A Call To Be Road Construction Workers

Isaiah 40:1-11

**I am unsure what happened to the videoing of this sermon. All I know is it’s in the following snippets which may, or may not, be in order.**

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

I took this picture partially because it made me laugh. Out loud. And smile wide. Really wide. A small construction zone on County Road 7, School Road, just south of town. Take turns. It brought to my mind basic lessons I learned when I was a kid – don’t run with scissors, share, look both ways before crossing the street, come home when the town siren goes off, don’t hit back, take turns. Really basic stuff, right?

Construction zones are not usually this, ahhh, polite. I could see clearly if there was another vehicle on the other side. I knew when it was my turn. It took a whole10 seconds off of my commute. We are used to construction being more disruptive, more inconvenient for us. Some kind of imposition. Like when they replaced the bridge on South Grade Road. That was a huge inconvenience for a number of you here. You had to take alternative routes and it added considerable time to simply running to the grocery store or getting to work on time. You had to re-think an old route. You had to change how you thought about it.

Or we are used to construction that we encounter in the Twin Cities: 3 lanes or 6 lanes narrow down to 2 or 1 lane which results in traffic at a stand still and people taking stupid risks riding the shoulder.

When you see the “road construction ahead” signs, we know things are going to be different. Things are going to change. Our normal route has been disrupted. The way we always go is about to change. We get grumpy. We get impatient. Yet, we follow the signs, we slow down, we let others in front of us. We are delayed and inconvenienced.

Today, we are plunged into the reality of a people in exile. The Israelites have been taken into exile, dragged from their homes and their very way of life by the Babylonians. Their place of worship has been destroyed, their way of life disrupted or ended. They are taunted by the Babylonians, “where is your God now?” The Empire has struck back, and the strike has left the Israelites reeling. Everything has changed. They don’t know the way any longer. Where is God now, they ask?

A question you may be asking today. It’s hard to feel safe when you look at the news. It’s a relentless litany of tragedy that threatens our ideas of safety, of what it means to be alive and to be free. What kind of exile are we living in now? Where is God? This terrain is unrecognizable, seemingly impassable.

 

The New York Daily News would subtly suggest that God isn’t, at the very least, listening. “God isn’t fixing this,” the front page screams. There have been more mass shootings in 2015 than there have been days in the calendar year thus far. And the people are done with politicians stepping up to the mic to express condolences through thoughts and prayers while doing nothing to actually call into question what it means to be a responsible gun owner in the United States. And I agree with the sentiment around political platitudes.

But I don’t agree with the headline.

I will admit: in the face of constant gun violence, calling us to pray, to light candles, holding silence – they are all necessary actions, but they seem, on the face of it, useless. Like using a bucket to empty the ocean. Prayer seems passive compared to the aggression of mass shootings. Prayer looks paper thin in the face of systemic racism.

But I am convinced, in fact I stake my life on the fact that God works through prayer. God speaks to us and tells us what to do. We just have to learn to shut our mouths and calm our racing minds long enough to remember that God is God and we are not. And God tells us what needs to happen through this seemingly innocuous, pious activity of prayer and reading scripture.

The headline should be, “God is fixing this through us – but we’re not listening” or “God is fixing this – we just don’t follow directions.” “God is constantly fixing this – we just have other plans.”

Just listen to how God speaks to us today through Isaiah:

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 We are called to be construction workers. We are the ones being called out onto the highways to re-direct traffic and to lay down cones and to generally make people move over or slow down or make room. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord and we just keep getting distracted and we’d rather set up “road closed” signs and just call it a day. Because road construction is constant and relentless work. In Minnesota, there are 2 seasons, right? Winter and Road Construction. Well, this road construction God calls us to is never done. There is always re-paving and re-routing to be done. Sometimes major over hauls. Other times little surface level tweaks. We are called to not only fold our hands in prayer but also to get our hands dirty, preparing the road with our own sweat and tears. Because obeying God is hard. Following directions means we are not in control and boy, there’s nothing we chafe at more.

Yet we know we are not to do this work on our own. God doesn’t wipe God’s hands clean of us and say “well, you figure it out – you’re on your own.” God is the one who is faithful, even as we wither like grass in the midday sun. Even as the bloom comes off the rose, God remains with us, working on us, inspiring us, bugging us. Because God will not be stopped.

This is not simple answers or platitudes. This is about the hard work of naming the injustice. Naming our own stuff and then reminding ourselves that God is faithful. And God is going to make God’s presence known among us. So that we can say to each other – Here is your God! See!? God is fixing this. God is fixing us through this work God has called us to do.

Because to be called to love and serve others? Well it means we are re-routed all the time to show love for someone else, and that is making room for God to come down that new road, isn’t it? Making room for God always changes us. Making room for God always involves reaching out to other people. Call a local florist in San Bernitdito or Colorado Springs and send a simple bouquet to the staff at Planned Parenthood or the ER workers and sign the card “from a stranger who thought you might be sad today.”[1] That straightens out the road, that brings the mountain down. How about bringing food to a family in crisis? Smoothing out the rough spots. Paying for someone’s meal, speaking up when a sexist or racist joke is made? That’s leveling the surface. It’s making way for God.

God is re-routing us, folks. We’ve got new roadways to head down. We’ve got to not only think about gun violence and race in nuanced ways – not simply “right” or “wrong” but we’ve got to demand those who represent us at the highest levels of government to think and to act in ways that go beyond simple dualistic thinking. For us to simply say that All Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter ignores the complexities of systemic racism; just like saying that the solution to gun violence is to Take All The Guns away is the way to tackle gun violence.

You see, God created us with amazing minds to navigate the complexities of life. God also created us with hearts that, when they are centered on God, when they are broken open by God, well then, we see that worshiping and loving God is not a private endeavor but one that calls us to love and serve the whole ding dang world. When we divorce our hearts from our minds, well then, God can’t fix much through us folks.

Isaiah laments our faithlessness: All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades;

We fail to act on our lives of faith again and again. We do not serve the Lord but serve ourselves, our habits our addictions. Our faith is gone as quickly as it came.

But Isaiah, the weary preacher, rallies. Just listen to this:

but – but! he says, the word of our God will stand forever. He bounces back, remembering to preach about God’s faithfulness and not our faithlessness. And now that he’s remembered God’s faithfulness to us, well then, Isaiah lays out a road for us to announce just who God is and where God is and what God is doing:

Get you up to a high mountain, or at least a high spot in the road O citizens of Hutchinson, tellers of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Hutchinson, bringers of the best news ever, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of San Bernadino and Washington DC, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might.

This is what changes roads, people. This is what levels seemingly insurmountable mountains and terrain so rugged it’s never seen the feet of humans. Through the likes of us, using our God-given talents and common sense to take turns, to give others the right of way, to slow down, to not hit back. The way forward is changed. The road is made level. The lanes open up and traffic resumes in a new direction. Perhaps we remember the re-routing and the pain that came with it. Or maybe it doesn’t cross our minds again, the road being so much nicer than it was before, you can’t imagine you put up with the old way for so long.

God is fixing the road for us. God is always out ahead of us, pointing us in a new direction, redirecting us, making way for the Savior of the world who then makes the way for us. And the way always looks like it’s the way for losers: for those who dare to pray and to sing and to gather in community where we here angels proclaim that those in power will be toppled; that the lowly will be made high. All the while God is making the roadway wide enough and level enough to welcome us. Where we can undeniably proclaim “God is fixing us” – it’s a mess, and it takes a long, long time. But the word of God will stand forever.

[1] http://iambeggingmymothernottoreadthisblog.com/2015/11/28/fifteen-things-for-when-the-world-is-shitty-and-terrifying/

*Also, the idea of God calling us to be construction workers is inspired and stolen from Allen Storey, an incredible preacher from South Africa.

 

Speak Your Mind

*