Message for July 26, 2020
Text: Isaiah 52:7-10
As I mentioned a minute ago, the sentiment that opens today’s text from Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the person who brings a message of peace” is the equivalent of the now-old expression, “You are a sight for sore eyes!”
I never really gave this expression much thought before, as it’s largely gone out of fashion in my lifetime. I heard it in old movies or read it in books, of course. The context that comes to my mind is the long-awaited arrival of a bedraggled traveller — and I used to think the expression had more to do with the “bedraggled-ness” of the one arriving than the “soreness of eye” of those doing the welcoming. Upon further reflection, though, I now “get” the phrase. It’s an expression of relief at receiving long-awaited news about someone beloved, a way of saying “I have been so worried and anxious.” “Sore eyes” had come from crying, or from staying up late, with this worry — and whether the arrival was the actual person worried about, or the person who bore news about that worried-over loved one, their arrival meant the end of that long period of waiting and uncertainty.
In our age of telecommunications, we usually don’t have to wait so very long for most news; it doesn’t have to come via an in-person messenger, coming over the mountains. And so this particular phrase has faded from vernacular use, for the most part.
But that doesn’t mean we no longer find ourselves waiting for good news, does it? It doesn’t mean we are not still anxious and worried about things. In fact, we — along with our neighbors, and our fellow human beings across the planet — are still longing for the messengers “with beautiful feet,” for peace, for healing and for the assurance that God is still in control in this world that feels completely out-of-control. We are still waiting, longing, for good news.
As I read this passage, what also comes to my heart is sadness, as I consider how often the sight of people of faith does not bring that sense of relief — how often a Christian coming onto the scene stirs up suspicion or anger instead.
Do people see, in us, a reflection of Jesus? Do they see us bringing peace, or throwing our weight around? Do they see us bringing hope and healing, or a preservation of the status quo? Do they receive assurance that their God is in charge, or do they hear us say, “Our God,” and think they are excluded?
I did a couple internet searches for images illustrating this verse from Isaiah, and was struck by how many focused on the “mountains” part of the verse, and not the justice. I was struck by how many of those that did use “feet,” used white feet. Whom do we think this message is for? What is our picture of “normal” or “ideal” when it comes to beauty, or faithfulness or the deserving of deliverance? Why is it, when we read scripture, that we so often cast ourselves in the starring role, as the “good” disciple and not the Pharisee, as the one receiving freedom from bondage and not the oppressor, as the savior and not the Pharoah? (Pastor Erna Kim Hackett calls this “Disney princess theology.”)
I watched an interview with a Methodist pastor this week who confessed that he and his congregation had been struck to the heart by the recent Facebook post of an African-American colleague, Rev. Dr. Jacqueline Lewis, who wrote that “the silence in much of white Christianity,” in the face of the lynching death of Ahmaud Arbery and others, “reveals a tradition that worships whiteness and not Jesus.” Pastor Andy Oliver described how he and his church have gone through a careful self-examination as a community, of their liturgy, their language, their architecture and their customary ways of doing things. They call it a “racial audit.” It’s been part of a many-years-long process of wrestling with racism, and it has brought transformation to their congregation, which is now more multicultural in its makeup, and which has become an influential force in their broader community.
Ours is a world that sorely needs messengers — humble ones — who bring peace, who have good news to share that includes everyone, who offer healing for what is broken, and who remind us of Who is really in control, Who really holds the present and the future, Who really can be trusted in the face of all that is so uncertain and unjust in this world.
Throughout this series, the intention of cultivating more regular contemplative practices has not been to provide an “escape” from the world, but to draw us more deeply into it, to appreciate both the beauty and the tragedy that makes us all human and fragile. In so doing, our hearts may be made more open and tender to what is breaking God’s heart in our world.
In an interview with Dr. Marcia McFee, Dr. Wendy Farley admits: “I started this book because I needed help with my own resilience.” In the face of so much disheartening news — about climate change, deeply entrenched institutional racism, and the political culture of lies, she asked herself, “How can I stay courageous? How can I keep my heart open? How can I stay interested in the world?” It came to her as she wrote: “If you are nourished by the beauty of the world, and the goodness and sweetness of God, you will have more resource for accepting the truth of suffering and injustice, and responding to it… you are driven into the tragedy of the world.”
There is a balance to be struck here. Dr. Farley reminds us: “It’s not indulgence to make sure your tank is full.” At the same time, you can’t stay in “retreat” mode forever. Truly nurturing the love of beauty, connecting with the sacredness of beings, will, again and again, drive us back into action — if we make this self-nurture a God-centered, spiritual practice.
Dr. Allie Utley writes: “The contemplative life unravels us and stretches us. That is not comfortable.”
It is a discomfort, though, to which we are called — a walking in the way of Jesus, to bring hope and healing to this beautiful and broken world around us.
In that spirit, our next worship and study series will invite us into a journey of learning and self-reflection on the sin and injustice of racism. We will be doing this in concert with and in consultation with resources coming out of our broader United Methodist denomination. On Wednesday mornings on Zoom, we’ll engage in some deep and important conversation. In worship, we’ll read scripture and think theologically, reflecting on God’s vision for a just and more humane society. And daily, we’ll offer readings, art, and journal prompts to stimulate individual soul-searching and stretching as we “lean into discomfort” together, for the sake of God’s good will for all.
May our walk of faith leave us weary, humble, and deeply in love with God’s beautiful and broken world, and with God’s beautiful and broken people. May our feet be beautiful, and our lives, hearts and voices bear messages of peace, justice, hope, healing, and trust. Amen.