A Sermon from the Cornerstone Community`
Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-9; Matthew 25:31-46
Accompanying music clip: “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”, sung by Rod Stewart
The Worship Bulletin for Nov. 26, 2017 can be viewed HERE.
“Have you ever seen the rain?” Ray Fogerty wrote, “I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain?”
Rain is often used as a metaphor for sadness or depression, for grieving. We go through some tough times, things look dark, but one day our grieving is over, our sadness is put behind us, we get back on our feet so to speak, and everything is all good – it’s a beautiful day – then something bad happens again. Many of us learn to deal with this cycle of our emotional lives. “Have you ever seen the rain?”– of course we have, we all have. The song continues: “Yesterday and days before sun is cold and rain is hard I know; been that way for all my time. Til forever on it goes, through the circle fast and slow; I know it can’t stop.”
God recognizes that there are those of us who sit in a metaphorical darkness. God recognizes that there are those of us who sit silently, captive in some dark emotional prison, no longer able to shed the rain, to fight the darkness enveloping them. God recognizes that there are those of us who are oppressed, and who are brokenhearted. If only there was a way to break out of that cycle. If only someone would come and show us a better way.
Remember these words from Isaiah?: “But there will be no more gloom for the land that was in anguish! In the past God humbled the land of Zebulun, the land of Naphtali; but in the future God will bring glory to this Road to the Sea, this Land beyond the Jordan, this Galilee of the Nations. The people walking in darkness are seeing a brilliant light— upon those who dwell in a land of deep shadows light is shining!” [Isaiah 9:1-2]
Through the words of the prophets, through words of judgement and grace, God reaches deep into our lives; into our distress, into our sadness. Through the words of the prophets, through words which cause us to look back to the hand of God guiding, consoling, even pushing us forward, God is sharing a new future.
“Listen up! All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy food and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money, without price! Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you will eat well, you will delight in rich fare; bend your ear and come to me, listen, that you may have life: I will make an everlasting Covenant with you— in fulfillment of the blessings promised to David.” [Isaiah 55:1-3]
What kind of future is God laying out before us? It is a future in which all would be fed and sustained regardless of economic status; a future in which all would live secure; a future in which our personal priorities, priorities to which we tightly cling, are called into question. How do we break the cycle of darkness and misery the world finds itself in, that we find ourselves in? How does this world become safe for women?; for people of color?; for children?; for our neighbors and families?
Again hear from Isaiah: “See, I have made of you to be a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the nations.” [Isaiah 55:4]
What kind of future is God laying out before us, showing us? A future (or is it our present?), in which we have a role, a purpose, a need, to see the reign of God (the reign of God) in a new way, to see ourselves in a new way. God is God and we are not! But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a place with God, a purpose from God, a role to play in the lives of our neighbors. “See, I have made of you to be a witness to the peoples….” Just maybe part of our purpose is to admit that a little rain does fall into every life; maybe we need to admit that our lives are not meant to be perfect – that through the rain we can witness to the reality that out of rain might come darkness, but on the other side of that darkness can come growth, new growth, in our lives. Without some rain we become arid and dry like a desert.
Jesus’ first public words in Matthew’s Gospel were the Beatitudes – “Blessed are the poor, the meek, the persecuted, the stranger, the hungry, the thirsty…” – words offered to a people whose experience of life was often harsh. Matthew observed people “suffering from illnesses and painful ailments of all kinds—those who were demon-possessed, those who were epileptic, those who were paralyzed” -people upon whom the rain has fallen hard.
For Christians, the way out, the way we can break the cycle of darkness, is none other than the way of the Christ; a way that looks to God for direction, a way that takes care of God’s creation, a way that cares about others, a way that returns good for evil, a way that plants justice in the place of injustice.
Matthew 25:31-46 are the last public words we have from Jesus. If the Beatitudes are going to come true, then life has to change – exploitation of women, immigrants and the poor – all of whom are our neighbors, all of whom are our sisters and brothers – can not continue if we are to have a just society. The survival of the fittest mentality, white supremacy, economic exploitation – generally business as usual – all have to change.
What would a just society look like? Jesus tells us: It looks like the hungry fed; it looks like the alien welcomed; it looks like the sick made well; it looks like the thirsty given water; it looks like the naked clothed, the imprisoned visited – it looks like a society in which all are welcomed and included, all are made whole. ‘It looks like,’ says Jesus, ‘every thing you do for the least of my sisters or brothers, you do it for me.’
This is what a just society looks like, these are the ethics of a just society. Citizens of the Realm of God behave like this. This is what the presence of Emmanuel – God With Us – looks like. The reign of God, the presence of God, brings to us a new way of seeing the rain that falls.
Through Isaiah, God speaks to us: “Seek me, [God], while I may still be found, call upon me while I am near! Let the corrupt abandon their ways, the evil their thoughts. Let them return to [God], and I will have mercy on them; return to God, for I will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways, my ways,” says [God]. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:6-9]
Have you seen the reign… the Reign of God? – the reign of healing and growth, the reign of hope and challenge? The Reign of God will be seen when those who are oppressed and brokenhearted, those who sit in a metaphorical darkness, can finally see the Light that has dawned; the Reign of God will be seen when those who sit captive in some dark prison of depression, unable to break free, unable to shed the pelting of the cold rain, unable to fend off the darkness enveloping them, will see “… this peace, [that] will grow without end … sustained with justice and fairness, now and forever”.
When we devote our resources to feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, visiting and freeing the imprisoned, bringing dignity to the broken, we are breaking the cycle of all that diminishes life – and we are welcoming the God who comes to us.
“… the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a young woman named Mary; she was engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. Upon arriving, the angel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one! God is with you! … ” [Luke 1:26-28] Yes, God comes to us to make a difference in our lives, and in the lives of our neighbors.