Isaiah 64: 1-9; Psalm 80: 1-7, 16-18; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13: 24-37
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” Isaiah, the great prophet in the Hebrew Bible, is speaking out to injustice, imploring God to come down and fix the problems of his day. How many of us have wanted God to do the same? We all yearn for justice, for things to be made right. Whatever your opinion of the outcome of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Illinois, it is impossible to ignore the very basic fact that racial tensions are alive and well in our country. O that God would tear open the heavens and come down.
Isaiah is writing from a place of brokenness. He has witnessed injustice and pain and suffering in his own day and he demands an answer from God. In other words, Isaiah is asking God “how can you be God, and allow injustice and suffering to perpetuate its ugly head on the earth?” This is a question many of us are still asking today.
Our world is broken, and many of us feel so isolated from one another. This is a deep rooted pain and reality that no amount of Black Friday Christmas shopping will soothe. We are in Advent, and even though we are four weeks from Christmas, our readings over the next few weeks remind us that Jesus Christ was not born so that human beings could spend all of December shopping or saying “Merry Christmas.” Jesus was born to confront the rulers of this world with the love and justice of God – that Jesus, the same Jesus who preached that the poor and marginalized were blessed – that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
Last week I visited with a young woman who I have known for a long time, but had not really talked to in over twenty years. We knew each other through the Episcopal Church and Diocesan youth events. She is married now, and she told me about her children, one of whom, is on the Autism spectrum.
I asked which Episcopal Church they were attending, and she said that they weren’t attending one. I was somewhat surprised by her answer, since when I knew her as a teenager, she was very involved church activities. Anticipating my question, “why aren’t you attending an Episcopal church?” she explained that they had been members of an Episcopal Church at one time, but that her family was asked to leave the parish because of their son with Autism. As a father of a child on the Autism spectrum, my heart broke when I heard this.
I felt like Isaiah, demanding an account from God, “when are you going to tear open the heavens come down, and fix your church?” And then I saw online a picture of Pope Francis warmly embracing a young child with Autism. I read the article that accompanied the picture about a conference at the Vatican on the church’s response to Autism. I loved Pope Francis before, but I love him even more now! Sometimes, the church does get it right.
In several months, St. Andrew’s will add a new service for families with children that have special needs. We will open our Parish Hall to families of all faith traditions, and it is my hope that this service will offer healing and compassion to those families who were perhaps once told they were not welcome in a church. We will welcome them.
It is a modest attempt toward justice and representation for all of God’s children. I believe God is calling St. Andrew’s to be a church that welcomes all people. A church where heaven is broken open, and in that opening – we catch a glimpse of heaven in the eyes of a disabled child, or in meeting a same gendered couple who share a similar story – that they too were no longer welcomed in their parish. In them, and in each other, we witness heaven breaking open.
After asking God to open the heavens and come down to earth, the next thing Isaiah says is this: “you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down and the mountains quaked at your presence.”
The mountains are quaking here now. Do you hear them? Heaven has opened, and Christ is with us. AMEN.