Fear. Hope. Grief. Need.
The Rev. Jennifer Adams –Sunday, November 13, 2016 –Proper 28, Year C: Isaiah 65:17-25, Luke 21:5-19
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God spoke through the prophet Isaiah. “The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. I will rejoice,” God said, “and I will delight in my people;” all my people. “No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress! They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands…The wolf and the lamb shall feed together…They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”
Let that sink in. Let that sink in deep…And we’ll come back to it in a few minutes. There are a couple of other things I want to talk about too.
First, today I don’t want to hear who you voted for. This morning, while we breathe together and pray together, this morning while we very simply come together, I don’t want to hear any pronouns as you describe your vote or the vote you would have cast if you were old enough, or citizen enough. Instead I want us try something else.
What I want to know, what we need to know is not the who of your vote but the why of it. Because votes are about hopes, and fears, vision, losses, needs. And while we shoot for the rational in this whole scene, a vote is often a bundle of all of those other things. Which means that our votes last week said as much about each of us as they did about either candidate, and probably more.
And so, I want this to be a place, Grace to be a place where we ask each other the kinds of questions that are behind the votes that we cast, the kinds of questions that tell us something important about each other and how we’re experiencing this world. Questions like: What are you afraid of? What do you hope for? What do you grieve? What do you need? Those are the kinds of questions that when shared in honest conversation might get us somewhere. We are a people who are called to share and listen deeply and openly as we and our neighbors respond.
Now because I have a microphone, and because it might help us take these steps, I’ll go first and I’ll share a bit of my own responses with you this morning.
Here are some of my fears: The rhetoric of this campaign cycle and some of the actions therein scared me – all around – still does. It became OK to say things and treat people in ways that are not OK, and that’s scary to me. I’m afraid for those who don’t have enough – food, or shelter, legal protections, healthcare, citizenship. I am afraid that some of us could lose protections for which we have fought long and hard. I heard this week that there are over 700 undocumented children and youth in the Holland Public School system and that they are afraid. And they shouldn’t have to be.
I’m afraid of us losing each other, or maybe more accurately, losing the understanding that we need each other. I’m afraid that we’ve gotten too afraid. This earth doesn’t work unless we are bound more than we are divided. “I am building new heavens and a new earth,” God said. It is our work to help that new earth come to be.
My hopes: I hope for reconciliation, because I’m stubborn that way. I hope for genuine, systemic healing on the kind of scale that this world needs. I hope that the desire to love and to care for one another better than we do now takes better hold than it has now.
I hope for a greater and broader equality – which will mean learning and sacrifices on my part too. I hope for forgiveness, for genuine strength, and for the hearts of those who lead and those to follow to turn toward mercy.
This hoping is hard, hard work and embodying through intent and action it is even harder, but given what we have seen these past months, it is undoubtedly the work we have been given to do. For “I am building new heavens and a new earth,” says the Lord. And it is our work to help that new earth come to be.
OK, my grief: I grieve that life is harder than it should be for so many. While I can’t claim that what we just experienced was a healthy way for the people of a country to express angers, frustrations, incapacities – that’s what happened. If we managed to before this election cycle, there is no denying now that we are a very broken people. We are a hurting people. We are embarrassingly siloed off not only from the world but from people who live just across the street, or on it. And that reality is in itself worthy of our grief. “I am building new heavens and a new earth,” says the Lord. It is our work to help that new earth come to be.
Finally – in this list of questions are my needs: I need you. I need this – this place that is grace, this time, this prayer, this table which is open to all. I need neighbors, food, shelter, and basic safety, rights and protections and so does everyone else. I need those who are different from me close to me.
I need help prioritizing the many pieces of life in ways that open me up and make me a vessel of the kind of healing we need, a means by which a new earth comes to be through us all. I need support to stand up to what is wrong, to stand up for what is right, and help discerning what that is. I need support in helping us to be a people who are good.
No please, continue this conversation. All of you can answer these questions too, all of you can ask them and listen as we and our neighbors respond: What are your fears, your hopes, your grief, your needs, people of Grace and beyond?
Oh and by the way, this week I did many things besides casting a vote. I’m sure you did too.
On Thursday morning I sat with the Chief of Police, a couple of Holland City leaders and a very diverse group of local clergy. We heard about neighborhood police programs, and very real efforts by law enforcement, clergy and other community leaders to be pieces of the fabric that holds us together in healthy and life-giving ways. We talked about hate being expressed in frightening ways and relationships being built in helpful, productive ways. We will gather monthly to share stories, name hard truths, offer ideas and work to discern ways forward together. You’ll hear more about this as we go along.
Thursday evening I was here with many of you as we fed over 150 hungry families. We served a meal to well over 250 people, distributed over 8500 lbs of food, and lots of laundry detergent and toilet paper too. We cared for each other. People served who came to receive. People received who came to serve. Grace happened on a small scale but on a scale that mattered to every person who was there that night, all of us giving and all of receiving as tables and doors were opened to all.
Friday I stood with students, faculty, and staff in the Pine Grove at Hope College because Latino and black students have been harassed, verbally and physically this week. Hope is (unfortunately) not unique in this experience. On Friday hundreds of members of that community came together and very simply held hands – for a half hour – in silence – surrounding the Pine Grove and spilling out over onto sidewalks, winding around trees, brushing up against the chapel, breaking open and expanding as the half hour went on. I grieved and I hoped standing there as I realized that I had stood in almost exactly the same place about 20 years ago. That night we had gathered in a circle in darkness holding candles because gay students who wanted to enter into Bible Study had been brutally excluded. There were about fifteen of us there that night.
New earths take time. New earths take hopes and tears and blood and sweat, forgiveness, mercy and a stubborn, determination that one might call faith. Nobody said we would all agree on how to move, or that the “new earth” would break in in an entirely linear fashion. In fact the gospel of Luke this morning said it would be a somewhat terrifying mess! New earths take you and they take me and they take our neighbors and the power and love of a God bigger than us all. “But not a hair of your head will perish,” we heard that this morning too. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” Not because we have something to prove but maybe because “gaining our souls” is more like an ongoing discovery of what we are made of, whose image we are made in.
So this week and every week, talk to each other from places we don’t normally talk, and listen with all that you have. Engage your neighbors, especially those who are different from you. Claim a stubborn, determined strength that’s not afraid to grieve, not afraid to speak, not afraid of those who are “other.” Be honest about the privilege and power you have in this world; apply it for good and surrender some. Reflect honestly in diverse and hurting community. Gather in peace. We have gifts to share.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” God spoke. “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together…They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”
May it be so.