“Broken Open”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 9, 2014

Scripture:  Isaiah 43:1-7

 

When your heart is broken, it can feel like you’re very much alone. It can feel like you’ve been lifted out of life as you knew it and deposited unceremoniously in a vast, foreign, barren landscape, a stony desert where your only companions are sharp-toothed predators that gnaw away at your hope until it has all but disappeared.

When your heart is broken, it can feel like all the light has gone out of the world. It can feel like all the joy has been dimmed, all the pleasure has been dulled, all the delight you once felt at the world around you has been erased by a fog of numbness, a cloud of gray mist that makes everything blurry and bleak and monochromatic.

When your heart is broken, it can feel like you are walking around with a vast, gaping hole in your chest. It can feel like your grief is an open wound that nobody else can see, and every little stick or stone feels sharper and harder against your tender flesh, and the littlest thing can set you off, can make your throat constrict, and your voice falter, and your eyes brim with tears.

When your heart is broken, you can feel alone, dislocated, wounded, in the dark. And when you feel that way, when your heart is broken, you need a word from the Lord. You need this word from the prophet Isaiah.

 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

      I have called you by name, you are mine.

 

I am the One, says God, the One who created you. I formed you from the dust. I shaped your inmost parts. I molded your body; I sculpted your spirit; I know you intimately and cherish you entirely. I breathed my breath into you and gave you life. You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

      and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

      and the flame shall not consume you.

 

I am the One, says God, the One who created you, and I will not abandon you, now or ever. When your path leads you through briars and thorns, I will be there to bind up your wounds. When your road is long and steep, I will be there to give you strength. When your way is dark and the light is gone, I will be there to take your hand and lead you home. When you come to death’s very door, I will be there as you cross that threshold, and I will be there to dance with you on the other side.

You’ll notice that the scripture says when, not if. As you know only too well, to be a child of God, a follower of Jesus, does not guarantee you safe passage through this world. In fact, it is quite the opposite. As you know only too well, to be a child of God, a follower of Jesus, means you travel through this life with your heart wide open, loving the world in spite of the floods of sorrow and fires of struggle that you know will come.

To be a child of God does not guarantee you safe passage through this world. But it does guarantee you this: that you will not be alone, come what may. That the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb, the God who keeps count of your tossings and collects your tears in her bottle, the God who took mortal flesh and entered this world, the God who endured the very worst that the world could do and turned it into love and life—the God who has called you by name, has called you his own, will be with you always.

If this notion of God-with-us brings you comfort, I am glad. And if this notion of God-with-us leaves you with some questions, I am not surprised. For as long as humans have existed, people have wondered why there is innocent suffering, why bad things happen to good people.

If God is with us, then why are there diseases like Ebola and HIV and cancer?

If God is with us, then why is there war and terrorism?

If God is with us, then why did your mother get sick, or your brother lose his job, or your spouse turn against you, or your friend betray you, or your child cut you out of his life?

If God is with us, then why did our good, faithful, beloved sister Diane die?

 

Isaiah doesn’t answer these questions for us. Today’s reading doesn’t explain car accidents or sudden deaths, where they come from or why they happen. And given how long humans have been asking this question, and given how many smart people have wrestled with it over the centuries, if there were a simple answer, someone surely would have come up with it by now.

I don’t know how to answer the question why. And I would suggest that anyone who thinks they have a sure-fire, iron-clad, fully-certain answer probably hasn’t gone deep enough.

Isaiah doesn’t answer these questions for us. I don’t know how to answer these questions for us. But what I do know, and what Isaiah gives us, is this assurance: God is with you. Come hell or high water, the devil or the deep blue sea, no matter what, God is with you. God will never leave you or forsake you. Not ever.

 

In the midst of this sad, hard week, I have had a front-row seat to witness the truth of Isaiah’s promise. I have had a front-row seat to witness God at work. And I want to tell you—I need to tell you—what I have seen.

I have seen you spend eight hours in the car for a one-hour visit with Ted in the hospital. I have seen you take in cats, and unpack suitcases, and run errands, and clean gutters. I have seen you offer to cook, or clean, or drive. I have seen you take on new and expanded roles with Christmas on the Hill. I have seen you offer to direct handbells, and conduct the choir, and share special music. I have seen you offer to clean bathrooms and scrub sinks and vacuum carpets, asking nothing in return.

I have seen you walk bravely into these deep waters of grief. I have seen you weep. I have seen you doubt. I have seen you rage. I have seen you pray. I have seen you comfort one another with a gentle hand, a tender word, a quiet hug. I have seen you pass around the Kleenex and wipe one another’s tears. Even in the midst of your own pain, I have seen you have compassion for the pain of your sisters and brothers.

I have seen you offer yourselves up in more ways than I can count. I have seen God’s love made real in our midst through the care and generosity you have shared. I have seen you be the Body of Christ, God’s hands and feet and heart on earth.

I have seen your hearts be broken; I have seen you be broken open. And what has poured forth from your broken-open hearts has been nothing less than the Holy Spirit herself, a tidal wave of unspeakable kindness and love.

 

Isaiah doesn’t explain car accidents or sudden deaths, war or disease or abuse or betrayal. I don’t know how to tell you why bad things happen to good people. But if I am sure of anything, my friends, I am sure of this: that God is with us, that God is with you.

 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.

Do not fear, for I am with you.

 

And here’s the thing about that assurance, about that promise: it is not only for us, but for everyone. It is for every one of God’s sons, even those who are far away. It is for every one of God’s daughters, even those who are scattered to the ends of the earth. It is for everyone who is called by God’s name, everyone whom God formed and made—which is to say, it is for all of creation.

Isaiah’s promise, God’s promise, is for everyone. And here’s how the world will know: because God has sent the church, God has sent you, to make it so. God has sent you to be the embodiment of God’s love in action in the world.

God has sent you, even with your broken hearts, to pour forth compassion.

God has sent you, even when it seems like there can’t possibly be enough, to extend generosity.

God has sent you, even in the face of fear, to proclaim joy.

God has sent you, even where there is anger, to offer mercy.

God has sent you to travel through this life with your hearts wide open, loving the world in spite of the floods of sorrow and fires of struggle that we know will come—because God has first loved us, because we are strengthened and upheld by the One whose promises are trustworthy and true. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

 

Even when you feel like you’re very much alone, even when it feels like all the light has gone out of the world, even when it feels like you are walking around with a vast, gaping hole in your chest—even in the empty silence of your grief, even when your heart is broken—especially when your heart is broken—church, you still have a song to sing. It’s a song that says that bad news does not have the last word, that despair is not the end, that death does not win, that love triumphs over all. It’s a song that says that we are not alone, that God will never leave us or forsake us, not ever.

When your heart is broken, when you are broken open, let this be the song that pours forth—a song of love and mercy, strength and compassion, generosity and trust, courage and grace. Do not be afraid; I am with you.

For Diane, for Ted, for every broken heart, for all the world, let us sing.