This is a transcript from the June 7, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
By the Waters of Babylon, we lay down and we wept. How can we sing the Lord's song in such a strange land? In this Psalm, is words of displacement, of disorientation, discouragement, this deep disconnection. I was originally going to use this as a way of talking about some of the deep displacement that we have felt over these past months with the COVID-19 and how it has disoriented and displaced us as a community, as a congregation and how it is that we were going to move forward in this strange land.
It's a good sermon, but it's going to have to wait through another day because there is a deeper displacement and deeper disorientation that we are experiencing and it's connected and it's not all that surprising, I suppose. When COVID-19 first came on, we talked about the dangers of being exposed to it, but we also acknowledged the problems of being exposed by it. What we meant was that this disease that was coming on this uncertainly had the way of peeling off the veneer of what was normal and the way things were and as it has appealed off, we began to see things and be exposed by things that we weren't happy about but were there.
It exposed our own fears. It exposed our anxieties. It exposed deep divisions. It exposed our own pride. It exposed all kinds of things that we had been able to at least, for a little while, keep the lid on, and now the lid was coming off. Boy, the last several weeks, that lid has come off in new ways, hasn't it? Even deeper ways, we are being revealed. Things that we had hoped we had made more progress on are being revealed, is there all the more? A deeper sense of grief and the pain of anger, of rage, of anxiety.
I found myself this week weeping at strange times. It'd be a word, It'd be an image, and all over sudden, I just found myself being full and not knowing what to do. It was a way of saying that there was something in me that was welling up with the normal veneer gone. That was something being revealed in us in me and it was painful. I'm reminded by the wisdom of a very wise person that once told me, "Listen to the pain that's in your life. It's trying to tell you something, don't waste it." If you put your hand too near a hot stove, your hand will begin to hurt, there will be pain because it's telling you your hand doesn't belong there, there is something dangerous here. This is wrong. Pay attention to it.
It's trying to tell you something. Don't waste the pain. We have had a collective hot stove moment again these past several weeks, haven't we? This moment of something in the human psyche that is telling us, "Pay attention. There's something going on here." There's this fear and this grief and this anger, this rage, this anxiety, this depression, this sadness. It's telling us something. If we'll let it, the question is, will we waste this pain or will we learn from it? It's telling us that something is very wrong, that we weren't made for this, that there is something in the human condition that's not made for this.
I began to wonder if it is also may be telling us about something that's very right or something very right that's not yet. What I mean by that is, times like this, I am drawn to my favorite passages. One of my favorite chapters of the Bible is Romans 8. In this chapter, is all kinds of words about groaning and sighing. It's about being revealed, and something that's being revealed in us. It's about pain.
It talks about the spirit that comes and prays on our behalf through groans that are too deep for words. It says "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. Creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay, and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Something very right that's not yet."
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only creation, we ourselves who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we groan inwardly while we await the adoption, the redemption of our bodies for we do not know how to pray as we are but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs to deeper words. Have you had that experience this week because I sure have? I've been trying to listen to carefully -- I don't want to waste this pain. I want to listen to it. I think there is something redemptive in it, there's something of God in it.
In our pastor's book club, we're finishing up tonight with a book called The Altar in the World. Part of what Barbara Brown Taylor in this wonderful book helps us do is begin to see all the places that God is being revealed in our world and normally, we find God and we look at God to show up in all the usual places, the celebrations, the smile of a baby, a sunrise, sunset, the flower, all of those things. Of course, we should.
There's a deeper level of the revealing of God. It is even in the places and especially in the places of doubt and of darkness and of fear. We challenged ourselves this week to begin to notice where it was that God was being revealed in the places that we would normally not expect God to be. I was reminded of that phrase that I don't know who said it, but I found it powerful in my life about when we see suffering, and something inside of us is raging against it, it's the saying that says, "I saw the starving child and I screamed at God until I realized the starving child was God screaming at me."
That's what I mean by the revealing of God that is in this pain that something good that is not yet here is trying to get our attention, is trying to make way that there is something new being born or trying to be, if we will let it, something new that's trying to emerge in this world and it's waiting, it's waiting for the people who will let that happen in them first.
This is a time of deep pain, will we waste it? Will we listen to it? Will we learn from it? I appreciate the prayer we're about to hear next. It's from Olivia Hudson Smith. She's our Stated Clerk. A week or so ago, she offered this beautiful prayer on behalf of the Presbytery of Denver that spoke to the moment. It was the pain of the agony and the fear of what is. It bespeaks the hope of what is yet to be, what's not here yet. In this moment, wherever we are, let's listen. Let's let these words become ours.
Olivia Hudson Smith: Please pray with me. Impartial God of all creation, we come before you this day with lament in our hearts for your people. Lord, as we face uncertainty in the world, we mourn the inequity, which we are witness to throughout the world, amid a health pandemic, and the pandemics of evil, injustice, and human brutality. You, oh Lord, who knew us before we were knit together in our mother's wombs, who loves us unconditionally, and weeps over our inhumanity, open our hearts and our eyes to see each human life as valued and created for your purpose.
Merciful God, we mourn over and over for those too many to name lives that have not mattered for so many for George Floyd, in all African American men and women, who have suffered and died at the hands of an unjust society that views them less than your beloved created in your image. You know their names, you know their purpose. Forgive those who do not. We seek Your mercy for the fathers and mothers who are tired and weary knowing that every time their black and brown babies walk out the doors, they are viewed as a threat.
Gracious One, we pray for all children who are deprived of human dignity, those separated from parents and families at our borders, those who are without shelter and proper clothing, food, and water, whose suffering is made worse by human systems of inequality. Holy One, let your presence be palpable to all creation. Fill your people with the Holy Spirit, the spirit of hope, the spirit of love for our neighbors, knowing that in your kingdom, there are no strangers, none that are less than your beloved. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Pastor Russ: We don't want to waste the pain, but how do we do that? How do we go about dealing with this pain, because there's really only a couple of ways to deal with pain, isn't there? One way, of course, is that we run from it. We don't want to deal with it so we distract ourselves and we cover our ears and our eyes so we don't have to see it. We're good at that. I'm good at that. Another way, of course, is that we try to repress it. We push it back down. We try to get it organized. We explain it away. We assign guilt for or blame for it. We blame other people for it. We scapegoat around it, anything that we can do to somehow get it back in the box so we can get back to normal.
Sure, let's blame the police for this, and certainly, there are police who abuse power. There's whole departments that aren't dealing with this well, but by and large, the vast number are good people trying to do good things in an impossible situation. We can blame that group. We can blame another group. We can blame the people on the left, we can blame the people on the right. We can demonize them and say, "They're the problem, and if only they would behave." We can blame politicians. We can blame our neighbor, whole classes of people. We can do that.
Eventually, we will get it back in the box, and then we will get on to normal, but am I the only one who thinks that maybe normal isn't the goal here, that maybe what we are experiencing right now is some of the consequences of what used to be normal? Because we kept ourselves comfortable there, now that the veneer, the lid is off, that we are getting to experience the unfinished business of our life. The third thing is that we can take this pain, and one way to not waste it, one way to not just have to put it back in the box till it recycles back through and comes again in another day is to, of course, redeem it, which is the work of hope.
Hope is that work of God. As somebody said, hope is the thing that comes and brings comfort in times of suffering, but it also brings the divine protest against the causes of suffering. It is the hope that is welling up that says, "This is not right yet." It challenges those things and it brings, if we let it, change. Change is that thing that's hard. We don't change easily, we typically change. Somebody said we change when it hurts so much that we have to change, and we change only when we see enough that we want to change.
Real change takes place when we are supported enough that we're able to change. Change is the work of hope. Therefore, it is what the creation is yearning for. It is groaning for, it is longing for, as it's waiting for the people of change. It is waiting for what our passage calls the children of God to be revealed. Sometimes the Bible talks about the children of God, and it's every living being. In this case, it's talking about the adopted children of God, and the adopted children are the ones who are taking on the family traits and identity.
Creation is groaning and waiting for children of God to emerge, the people who are taking on the hope and the work of God. At least one large part of that is how we deal with suffering, and the God who comes in, suffers for us and suffers because of us and suffers with us. The children of God will be revealed as the ones who are doing that good work for the sake of others. It is important work. It is serious work. I think it was Richard Rohr who talked about, what do we do with the suffering and pain in our life? He said, "You really only have two options. Either you will transform that pain or you will transmit it. There is no third option."
We are certainly seeing lots and lots of examples of people who are transmitting the pain, who are not letting it do its work. They're wasting the pain by just passing it on and amplifying it out into the system into others. All of creation is longing and groaning for those people who will emerge, who'll do the work that helps somehow transform that pain so that something good, something that's right that's not here yet can be done. That's where this passage cuts across us this day. It is not easy, but oh, my goodness, is it important?
While I know that while we're doing this online, and we will continue, that there are people who will watch us who are not part of the New Hope congregation, I want to particularly hold this up for you, the congregation of New Hope. Listen, we know how to do this. We can build on this. We can build on some of the pain of the past. We can build on what we have learned in the past. We can build on those hard conversations that we have had, and out of that, something new has emerged.
We can build on the current work that's going on with the race in racism class and as we're learning about its roots and its causes and how it is embedded in each of us and what we can do and help transform that into something that is good. We can build on the way that pain and suffering has made us more resilient and more compassionate. We already have stepping stones to this, and we can take the next step. When we do, we begin to understand this passage in a new way, that maybe we are part of the children of God that this creation is longing for, is groaning for, is aching for, and as we do, that ache and that groan, the sighs that are too deep for words, we begin to recognize that what is working in and through us is who is working in and through us. It is the Spirit of God.
In this time of displacement, in this time of great disorientation, may we not waste the pain that is upon us. May we not run from it, may we not just stick it back in the box. May we do the work of redeeming that pain. May we do the work of hope. May we do the work of love. We're loving God this week in new ways with all our hearts, soul, mind, and strength. May we find new ways to love our neighbor as ourselves.
As we pass the peace of Christ to one another this day, may we recognize that it is not that fragile peace that uneasy truce that we so often mistake for peace. It is not the simple comfort of everyone just staying the same so we don't have to deal with the pain. May it be, in fact, the biblical peace of Shalom, that deep wholeness, that wholeness that is established with one another, and as we do, with God. As you go out this week, truly may the peace of Christ be with you.