Lift Up Your Voice with Strength – Aug. 2, 2020
Lift Up Your Voice with Strength
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
August 2, 2020
Main Idea: God empowers us with fierce and tender love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Our Scripture this morning is so familiar and beloved, for very good reason. It is a balm to our troubled souls, a cool cup of comfort on hot day, a snippet of Advent and Christmas in the midst of this wild summer. And some guy named Handel has set it to a rather catchy tune, which jumps out of the page, at least for me, when I read the text. Because it is so familiar, we sometimes skim over its content and we jump to how it is interpreted in the Gospels, such as “a voice of one crying in the wilderness” instead of “a voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD”. So this morning we will enter into the text, as though we are a part of the story, for it does have a part for us to play. Through this text God empowers us with God’s fierce and tender love.
First, we should know that the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah are full of warnings and oracles of doom and other dire consequences for the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding nations. Isaiah preached that the people would suffer because they had turned away from the ways of God, neglecting the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and even God’s self. Everything that Isaiah predicted about Jerusalem did come to pass: the people suffered when first, the Assyrians were at their doorstep, and later when the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem, taking many of the people as captives and slaves to Babylon. After all these warnings, Chapters 40-55 are dramatically different. Written 200 years later, they bring words of hope and comfort to the exiles living in captivity.
Let’s imagine that all of us are present at a heavenly council with God and all the angels; it is a staff meeting on a divine scale, for this is the setting of today’s text. We are here and God is here and the angels are all around. We are very small and they are very big. It is quite overwhelming and so we sit quietly, seemingly unnoticed amidst the grand scene.
God brings the meeting to order and lifts up the first order of business which is tidings of good news to God’s people who are living in oppression and exile. They have been beaten down by their oppressors. They live in hardship, and they are burdened with grief, guilt, and despair. They believe that their suffering is the justifiable consequence of their sin and God’s anger and so they feel distant and abandoned by God.
Because of this, God says to the angels; “We all must bring comfort, great comfort to my people. When we speak to them, we will do so tenderly and lovingly. We will let them know that their time of suffering and exile is over. No longer are they held in contempt for their past. They have more than paid back what they had squandered. No more talk of grave consequences, no more warnings of disaster. At long last they are free to go home! Speak comfort to them. Speak of love, and grace, and mercy.”
Once God is finished speaking, one of the angels stands up and proclaims in a loud and beautiful voice. ” Let us prepare the way of the Lord. All of creation; the mountains, the valleys, the rough places, and the plains will work together and with us to make a highway for God. The people will go home with no troubles, no obstacles, no wandering (like the last time!), for God will be with them, guiding and sustaining them, in this new Exodus. And in this way the glory of the LORD shall be revealed and all the world shall see it together! Straight from God’s mouth to everyone’s ears.”
Another angel then turns to us and says “Okay, you tell it! Let everybody know!” (Imagine an angel speaking directly to you, telling you to say something!) We say, “What? Us? What can we say? We are nothing, we are so small and insignificant. And frankly, we are not strong or dependable. We are like grass which withers and fades. We are not worthy. We are not capable of saying anything as grand as the word of God.
And the angel replies, “You are right. You are so small. Your big concerns are infinitesimal when compared to all of creation. All of your history, your triumphs and your tragedies, are like a blink of the eye, but the truth of the matter is that God loves you! Each and everyone of you! Each one of you is a herald of good tidings! So, get up to a high mountain and sing out with strength, like the great herald you are called to be! Shout out to the world, “Don’t be afraid! Here is our God!” Don’t stop until everyone hears!
And then the angel describes our God with vivid images of power and care. See, our God is coming with strength and tenderness; like a proud papa who will carry his tired child on his shoulders for miles; like a fierce mama who will shelter her child from danger. A fierce warrior whose arm is outstretched not to strike down someone, but to scoop up lambs and lead the sheep. God is coming, right here, right now, to lead, and feed, and carry so that none are left behind. This is what God, and the angels, and Isaiah, urge us to share with the world.
Can we do this? Can we believe this? Our world is in unprecedented crises and turmoil. We cry out to God to “Tear open the heavens and come down” to fix the mess we have made here. We search for God in the suffering around us. Today we hear God’s response. “Comfort, O comfort my people.” God does come to us. God wills good things; not only for us but for everybody. God loves us with a fierce and tender love which knows us, as we are, and which will never leave us.
This fierce and tender love empowers us to work with God to bring about God’s will for our world. This fierce and tender love compels us to lift up our voices with strength. Even from our homes, and social distanced spaces, we can lift up our voices, we can make ourselves heard. This week we watched the funeral services for Representative John Lewis whose whole life was dedicated to lifting up his voice in service of the Beloved Community of God. He was almost killed on multiple occasions for lifting up his voice and bearing witness to the injustices he saw around him, injustices, some of which, continue to this day. John Lewis was a person of deep faith, a Baptist, and a long-time member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. On the day of his funeral, the New York Times published an essay he wrote to be shared on that day. I encourage you to find the essay and read it in its entirety. But I want to share a small part of it for it demonstrates how the fierce and tender love of God can strengthen and empower us. Mr. Lewis writes,
“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.
Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.
When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/30/opinion/john-lewis-civil-rights-america.html)
As we prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, I invite us to ponder this fierce and tender love which God so freely shares with each one of us. Let us allow this love to animate and empower all that we say and do.
Let us pray,
Gracious and loving God, we thank you for your amazing and unending love for us. We marvel at this love and we ask that we might be empowered to know and love and serve you more each day. Amen.