Sunday, December 3, 2017

Conjunction Junction, What's YOUR Function?

This sermon was preached at the Keysville Grace United Church of Christ on December 3, 2017, at the 9 am service. The audio can be heard here.

I was having a conversation recently with my sister, and we were talking about Saturday morning cartoons, and how we use to watch cartoon shorts called “Schoolhouse Rock.” Some of you might not know what I’m talking about, but let me help you out for a minute. “Schoolhouse Rock” reinforced many of the educational lessons children of my generation received during the school year, by talking to us in language we could understand, making sure that we remember these things decades later. Songs such as “I’m Just A Bill on Capital Hill”, and “Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here” simplified what were complex issues into bite sized nuggets, and helped us learn things we hoped to master in the classroom.

So, what in the world does a Saturday morning cartoon from your childhood have to do with our readings this morning? Hang on – it will become clear as we go along.

This morning, the first Sunday of our new liturgical year, I believe we face a period of darkness in our country and in the world. All one has to do is turn on the television and listen to the nightly news. There are stories of war and famine, despair and desperation.

Let’s take a closer look at our country to unpack this whole period of darkness in our world. Just this week, we have heard the story of yet another missing child, snatched from her home, and possibly her body having been found.

We have heard the story, just this week, of another teenager missing and with a teacher from her school.

Just this week, we have heard and seen for ourselves our political leaders acting in ways that are not benifical for many of the persons they are tasked with representing, when tax “reform” bills are passed that have not been read or reviewed, and there are handwritten notes in the margins of what will be laws in our country.

Just this week, more corruption and lying was exposed when another formerly high-ranking political official plead guilty to lying to a law enforcement agency. God, how can we find hope in the dark?

This inquiry extends to the larger world as well. Just this week, during peace negotiations in Geneva regarding the situation in Syria, there was increased violence in the same area. There was supposed to be a ceasefire happening at the time.

Just this week, reports about chattel slavery and human trafficking came to light in Libya. 

Just this week, I was thinking about a conversation I recently had with John Dornhauser, the General Minsiter and President of our denomination, and he was describing the situation in the Gaza Strip – he used a word that I never thought I’d hear a minister use: hopeless.

How do you keep hoping, in spite of what you see in front of you? How do you continue going forward, even when you don’t know where you’re going or understand what’s going on? How do you find hope in the dark?

That’s a good question this morning, and I believe both the words ascribed to the Prophet help us understand what we need to start addressing the situation.

Biblical commentators describe this portion of Isaiah as a community lament. And these people had a reason to cry out in pain. They find themselves having to rebuild a broken community, and have a temple that has been destroyed, which indicated, to them, that their relationship with God is in serious trouble. These people find themselves back in a broken and ruined city, after having been in exile, and if we are honest, don’t know what to do.

This is a people, who know they need to ask some serious questions of their god, and have to admit some truths. The anonymous author of this portion of Isaiah, is looking to explain to the people of his day what is going on, and honestly, to ask the question, “Is there any hope?” Look at the text. God, when are you going to show up? When would you open the heavens and come down, and make the mountains shake. When are you going to set things on fire and cause water to boil? When are you going to show up and make your adversaries tremble at your presence?

God, how can we find hope in the darkness? Don’t you know what’s going on? Can’t you hear us? Don’t you want to hear us? The writer tells us that God has heard in the past. The text tells us this in verse 4: From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God beside you, who works for those who wait for him. 

Not only do you hear us, you interact with us God – “You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways.” But we fractured that relationship, due to our own bad behaviors: “But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself when we transgressed.”

This is not good. It’s looking darker by the minute. Guy, I hear you saying, can this get any worse? Actually, yes. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a lead, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. We are losing hope.

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

I hate to say it, but it looks like we’re done. It looks like all hope is gone. And we will think like that, especially during this period of the year. The days are short. There is little daylight. It’s dark.

This morning, it was cold and rainy. It seemed like the day would be completely ruined. It was cold, and rainy, and dark. I thought I was going to lose all my hope, especially in this lamentable reading this morning.

But I kept reading….

And here’s where I started finding hope: YET…

There’s your turn right there. For those of you who don’t remember your basic grammar, and that includes me sometimes, the word “yet” is a conjunction, meaning “but at the same time; but nevertheless.” Remember I told you that the cartoon would be important? Here it is – I remembered my Schoolhouse Rock, and one of my favorite songs came to mind:  “Conjunction, Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses!” “Yet” is a conjunction – conjunction junction, what’s your function?

This conjunction’s function serves to give me hope. But at the same time, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

But at the same time, O God, do not be exceedingly angry, and do not remember iniquity forever. But at the same time, O God, remember that we are all your people!

So, my friends, if you want to know how you can find hope in the darkness, remember that it might be dark, at the same time, the light of the world is coming. Remember that it might seems hopeless, at the same time, a new hope is on the horizon. While you make think that all is lost, at the same time, the one sent to save the day is waiting to make his appearance.