Comfort, comfort, my people...

Dec. 07, 2014

Is. 40.1-11; 2 Pt. 3.8-15a; Mk. 1.1-11

Relationships are bridges between people BUT sometimes the bridges are blocked, or they just fall down under the weight of some wrong. As with any relationship, sometimes we feel close and at other times we may feel angry or distant, and at still other times, we may be blissfully unaware that the relationship is there at all. And this has happened to all of us, when we have the love and support of a parent or a spouse or some other important family member or friend whom we hurt, we know only too well that we deserve the cold distance we get (that it's on us or because of us), and we feel all the disappointment that we know they feel toward us. And despite all this, we earnestly hope that the relationship can be restored or re-established on a new and stronger footing. That's the reality that confronts us in our broken and hurting world.

And that's the message in 2nd Peter this morning. We're reminded that there'll be a time of reckoning, a time for us to answer for ourselves before God. Every thing that we've done even to the least of God's creation will have to be accounted for before a just, but compassionate God. It all matters. It's like the story of General Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. A young soldier was brought before Lee because he was charged with some offense. The young man was so afraid that he was shaking as he stood before the General. Lee looked at him and said, "Don't be afraid son, you'll get justice here." The young soldier replied, "I know, Sir. That's why I'm shaking." It's frightening to think of facing a righteous God. We should know that no gamesmanship, however skillful, will allow us to justify ourselves before God. It's a time for confession, truth telling, and amendment of life, not strategy, or skillful rhetoric.

There's a hole in us that's shaped like God and only God can fill it. Being without this God is like having amnesia about why and who we are in the world. If you don't remember that, what do you have? It's like the three elderly sisters who were discussing the travails of getting older. One said, "Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand in front of the refrigerator and can't remember whether I need to put it away, or start making a sandwich." The second chimed in and said, "Oh, that's not so bad as me. I sometimes finding myself on the landing of the stairs and I can't remember whether I was on my way up or on my way down." The third one said, "Well, I'm glad I don't have any of those problems; knock on wood," as she rapped her knuckles on the table, she stopped, looked surprised, and then listened attentively, and told her sisters, "That must be the door, I'll get it!"

I'm convinced that one of the smallest packages in the world is when we get all wrapped up in ourselves. Every year the American Dialectical Society--an organization that tracks new words that pop up in the English language, names one word as the word of the year. A few years ago, the word was "plutoed" which referred to the demotion of Pluto from being a real planet to just an asteroid. So if you get "Plutoed" by someone, you'd be demoting or denigrating them. And couple of years ago, the word was "truthiness" coined by the fake news anchorman Steven Colbert. It means anything that we push into the truth column despite its being contrary to the facts, because it has "truthiness". And this year the leading word before the vote, is "selfie"...perhaps a sign of the times.

But no matter how hapless or wrapped up in ourselves we are, God truly loves us and never denigrates or abandons us in our weakness or brokenness. Ruth Graham, the late wife of the evangelist Billy Graham, reminds us of why cat videos are so popular on YouTube. She told a wonderfully true story about their family cat. As she said, "The cat had kittens on the trundle bed in the downstairs guest room. We didn't think that was such a good idea, so we collected them (all) and placed them on (some) rags in a cardboard box in front of the kitchen fireplace until we could come up with a more suitable location. But the mother cat had a mind of her own. We watched with amusement as she entered the kitchen silently, stood on her back legs, front legs on the (top of the) box, sniffing for her babies. Then, leaping nimbly over the side, she checked them over, picked up one by the (scruff) of the neck, leaped out and quietly returned it to the trundle bed. This was repeated until all that was left was the runt of the litter. (But) she didn't come back. She may have been exhausted from her efforts, or she may have been busy playing lunch counter to the others. (But the family watched and) waited. Finally that tiny scrap (of a kitten) in the bottom of the box let out more of a squeak than a meow. It was almost a non-sound. And instantly, soundlessly, the mother cat reappeared, bounded in and out of the box, the tiniest kitten in her mouth, and carried it back to the guest room. Three doors, two rooms and two hallways away, and yet she heard (it). It wasn't even a full-fledged cry." It's like our prayers that are sometimes offered, not necessarily as full-fledged prayers -- or even spoken cries for help. They're more like yearnings or more a small light that we shine out into the vast darkness of night hoping it will be seen. According to the Bible, God responds to even our sighs, and our tears, or our murmurs. In fact, all these are prayers (which the faithful heart believes reaches the ears of God). What a wonderful image of how God cares for God's people...with love and attention.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah read today, God tenderly bends towards us with an attentive and loving presence. And as Isaiah said, "He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead" them. So, the message of Isaiah reminds us of God's words to us "Comfort, O comfort, my people." It allows us to look to God in hope despite our sins, or faithlessness, or lack of personal justification...we're standing under the love and power of this God who is our God and we are God's people. What a wonderful thought! So, we can hear and we embrace the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah, when God says, "Comfort, O comfort, my people...". AMEN.

The Reverend W A Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS 12/7/2014