I should be used to it by now but it amazes me each time this happens – when my life and the scripture readings coincide. I am Simon this week. My mother-in-law is sick, she is dying. She is lying in a hospital bed in Smith Falls with Pneumonia, Pulmonary Fibrosis, and dementia and in a general weakened state. The decision was made Friday that no more extreme measures will be taken and she will only have comfort care. The decision was made Saturday that she would be removed from her IV, and oxygen and antibiotics would cease. Rob and his sisters are with her in this time that may be hours or days but my mother-in-law is closer to death than life. I wonder what Jesus healing outstretched hand is offering to my husband and his sisters and his mother in this time – I hope it is offering relief and strength, I hope they are able to let go and be grateful for the love they have shared with their mother, I also hope that it feels liberating, for Phyllis, my mother-in-law as she moves from this world to the world beyond and my biggest hope is that they all find a sense of peace. I do know that Jesus is not offering restoration in the traditional sense, that she will be not like Simon’s mother-in-law, rise up out of her bed and offer food to her children and the nursing staff. But I do know that Jesus is offering healing;
- whether it is reconciliation between the family members
- or forgiveness for past wrongs and affronts
- or understanding towards each other about the different values each sibling carries
- or acceptance that the decisions that they made regarding Phyllis’ care were best ones they could have with the information they had at the time
- or relief that Phyllis’ pain is ending and suffering is over
Jesus healing hands are reaching out right now to offer Rob’s family healing in this time.
And I am also assured that God is there in that room with them as they say their goodbye’s to their mom. I have been with people as they have died and the one thing that I can say about every deathbed I have been it is that the room was never empty, God was there too, it was palpable – you could feel it. God is there to comfort, God is there to offer strength, God is there to support and uphold and love – God’s love fills the room of the dying. God’s presence is comforting.
Comfort oh Comfort my people says God in the beginning of the 40th chapter of Isaiah, 20 verses before our reading that Valarie read a few minutes ago. It is the beginning of a new section of Isaiah – most scholars believe that chapter 1 -39 is spoken by the prophet Isaiah and from 40 onward, scribes and scholars are writing using Isaiah’s voice. For there is a shift at this point – chapter 40 – where the people to whom Isaiah is speaking have changed – they are now a people in exile – the Hebrew people have been conquered by the Babylonians and have been scattered. Some have been taken as slaves, some have had to leave the ruined city and find refuge elsewhere – but whatever their circumstances – the Hebrews are now living in a time when all that they have known and all that they have trusted has shifted – and they are strangers in a strange land, and they have witnessed the destruction of their temple and their culture and their nation. These prophetic words from chapter 40 onward are spoken into this time of upheaval and confusion.
And so what we witness in today’s Old Testament lesson is a conversation between God and God’s people and also the conversation between God and the prophet we call Isaiah. To the prophet God says, “Comfort, o comfort my people.” And that’s just what he does for 311 verses in the fifteen chapters of the book we now call Deutero Isaiah. That prophet and poet we call Isaiah, offers comfort and hope to a people who thought they had been forgotten by God. Comfort and hope to children born in exile and comfort and hope to those grown gray in captivity. Comfort and hope to those who are crying out to God wondering where God is and why they have been abandoned to their captors, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Comfort and hope to those who demand of God, to make Godself know – to awake because to the people in this day and age it feels like God has not been with them for a long long time and they are lost and lonely. Can you relate?
So the prophet is speaking to these people and is trying to find the words to comfort the bereaved and broken? What words of solace do you give to a people who live in adversity? How can you soothe the souls of people who have witnessed their homes destroyed, their temple desecrated, their country brought to ruin? Where is the hope for those whose hopes have been dashed? What is the balm that heals when you think your God has abandoned you?
It’s a wonder that the prophet even took on the job. Who would blame him if he like Jonah, had ran fast and hard in the opposite direction? Perhaps, though, the prophet knew what the people were feeling—perhaps he too shared—his people’s pain, he knew their loss and their grief because it is his loss and grief too. After all, he, too, was a child of the exile. He too had to speak his truth. He had to speak God’s truth.
And what a truth he speaks! He speaks the words of God. Actually he speaks God. Because that’s what a prophet does, they speak the words of God. And the words of comfort this prophet offers are not platitudes, they are not easy sayings. They are not words of false hope or pithy assurances – No- they’re words about the very nature of God and they are words from God, who God is and what God is about. Then the prophet speaks these words with an urgency that cannot be ignored.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” LISTEN UP people – Hear what God says, hear where God is, hear who God is, and hear who belongs to God.
This is God. Your God, our God – God who stretches out the heavens. God who is vastly bigger than our imagination. “The God who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.” This is the God, your God, our God – is in it with us. This is the God of our exile. God bigger than any one moment in history. God bigger than any one moment in our lives. God—beyond our imaginations. God of forever.
Think of it—God beyond time. God eclipsing any one moment and God as close as a partner’s breath, a mother’s womb, a potter’s hand. It’s stunning and so reassuring. And these words – about a God who is here and a God who is with us, and a God who is now and present is not a God of false hope and trite platitudes – this is not a God who is saying, it’s okay folks, things will be fine, all will be well – no this is a God who says – I am here – right here right now! And I am with you and I understand that you are suffering, that you are in pain, that you are afraid – and I am here.
Imagine how reassuring to Jews exiled to Babylon and these words are reassuring to you and me as well. For we all live in exile at one time or another in our lives. Seasons of exile are part of the human condition.
- The exile teenagers face when they are bullied by their peers or tormented on social media or alienated because of cliques.
- The exile of a terminal diagnosis or a crippling disease that has you facing an ending long before your time.
- The searing exile of failure or shame or coming up short. Our culture doesn’t leave much room for that sort of thing.
- The exile of grief. The loss of your beloved, your best friend, your child, your mobility, your senses.
- The exile of depression – those moments or extended periods of time when the world is dark and no hope is found.
- The exile of disappointment, when you realize that the life you thought you were going to lead is not the life you are leading.
- The exile of divorce when all your plans and hope and dreams of a relationship end.
- The exile loneliness when you have become estranged from loved ones or they live so far away, visiting is rare, or when your friends and family have passed away and you feel like you are all alone now.
We all have times of exile in our lives.
And yet God says to those in exile, to you and to me, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Do you not know that I am with you; that I have made you and that I will bear you up on eagles wings? God who stretched out the heavens, who can topple princes and wipe out rulers, can give us the strength to deal with our places of exile. For we belong you and I – to something much bigger than ourselves. In spite of our times of exile, inspite of our times of fear and anxiety, sorrow and grief, loneliness and sadness – in the midst of all of those emotions – we belong to God. And although nothing erases the reality of our seasons of exile, God works even in and through our exiles. God journey’s with us and ‘does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.’
And eventually exile ends and
- A way comes from no way.
- A light is seen in the darkness or
- A healing hand reaches out to yours or
- You move on or
- Strength comes from unexpected sources or
- Insight happens and
A Child is born in Bethlehem.
And a tomb is found empty.
AND God gets into the world one more time
This Old Testament prophet captures this morning our need to know deep, deep within us that God is here, in good times and in bad –in joy and in sorrow, in hope and in despair – at 10 pm last night Rob’s mom was moved into a palliative care bed in the hospital and now the family is sitting vigil. And the prophets voices whispers into their room, reminding them that they are not alone, and as they pause in this time of exile, this waiting for death to come, God will be their strength and companion and will comfort them.
Have you not known – than know this that God is here and you are not alone.
Have you not heard – than hear this – that God will be with you no matter what – the healing hand of Jesus is reaching out – offering restoration and reconciliation.
We are about to share together a sacramental meal – the outward expression of inward grace – and this table welcomes us all – whether we are living in a time of exile or not, we are welcome – whether we feel we are worthy or not, we are welcome, whether we believe or not – we are all welcome. This meal offers comfort to everyone.
Have you not known, have you not heard… we belong you and I to something much bigger than ourselves. We belong to God. Though nothing erases the reality of our seasons of exile, God works even in and through our exile. God is here. And we are God’s people. Thanks be to God. Amen.