I preached this sermon at St. Lydia's on Sunday, November 11, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The text is Isaiah 40:1-5; you can read it here.
Jerusalem is in ruins.
The land that God promised to the Jewish people
is captured by the Babylonians,
who marched the Jews
away from the promised land
and back to Babylon.
And the words of their lament we still sing today,
captured in Psalm 137,
By the waters, of Babylon,
we sat down and wept for Zion.
They are words that resonate for many:
they are sung by those who have been torn from their homeland,
sung by those who have been forcibly brought to another shore.
Sung by those who find themselves in captivity,
for those who have become lost along the way.
And what words does God have for these people,
lost and mourning?
Comfort, comfort my people.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, for she has paid her term.
God has words of comfort for her people,
but not only comfort:
God has a prophesy: a promise.
That the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people, ALL people will have the opportunity to see it together.
God has a promise:
that the earth herself will bow and bend to accommodate this revelation:
the craggy, treacherous terrain of the wilderness
will become as sleek and smooth as an asphalt road
that stretches out to the horizon.
Because God will be revealed.
Because God is breaking in.
I have been yearning for smooth asphalt highways.
For me, it has been a week of bumping along
on winding roads
that seem to keep circling me back to where I started
rather than finding their way toward any kind of destination.
I have felt an urgent, pressing need
to bring someone, somewhere, some kind of relief
from the cold and the dark and the isolation of this hurricane.
The urgency of this feeling, perhaps,
stems not only from compassion for those who are suffering or struggling,
but from my own sense of unease.
I feel this need to somehow fix what has been broken --
to mend what has torn apart,
to repair a rift.
And so this week I’ve plugged in with three different organizations
and worked in three different effected areas.
And I keep getting the feeling that,
through the massive, monumental efforts of organizers and volunteers,
we are reaching many who are in need.
That those who are most in need
are also those who have the least ability to communicate their need
to anyone who might be able to fill their need.
And this is a very unnerving feeling.
On Saturday I spoke on the phone with the Council President
of a Lutheran Church out in Howard Beach,
because a few of us had been trying to get gas delivered to her people,
who badly needed it for their generators during the cold nights after the storm.
I asked her if she knew who might be in the greatest need of gas,
and she said that she really didn’t know.
She had called around to all the members of the church
to see if they were okay,
but all the lines were disconnected.
“I’d have to drive out to their places to check on them,”
she told me,
“but it’s too much of a risk to use the gas
when I don’t know when or where I can get more.”
It feels a little like there’s no way through.
No way to get to the people in need,
no way to know who they are or where they are,
except through methodical canvassing and assessment,
knocking on every door.
And the pace seems much too slow.
I want a highway
to Howard Beach
and Far Rockaway.
I want a highway to Brighton Beach
and Staten Island.
I want the rough places to be made smooth,
for the uneven ground to become level.
I want a highway that runs straight from the a gas station
here in Brooklyn
to the house of the elderly woman who needs it
in Howard Beach,
who’s land line is down
and who feels tremendously isolated.
I yearn for a road that is hard, smooth asphalt,
that the glory of God will be revealed.
Perhaps there are places in your experience,
in your life,
or in this world,
where you feel like there’s no way through.
Places that are nothing but mountains and valleys.
Where you yearn for the rough places to be made smooth.
Perhaps there are places
where you dream of a highway.
For unbroken black asphalt that stretches out to the horizon.
The good news
is that there is a way through.
And the truth is
that we are called to build it.
The voice of the prophet speaks in the command form:
Prepare the way of the Lord!
the prophet tells us.
It’s not theoretical or hypothetical.
It’s an instruction.
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
This is our work.
God shall be revealed,
the uneven ground will be made level,
and it will be our hands that make it so.
God breaks in no matter what.
God breaks in whether we like it or not,
whether we’re ready or not.
God breaks in,
and we prepare the way,
for ALL people to see it together.
For ALL people to stand in that breaking light
and see what is dawning.
It is work that takes place in the craggy, treacherous terrain
of the wilderness.
It happens painfully slowly.
There’s frustration, and redundancy.
There’s circling back and retreading old ground.
There’s chaos, and confusion, and missteps.
And still we are called to make a straight path
because a new light is dawning,
and God is breaking through.
We share the sermon at St. Lydia’s. And so I invite you to reflect in silence and then, if you feel moved, to share a story that’s been sparked for you by the text.