September 16, 2018
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
In Isaiah 58, the people of God have come home to Jerusalem, after being in captivity in Babylon, only to find their city in shambles. They gather among the ruins of the temple, and cry out to God, fasting and weeping, mourning what once was. They look around and hear whispers of violence in the streets, harrowing tales of oppression of workers, ominous echoes of exploitation of the poor by the rich. They hear about folks without homes, they hear tell of people’s hunger, and they cry out to God: Are you here? Don’t you care? Do something! But sitting among the ruins, huddled for safety, they are met with profound silence.
Friends this passage from Isaiah 58 has been a guiding text for my first year among you as your pastor. This is a passage that frames my understanding of what it means to be a Revitalizing congregation, a community that is discerning what our future together as a family of faith will look like.
God’s response to the people is not to despair. That is not the fast God chooses, the empty feeling of hopelessness. When The Holy One shows up, She speaks directly to the people: “This isn’t the fast I choose, wailing and weeping and praying.” Instead, God encourages the people to leave the temple, to go out of its ruined gates. “Go get to know the people who are oppressed and work with them for liberation,” the Holy Spirit intones through the prophet. “Don’t hide from the gaze of the folks experiencing homelessness; bring them into your homes. Sit down and eat with the hungry, and hear their story. Reach across the human made boundaries that you think protect you, and then see what happens.”
THEN, God says, and then you will experience revitalization and re-growth. Then you’ll encounter God anew. God’s healing of the people; it’s not going to happen in the temple: God’s renewal will spring up outside of its ruins.
And it happens. God’s promises are true. When the people of God go and extend radical hospitality to those on the margins of society, when they get involved with those they don’t know, God shows up, and a new life for the family of God emerges. The ancient places are rebuilt; the city is transformed, not by the work of human hands, but by God’s very presence, encouraging new relationships, a homecoming of Kin, not to a place, not to a building, but to one another.
Friends the progressive Church of 2018 has a lot in common with the community of God in Isaiah 58. We could mourn what was and will no longer be our loss of influence and power, the new realities of the spiritual lives of my generation. Or we can embrace what God is up to in the lives of those who don’t yet have a spiritual home. We can get personally involved with those who are struggling to get by, who are hungry, and in need of hospitality. We can reach out to those who are searching for a home, and be reconciled one to another. We can experience, and are beginning to experience, a Holy Homecoming, not to this place, but of Kin to one another who didn’t realize we were related. That is where I see hope for us, where our values lead us, where there are signs of new life springing up in our midst.
Doing the hard work of becoming relevant to the next generation of progressive Christians, of building new relationships, Getting involved in the lives of new people, it can feel daunting. We can easily feel like it’s hard enough to keep going, what energy do we have for something new? And I’ll be honest, it’s going to be a big lift, the future of MPC, it’s not something that I, or the session or the mission Team can do without your participation. As a congregation, we’re not going to be able to worship our way into revitalization. It’s going to take all of us, utilizing our gifts, for this to happen.
But Beloved, what a gift we have! One of our spiritual blessings, a care-ism of this community, is your willingness to listen to people, and your courage to then share your stories. You are a people of beautiful stories, who tell tales of great passion, anger and power, light and laughter and awe. You are deep listeners, full of empathy, and a deep sense of love for God’s world and people. That’s exactly what we are going to need as we head forward; it is the strength that can carry us out into the world to find God’s calling for this place in this next generation.
Today, we celebrate that God is bringing about a Holy Homecoming of Her children, siblings meeting one another for the first time. We also are preparing, because the Holy Spirit is calling us to get ready, to head out these doors to hear the stories of folks searching for a community of faith that will risk being relevant to their lives.
But We’ve got this. Our greatest tool in the years ahead is going to be listening. It’s not very often that we get to listen deeply to another person for five minutes, or that someone is curious enough about our experiences to ask us to share. But there is power and hope in being listened to, in listening. God is inviting us to a holy homecoming, to a season of revitalizing our community, our neighborhoods, our city streets, our woods, this place, if we will risk listening for God’s stories in the midst of people we don’t yet know.
And so, we’re going to practice listening and sharing today, and throughout the years.