Monday, 09 January 2012 00:00

"Arise and Shine", January 8, 2012

“Arise and Shine”
Isaiah 60:1-6
A sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 8, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

One of the advantages or disadvantages of being a long-term pastor is that you preach on the same scripture as the years pass.  Some preachers have their favorites and trot them out every month or two.  The Lectionary repeats some scriptures every three years and some every year.  It can be hard to think of something new to say.  I pulled out my file on this scripture and I found a sermon preached four years ago, using the very same title.  Dare I preach it again and see if anyone notices?

But as I looked at the manuscript, I found that it didn’t speak to me.  And if it doesn’t speak to me, I can’t imagine it would speak to you.  So, here I am with the same title and the same scripture, but a different perspective.  A lot has happened in the past four years and even the past few weeks.  It’s time to hear something else.

The scripture is a good one.  It is a positive one.  It is a vision of the future.  “Arise and Shine for your light has come,” says Isaiah—even before the people can understand it.  You see, Isaiah is writing to the people who had recently returned from exile.

The 60th chapter of Isaiah comes from what is known as third Isaiah.  Isaiah, it is generally believed, was written over a 200-year span of history by at least three people.  
The first 39 chapters were written before the exile and told the people to shape up or they would be shipped out.  They didn’t and they spent fifty years in Babylonian captivity.

The next sixteen chapters were written in the exile to give comfort and hope to the people who had lost their land.  The suffering servant prophecies, which look so much like Jesus, came from this part of the book.

The third book of Isaiah comes from the time of restoration, when the people returned to the Holy Land only to find it in a shambles and a shell of its former glory.  In the last 11 chapters, Isaiah gives hope and encouragement to this remnant people.

Many of us can identify with being a remnant people.  Trusted institutions have failed us.   For some of us our very families have failed us.  For others physical or mental health have taken their toll, leaving us feeling like a remnant of our former selves.  Then there is the job market and the looming foreclosures.  There is a lot that makes us feel like the remnant.

We are back in the Promised Land, in a New Year, but it still feels like we’re in exile.  We are a shadow of our former selves.  We don’t know how or if we can go on.  We want to turn our head to the wall—oh we’re tempted to do just that.  We want it all to go away.  We want rest, but we don’t see it in the midst of all of this hardship.

On Friday of last week, I attended the Memorial Service for my good friend Sarah Hammond.  She battled the demons of darkness for most of her life.  She said the darkness was an unwelcome companion.  I can only imagine what she must have felt.

I have felt that looming dread as I reflect on my own sister, who was also feeling at the end of her rope.  It turns out that while I was attending the Memorial Service in Oberlin, OH, she was writing the last of her notes that she would send off to her friends and family, telling them that the darkness was too much for her to handle any longer.

As has happened before, good friends intervened and she was not able to conclude her life this past week.  She is now in a hospital, trying to figure out the next step—just as I am trying to figure it out.

Sarah’s mother, Mary Hammond, commented that they have asked “why” so many times in the month since Sarah’s death. While those questions are never fully nor satisfactorily answered, the question has shifted from “why” to “now what?”

Now what?  We’re not ready to rise and shine.  The light doesn’t feel like it has come.  It feels like enemies are encamping around us.  It feels like despair will have the last word.  It feels like nothing we have done has made any difference.  It feels like all is lost. So what is the word to share today?

As I looked at Isaiah again, I realized that the vision is about another reality.  It’s about the future, but it’s also about the present.  It’s about embracing the possibility that you can imagine a different reality.

When we feel like we can’t go on, people come and help us get up and get out of bed.  They make us meals.  They help us imagine what the future might look like.  They don’t tell you, “it’s al right,” when it is decidedly not all right.  Instead, they tell you that you don’t face this alone.  You don’t have to let the darkness have the last word.  Arise and shine is the answer to “what now.”  And Isaiah reminds us of the way God wants us to embrace the world.

Arise and shine because people have surrounded you with support.

Arise and shine because you are loved.

Arise and shine because God lives in the holy mystery that is our very lives.

Sometimes, often times, we can’t live it out all by ourselves.  We can’t see the “what now.”  We’re so focused on the “why”.  We can’t muster the strength to rise and shine.  We need to surround ourselves with a vision, a song that we can hear and imagine and embrace.  We need our friends to sing the song until we can remember the words.

Hear this story called “They’re singing your song” by Alan Cohen in his book, “Wisdom of the Heart”

When a woman in a certain African tribe knows she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with a few friends and together they pray and meditate until they hear the song of the child.

They recognize that every soul has its own vibration that expresses its unique flavor and purpose. When the women attune to the song, they sing it out loud.  Then they return to the tribe and teach it to everyone else.

When the child is born, the community gathers and sings the child's song to him or her. Later, when the child enters education, the village gathers and chants the child's song. When the child passes through the initiation to adulthood, the people again come together and sing. At the time of marriage, the person hears his or her song.

Finally, when the soul is about to pass from this world, the family and friends gather at the person's bed, just as they did at their birth, and they sing the person to the next life.

To the African tribe there is one other occasion upon which the villagers sing to the child. If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behavior is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.

When you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another.

A friend is someone who knows your song and sings it to you when you have forgotten it. Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly; your wholeness when you are broken; your innocence when you feel guilty; and your purpose when you are confused.

You may not have grown up in an African tribe that sings your song to you at crucial life transitions, but life is always reminding you when you are in tune with yourself and when you are not. When you feel good, what you are doing matches your song, and when you feel awful, it doesn't. In the end, we shall all recognize our song and sing it well.

You may feel a little warbly at the moment, but so have all the great singers. Just keep singing and you'll find your way home.

Isaiah’s message is that despair does not have to be the final word.   He didn’t have the pharmaceuticals that are often helpful, but he did have a word of encouragement for the people.  Isaiah says, “Arise and shine for your light has come, and the glory of God had risen upon you.”  Lift up your eyes and look around.  A new day has dawned.  Arise, shine.

The people of Israel, we can imagine, were in despair.  They were back home, but they still wept about how great the temple used to be, how their farms were in shambles, how there was seemingly no hope left at all for them.  They moped around and collectively bummed each other out, as hurting people often do.

And then along came Isaiah to compassionately remind them of what they do have.

You don’t have a temple, but look, you are in the holy land once again.

You don’t have your farmhouses, but look, you have brothers and sisters who are willing to stand with you to get the work done.

You may not have wealth, but look, you have God on your side.

And even if you can’t sing your song, I’ll sing it for you until you can mumble the words with me.  And one day, you may well sing it for someone who cannot sing it for themselves.  That’s what faith looks like.  That’s what community looks like.  That’s what resurrection looks like. Arise and shine, sing your song, says Isaiah.

Let me close by inviting my dear friend Ken Downes to join me in a song.  We sang this at each other’s weddings 18 and 20 years ago. It’s a piece of our songs and it gives me hope.

May the Light of Love—David Roth

As we come around to take our places at the table
A moment to remember and reflect upon our wealth
Here's to loving friends and family, here's to being able
To gather here together in good company and health

May we be released from all those feelings that would harm us
May we have the will to give them up and get them gone
For heavy are the satchels full of anger and false promise
May we have the strength to put them down

May the light of love be shining deep within your spirit
May the torch of mercy clear the path and show the way
May the horn of plenty sound so everyone can hear it
May the light of love be with you every day

May we wish the best for every one that we encounter
May we swallow pride and may we do away with fear
For it's only what we do not know that we have grown afraid of
And only what we do not choose to hear

May the light of love be shining deep within your spirit
May the torch of mercy clear the path and show the way
May the horn of plenty sound so everyone can hear it
May the light of love be with you every day

As we bless our daily bread and drink our day's libation
May we be reminded of the lost and wayward soul
The hungry and the homeless that we have in every nation
May we fill each empty cup and bowl

May nothing ever come between or threaten to divide us
May we never take for granted all the gifts that we receive
Being ever mindful of the unseen hands that guide us
And the miracles that cause us to believe

May the light of love be shining deep within your spirit
May the torch of mercy clear the path and show the way
May the horn of plenty sound so everyone can hear it
May the light of love be with you,
May the light of love be with you
May the light of love be with you every day.