It appears that our country can’t get enough of Amanda Gorman. The brilliant young poet burst on the national scene with a reading at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration on January 20, and followed that up with another stunning performance at the Super Bowl in Tampa on February 7. Her inauguration poem, “The Hill We Climb,”…
November 30, 2016
Enlarge the site of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
We have come to know this first week of Advent as the week of hope. We hear the prophet Isaiah in today’s reading express hope in the form of a barren woman who will bear more children than one who is fertile.
In ancient Israel, a woman who was unable to have children was a disgrace. Children helped run the farm and do the chores. A woman who could have lots of children was considered especially blessed. God is saying that a woman who was unable to have children will end up having more than anyone else.
This barren woman isn’t told to wait until she gets pregnant. She’s told to start remodeling now. Almost a “build it and they will come” mentality.
What are we to make of such outlandish promises? There are times when the outcome of God’s promises is truly beyond comprehension. But the true nature of God’s power is most on display when we have run out of any cause to hope, when the way ahead is only dark. And yet those promises keep pressing their way into our consciousness. Then when the skies clear, what God shows us catches us off guard, so stunning in their display of divine richness.
Our reading ends with the reference to the days of Noah, and as you might remember from yesterday’s reading from Genesis, God gave Noah a sign of God’s promises in the form of a rainbow—one of the most beautiful creations of nature that the eye can see.
These words call us to press on in times of hopelessness, not because we can summon up strength, but because we cannot. In those times, all we have left to trust is God’s word alone and the assurance that it is in the darkness that God is doing something unexpected. Our eyes will have to adjust to the results of God’s marvelous works of wonder.
We may feel that the Lord cannot do very much through us. These verses contradict those feelings. The Lord called Jerusalem to prepare for her children even when it looked as if she would never have them.
What limits have you placed on your life that God has not placed? Consider that you may have you closed in on yourself, thinking that life is really about going through the routine of your day, doctor’s appointments and hospital visits, work around the house. and having a few friends and not much else.
If you read these verses carefully God tells you differently.
God says go someplace you haven’t gone before. Do something you haven’t done before. Enter a realm that scares you. Break out of the box! Take on a new challenge. Seek to serve the Lord in a new way.
When I read verses like these verses from Isaiah, almost immediately my mind jumps to thoughts about the struggling churches in our synod. I think about the rich history many of them have, the mission and ministry they’ve done in their communities, the many lives they’ve touched. But too often they have become rather comfortable in their existence, somewhat like that barren woman in our passage.
These words are also a call to our congregations learn new ways of doing things. Things that worked fine 10 or 20 years ago, when there were 350 in the pews, don’t always seem practical now. Don’t be discouraged because things change. Change is okay.
Take on a new ministry. Spare not—don’t hold back. This will require a certain diligence and discipline. Going beyond ourselves means depending on something beyond ourselves. Be open to God using your church in new ways. It could be possible that sometimes old “tent walls” should come down in order to make room for new. But as God assures us through the words of the prophet, “my steadfast love shall not depart from you.”
And so we pray: Almighty God, your Holy Spirit equips the church with a rich variety of gifts. Grant that we may use them to bear witness to Christ in lives that are built on faith and love. Make us ready to live the gospel and eager to do your will, so that we may share with all your church in the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
(From Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pew edition, page 76)
November 29, 2016
“I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”
In the 1979 version of The Muppet Movie, Kermit the Frog opens the film singing, “The Rainbow Connection,” while strumming his banjo in the middle of his habitat – the swamp. Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher wrote this song for the movie and Williams says: “We looked at his [Kermit’s] environment, and his environment is water and air – and light. And it just seemed like it would be a place where he would see a rainbow. But we also wanted to show that he would be on this spiritual path, examining life, and the meaning of life.”
Our Old Testament reading for this Tuesday of the first week of Advent is the conclusion of the flood narrative in which God destroyed the earth but saved Noah and his family and two of every species of living creatures. After the waters receded, God made a promise with Noah that never again would there be a flood to destroy the earth. Three times God repeats the phrase, “never again,” as if to call attention to the importance of the promise. As a sign of that covenant, God placed the rainbow in the clouds.
God’s covenants with humankind are unique in that they require nothing of us in return. In a marriage covenant, for example, both the bride and groom promise to be faithful to each other and usually they exchange rings as a sign of those promises. In contrast, however, God’s covenant is unconditional. It is only what God does for us that matters.
Yet even though God promises to never again destroy the earth, there is always a clear and present danger that humankind itself, through sinfulness, corruption, greed, evil, and neglect, could achieve the same negative result. It is humanity – not God – that initiates war, contaminates the environment, and pays little notice to the health and well-being of other humans and living creatures.
Rainbows are vividly colorful, richly symbolic, and inspire a limitless spectrum of possibility. It is somewhat appropriate then, that as we begin our season of anticipation of the promised Christ child, the story of a rainbow – a reminder of God’s abiding promises – might also keep us mindful that we are stewards of God’s creation. The care of our world, the earth, the water, the air, is in our hands to protect – not to destroy. May that be our “Rainbow Connection.”