“God’s View of Possible”
Nov. 13th, 2022
Rev. Rebecca Migliore
*Today is the beginning of the end. Not the end of the world, that I know of. But the beginning of the end of the church year. Yet as we know from years past, the end only begets another beginning, and so the story goes. But this year, as I read these passages of Halloween like ghoulishness from the gospel—of famines and fires, of torture and suffering, it seemed like the writer we call Luke must have had a looking glass—to see into our future.
*There is so much in our world that could speak to endings—climate change and the destruction in its wake, disruptions in the world’s democracies, strong men trying to flex their muscles, a cycle of world sickness that doesn’t seem to want to quit, the shaking of the world’s economic systems. I sometimes want to crawl into a hole, let the world pass on by, and come out when there is better news.
*We could join the chorus that seems to go back to ancient times that the world is going to “h e double l” in a handbasket, and quick! And I don’t mean to downplay the seriousness of our situation. I certainly don’t think that we should try to be ostriches and stick our heads in the proverbial sands and wait for someone, something, to fix our messes. No, we are the stewards of the earth, and it’s about time we starting acting like it. No, we, the first-world we, have made much of this mess, and the bills are coming due. Yes, it is going to require more of us, each of us, in becoming part of the solution. Yes, that means willingness to acknowledge what is happening, and what part we have played. And No, no one is going to get off without some investing in how we as the world can try to minimize the damage we have done.
*So I hold all that, shall we call it, sin, in one hand. All that messiness. All that excess. All that we have let slip through our fingers. All that we are still doing which is not enough, and yelling about it all the while. That is our reality. No use trying to sugar coat it. And God forgive us if we try to ignore it. If we read the gospel lesson literally, Jesus thinks it will only get worse. That’s a lovely message.
*But maybe it is just the right message as the amount of light in the northern hemisphere fades from view. Maybe it is just the right tone for a world desperate to hear the truth spoken aloud. Maybe it has always been the right message—to show that God knows how we feel even in the depths of our despair, even in the worst of times.
*And our two passages--from Isaiah, and from Luke--do come in the worst of times. Most scholars believe that Isaiah 65 was written after 539 BCE when the people of Judah were returning home from their exile in Babylon. It was not a triumphant time. Much in their homeland was destroyed (including the beautiful temple that Solomon had built). All would need to be rebuilt. How would that ever happen? How would they ever recapture what was?
*And likewise, the gospel of Luke was written after the Romans had torn down the rebuilt temple and destroyed much of Jerusalem. We can see this reflected in the question at the beginning of the reading, “When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, God said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
The people hearing this could see that it had indeed come to pass. And what now? How to rebuild what had been the center of worship of God? How could they ever recapture what was?
*As we heard in our reading from Luke last week, God is not God of the dead, but God of the living. God is not trapped in even the glories of the past. God is right here and now, and God intends for us to always see that there is not just that “on the one hand”—the hand that talks of all our failures. There is “and on the other hand.” There is God’s view of Possible.
*It has become an iconic view—called “pie in the sky, by and by” by some. A new heaven and a new earth, to replace the ones that have been marred by so much. A place where there is no more weeping, no more distress. No more grief of lives not allowed to advance to old age. No more stealing of another’s land, or robbing others of their toil. No more sending pleas into the heavens with no sense that there is a reply. But hope for a new world, a world of peace and justice and shalom. A world where
*“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together;
the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord”
*And from Luke, a message to stay strong—to believe that when the times are really tough God is still standing by our side. As the Seasons of the Spirit commentator says, “When all looks lost, [we] can trust in the creative presence of God who will put a word on [our] lips, a song in [our] hearts, [and give us] the wisdom and strength [we] need for the most difficult of times.
*So we live in between these two—the reality of our world, with a heavy dose of failure and sorrow and outright awfulness AND God’s reality—the view of what is possible with God—the reality that God intends, and dreams, and pushes for each and every one of us.
*The view Isaiah and Jesus give us is definitely needed. We need to be reminded of what God has called us to be. We need to believe that is can become a reality, not just in some vague, far off, imaginary, otherworldly future, but in this heaven and earth. A new heaven and earth. A new place and time. A place and time where we partner with God to make God’s view our view.
*These “on the other hand” visions are not intended to put us into a reverie, to allow us to lapse into complacency thinking “oh, okay, God has that, and I just have to believe enough that God will make it happen.” The people Isaiah was talking to didn’t think God was going to rebuild the temple, and their lives without a huge effort on their part. The disciples gathered around Jesus (and especially the disciples after the resurrection of Jesus) knew that if the story was going to be told, if there was going to be movement on earth that was fueled by the Spirit, someone was going to have to open their mouths, someone had to be willing to share their time and talent and treasure with others, someone needed to allow their lives to be lead by the Spirit. In other words, God’s view isn’t for the faint-hearted. God’s view isn’t a panacea, isn’t meant as a drug to ease the pain of the world we live it. It is meant as a clarion call. As a cattle prod. As a jolt to the system, “Wake up. Get up. There is work to do.”
What do we do with this?
*First, in the midst of the current angst about our world and our situation, I hear the message loud and clear that this is not the first time in the history of the world that people have felt this way. As the writer of Ecclesiastes might say, “There is nothing new under the sun.” That is not to say that we should shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, this is the way of the world—eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” I hear more, “Stop having a pity party for yourselves. Your generation is not facing an unprecedented trial. There have been difficulties in the past. But keep your eyes on the prize. Keep your eyes fixed on the possible, on what God thinks is possible.”
*And after we stop moaning and groaning about what is wrong, we need to start to imagine, to dream, all that can be right. In other words, we need to do something. And this is where we may create yet another road block. We, especially, we the Presbyterian Church, want to talk about what the best course is, we want to get a committee together, we want to make an overture to some higher authority and so on and so forth. All that is good and important, but as Steven Colbert says, “Meanwhile…”
*Life is in the meanwhile. And what I hear from our Scriptures today is that we don’t have to have the final blueprints. We don’t have to wait until Jesus returns. We have a responsibility to make a stab at it all on our own. It won’t be perfect. We may have to try, try again. But, we will be on our way. We will be living into God’s view of possible.
*TR Richie wrote a song called “Somewhere to Begin.” It says,
People say to me: You must be crazy,
How can you sing (dream, love) in times like these?
Don’t you read the news?
Don’t you know the score?
How can you sing (dream, love) when so many people grieve?
And people say to me: What kind of fool believes
That songs (dreams, love) will make a difference in the end?
By way of a reply I say: A fool such as I,
Who sees a song (dreams, love) as somewhere to begin.
*A dream is somewhere to begin
To search for something worth believing in.
If changes are to come
There are things that must be done.
And a dream is somewhere to begin.
*(repeat verse with dream and love together)
*Love is somewhere to begin
To search for something worth believing in.
If changes are to come
There are things that must be done.
And love is somewhere,
And dreams are somewhere,
and a song is somewhere to begin.
*We at UPC have laid a framework—holding onto the Micah words of doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. We have laid a framework—to do our part of fulfilling the Matthew 25 pledge, striving to chip away at structural racism, and systemic poverty, and to build up congregational vitality. We have laid the framework. We have heard the call. What next steps are we going to take? What piece of the vision tugs at our hearts?
*Of course, we continue to do the important work of trying to alleviate food insecurity (our pantry work). I hope we continue to do the important work of partnering with others who are working in impoverished places, especially with children (and we were scheduled to hear about our participation in ACCA, the arts program in Newark, this summer from Dr. Heard—but she has been diagnosed with Covid and we have rescheduled her minute on mission for the end of the month). What else are we planning? We want to reach out to faith communities in our neighborhood, to see if we can expand the conversation about what we have in common, trying to create a space where we can learn about each other, and dream about West Orange and all it can be.
*We do not know where this will lead. But we are trying to be faithful. It is not an easy thing. It does not come with sure results. Yet it is a response to what God is whispering in our ears. With God’s help, may it be a step into what is possible.
May it be so, Alleluia, Amen.