July 30, 2017
Psalm 104:5-9, 19-23, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
“The View from Here”
When I moved to Albuquerque, I was told there are four seasons: wind, rain, sun, and snow.
Each year around this time, I hear lots of complaining that summer needs to end soon. The heat is a source of discomfort and yet there are gifts in the summer. I love early morning sunlight and all the fresh fruit. When fall arrives, many rejoice at the cooler days, the smell of green chile, and the beauty of leaves as they turn. As winter approaches, some are happy that the season to hibernate has arrived and they welcome the quiet. Then spring emerges and there is a sense of hope as bulbs push through the earth and the light returns. Each season has blessing and each season has pain or disappointment.
We have seasons in the church year beginning with Advent as we prepare for the birth of Christ, then Epiphany, the season of light following the birth. Next comes Lent and the time of reflection. Easter follows and resurrection is the theme. Pentecost comes bringing the Spirit into the community. You may remember that the story of Pentecost is not peaceful. In fact, it is chaotic when the spirit blows into the people who are gathered. They are unnerved by the sound of so many languages spoken at once and tongues of fire. They are disoriented and afraid because they cannot comprehend what is happening. Peter addresses them and tells them this is a gift from God. This isn’t the first time in the Bible people are told they are receiving a gift from God, but they are not feeling very good about the gift. In the Pentecost story, they are getting what they asked for, but they are not feeling good about it at all. The season of Pentecost continues for more than twenty weeks and is called Ordinary Time. It is the time where the community picks up those chaotic pieces and figures out how to go on together.
That is where we are today. This is the aftermath of a chaotic, disorienting experience for our community. We gather in this room to ask God to show us the way forward. Do you remember the way forward for the early Christians? It was gathering around tables to talk, to listen, to eat, and to pray.
Last Sunday, we gathered for three hours after worship to consider what it means to offer sanctuary. We heard many voices. It was hot in the room. We were hungry. We listened. There were many things expressed – pain, fear, urgency, faith, frustration, and hope.
It was long and it was hard. The congregation voted to reflect and study further on whether to offer sanctuary and then we voted to offer sanctuary to Kadhim. Some were unhappy with the process. Some were unhappy about things that were said. Some were unhappy with the results. Some left. Some are relieved. Some decided this is a community they want to join.
On Wednesday, the text study group gathered. They meet every week to talk about the scriptures for the following Sunday. There are as many opinions as there are people each week, sometimes more. They have a long history of respectfully listening to one another and openly expressing their viewpoints. They learn from each other and argue with each other and laugh with each other and pray for one another. We talked about our experience last Sunday and we listened and we prayed. I looked at each person around the table and I thought “we are going to be ok.” I didn’t think that because everyone felt the same way. I thought it because we showed up for each other and honored each other and we will continue to do that.
Our community is trying to discern how to faithfully respond to a broken immigration system. There is nothing easy about this. When we are faced with injustice, the way forward is not easy. But we take a step and then another and then another. We don’t give up.
I am terribly sad that we have lost members. I am staying in relationship and praying for each person. I know that all of us are held by God as we navigate the pain and turbulence. God will heal the places that are broken.
Our scripture readings are about seasons. God is in each of those seasons. God is in this season in the life of our community. Ecclesiastes goes on to say there is a right time for everything, but only God can know it. (3:11 paraphrase) We like to have more control in each of the seasons of our lives. There are seasons that we choose – we get married, we begin a new job, we welcome children into our family. There are seasons where something happens to us and we respond – we receive a terrifying diagnosis, we lose someone we love, we lose a job. Sometimes the last thing we want launches us into a new season. As we make our way through the seasons, we discover that we are not alone and there is healing along the way.
I have been thinking about two who endured suffering and the lessons they can teach us. Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew who was killed at Auschwitz. Her diaries were later published in a book called An Interrupted Life.
She says, “And the English radio has reported that 700,000 Jews perished last year alone, in Germany and the occupied territories. And even if we stay alive, we shall carry the wounds with us throughout our lives. And yet I don’t think life is meaningless. And God is not accountable to us for the senseless harm we cause one another. We are accountable to [God]! I have already died a thousand deaths in a thousand concentration camps. I know about everything and am no longer appalled by the latest reports. In one way or another I know it all. And yet I find life beautiful and meaningful. From minute to minute.” (June 29, 1942, p. 150)
She went on to say that “I have looked our destruction, our miserable end, which has already begun in so many small ways in our daily life, straight in the eye, and my love of life has not been diminished.” (p.189)
Etty challenges us to see that exterior changes in the world will come about only as each one of us does our own inner work. To choose that inner work is to choose each other and to choose a different reality. In the last line of her diary, she says, “We should be willing to act as balm for all wounds.” (p. 231)
She was writing in a horrific season of history. Her words are important in this time in history as well.
The other person I have been thinking about is Job. Job’s story is difficult and we have to be careful theologically or we will simplify it into something it is not. Job endures terrific suffering and his friends try to help by explaining that it is his fault and he needs to apologize to God. Job knows he didn’t cause the pain so he insists for chapter after chapter that he should have his day in court with God. When God shows up, there is no hearing. Instead of a trial which will vindicate Job, he is given something else—perspective.
God asks questions about Job’s ability to create a sunrise, or creatures, or thunder and lightning. Job realizes that his view of things was just that – his view. After his encounter with God, he realizes that there is a much greater viewpoint than his. Sometimes it is good to be reminded that we cannot see everything.
Things have unfolded quickly in the last several weeks. There are reactions and emotions and all of us have a limited view point. This is one season of our life together as a church and God is in this season. God was in the season before and all the ones before that. God is in the seasons to come. We may not be able to see the big picture, but we can trust that God is in this with us. This Celtic Blessing series reminds us that a blessing is a way of invoking God’s presence into all of life. And so we pray,
“Bless the tears,
Bless the grief,
Bless the despair,
Bless the dying.
Bless the hope,
Bless the love,
Bless the life,
Bless the light.
Come, Emmanuel, God with us,
And bring us light.”
(from Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me by Beth A. Richardson, p. 56)