens in bright sunlight and doesn’t need to lurk in the shadows.  Evil is an equal opportunity exploiter.

 

So how do we talk about the oppressive feeling of being overwhelmed with sorrow, struggle, and bad news?   Because that is really real.  It was real for the people of Jerusalem who heard Isaiah, as they looked around, they saw the injustice all around them, but not only the saw the much stronger/bigger nations were standing at their doorstop with their wave after wave of armies.

 

Maybe that’s it.  Waves, storms, overwhelm– drowning. Regrettably those words are both descriptive of how we can feel and terribly timely.  Although it’s on the other side of the world, we are learning again and again the pervasive devastation power hurricanes and typhoons (as the are called in the Pacific).

 

The thing is, we don’t  even need literal floods and waves of water to feel like we are drowning, submerged, pulled down.   The unrelenting power of the violence we hear and see around the world and at home, the bad news of disgraced leaders, of ineffective government, of soulless business practices, of mean spirited and cut throat politics, of disease and death.  No wonder we can feel like we are drowning in pain, fear, and confusion.

 

There is no shame in wanting the hope, the joy, that Christmas promises.

 

So, these  words of Isaiah fit at Christmas time, but they fit for us anytime as well.  Thy are like a life boat, a life preserver keeping us afloat, giving us hope and a vision–a way to pull our head above the waves despair that threaten to drown us.

 

What we need,and what Isaiah gave believers in his day, down through the ages to us today is a sign. That it really does get better, that God wants, that all this struggle we are immersed in day in and day out, that God rally really does desire something better for us.

 

These words are a sign that says we are,  that we can have hope and a vision of safety in our hospitals, in our homes, in our hearts. Safety because peace will arise all around us, because as we heard last week, justice will flow.

 

This vision clears away confusion.  No more being tossed about, the love of God is the way of life. Isaiah claims that all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood. shall be burned as fuel for the fire. These are words of peace.  Of weapons of destruction themselves destroyed and repurposed as tools for life. 

 

The one we look for is the one who created and tamed the waters, who made a way through the water for escaping slaves, the one who provided water to the thirsty in the desert, the one who when tossed to and fro stilled the storms, who walked on top of, above the waters, and who turned water into wine.  Who makes a way in the water to wash away the power, the claim of sin and death?   is the hope that gives our life meaning, that keeps us afloat, our heads above water. That is the life we are promised, that we practice, the signs we want to follow because That is the God we believe in, the God we worship, the God we put all our trust, faith and hope in. This promise is for us to grab onto, hold tight to, keep us afloat, and pull us through from thousand of years ago to today, to tomorrow, and each day, no matter what storms may come.  Amen.