Creekside Church
Sermon of February 16, 2020

"As Good As Our Word"
Isaiah 55:10-12

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! We have a terrific scripture text this morning from Isaiah chapter 55, but part of what is so gratifying about it is that wonderful musical setting by Pepper Choplin. I’m going to say a bit more about that later, but thanks to Diane, Craig and the choir for that anthem this morning. This is our last Sunday of Praise, Blessing and Joy: today and tomorrow are national Random Acts of Kindness Days. I hope you have had the chance to give or receive a random act of kindness in the past few weeks: if not, there’s still time. You might even get an opportunity today.

I don’t know if any of you ever complain about the weather, and specifically snow. Probably not. But just in case you overhear someone else grumbling, remember this passage from Isaiah 55. It compares rain and snow to the word of God -- not because the Word of God is cold and slippery, or even because it’s sparkly and beautiful. Rain and snow are like the Word of God because they have a purpose. That purpose might be what we want, or it might not be what we want, but God’s Word is going to accomplish God’s purpose. What the author of Isaiah claims is that God’s purpose is the well-being -- or to borrow a Hebrew word from last week -- the shalom of the earth and its inhabitants. Rain and snow are sent, not to make our morning commute more difficult, but to water the earth so it will be fruitful and things will grow -- so we will have the grain we need to harvest and turn into food.

When we understand the broader purpose of God and God’s desire for shalom for the earth, it is occasion for joy for all creation: not only for people, but for the mountains and hills and fields. Even the trees will clap their hands: they must be palm trees. This is a theological argument for joy: an understanding of the world that is rooted in the assurance of God’s goodness and desire for the shalom of creation, and the power of God’s Word.

That’s the biblical picture, the Big Picture, the macro-lens picture of joy. But there are other lens’ we can look through to understand joy, and some which may even help us understand how we fit into the Big Picture. I have been reading Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown. Are any of you familiar with that author? She has written The Gifts of Imperfection and Rising Strong, and is a TED talk presenter. She’s a social scientist whose work has focused on courage, vulnerability and belonging. The wilderness, as she uses the concept it in this book, is the place where we must find the courage to stand alone if we are ever to find true belonging. As we’ll see when we enter the season of Lent in two weeks, this is not so far from the biblical understanding of the wilderness.

You might not think there would be a lot of joy in the wilderness, but Brown argues that until we develop the courage to stand alone, we will not have the capacity to experience true belonging or true joy. Listen to some comments from a group of eighth graders she interviewed when they were asked the difference between belonging and fitting in:

Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in. (p 160)

I should tell you that I brag about you all (in a modest way, of course) when I meet with other pastors. You’re friendly -- every church thinks they’re friendly -- you sing well, we have great meals, you even laugh at my jokes -- sometimes. Those aren’t the things I brag about. Here’s what I brag about: we are not all alike. We have different theological perspectives, different political convictions, and different opinions about stuff: there’s no way anyone one person could pastor this group and agree with everyone. And yet, you show up every Sunday and worship and sing together; you sit around tables and eat or play games together; you visit each other in the hospital, send cards and pray for each other’s healing and wholeness. Everyone belongs here, because you don’t have to be just the same as the person next to you in order to fit in. Belonging is a gift we should not take for granted; it is a gift which has eluded many churches.

It turns out that the willingness to show up with other people is one of the keys to experiencing joy. We can experience joy by ourselves, of course, but joy is an emotion which makes us vulnerable, and if we aren’t willing to be vulnerable with other people, we won’t experience true joy. Brown shares a story from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron called Lousy World. Chodron complains about the weather, the government, the people around her. It’s like being in bare feet and walking on hot sand, or cut glass, or sharp thorns. It’s just unbearable! If only the world were more comfortable. What if we could get rid of all that sharp, unpleasant, thorny stuff? Get rid of everything that annoys me -- make the temperature perfect, ban mosquitos, make stupid people go somewhere else, get rid of all those things that bothers me. What if we covered the whole world with leather so there wouldn’t be anything sharp or uncomfortable or thorny anywhere? Wouldn’t we all be better off? OK we can’t cover the whole world with leather -- and it would be ugly and boring if we did. What we can do is wear shoes. The world isn’t lousy if we are willing to put the leather on our own feet. Instead of changing the whole world to suit ourselves, we can equip ourselves to be present and walk through it as it is. (118-119)

You may know this already, but there are collective experiences which folks consistently report as making them feel connected to other people -- even people whom they just met or strangers. Music is a great connector: that’s one of the reasons that we sing in worship; if you are open to the experience of singing, you’re aware of the people around you and you’re listening to other voices. The music is bigger than any individual voice. After we sang through our anthem on Wednesday night, a member of the choir said, “That gives me shivers.” That’s what I’m talking about. {Slide 1] Playing music does the same thing. It doesn’t matter what style of music you play: It can be like this or like this [Slide 2] it’s the collective experience of performing with other people. Even being part of an audience [Slide 3] can make you feel connected to the people around you. We can have the same kind of collective experience playing on a sports team or cheering for our team at an athletic event. You don’t have to support the same political party in order to cheer for the same basketball team.

[Slide 4] You may be surprised to hear that sharing grief is also an experience which connects us to other people. Whether it’s strangers at a candlelight vigil or a memorial to Kobe Bryant, or family and friends at a funeral, that vulnerability to grief is the other side of an openness to joy. We don’t get one without the other. We are aware of the presence of God when we show up and feel connected to other people. Joy happens when we realize that we are in God’s presence. Our joy is a reflection of how open we are willing to be to God’s presence and the purpose of God’s Word. [Slide 5] “Joy is the most infallible . . .”

I have a few stories of random acts of kindness to share with you. Notice how kindness gets magnified in times of vulnerability: when people are in physical danger or emotional distress. It may be that an act of great courage is called for, but sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is simply be present when someone else is grieving, whether it’s a friend or a stranger.

Random Acts: “The Finest Hours” Coast Guard rescue of the oil tanker Pendleton T2, which split in half during a brutal nor’easter of the coast of Cape Cod in 1952. Bernie Webber was the courageous man who gathered up a crew and took out a small boat in dangerous conditions and rescued the largest number of people in Coast Guard history.
Brandon: man whose daughter completed suicide
Friend whose husband died suddenly
Ron Green and necklace to Doug
PB&J to Faith Mission
Go forth in the Joy of God’s presence, and the assurance of God’s purpose. Amen.

 

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