Clear the Way
It was in the year that King Uzziah died that Isaiah saw the Lord. King Uzziah was king for over 50 years. His death thew the Judeans into a time of transition and uncertainty. Their king of over five decades had died, his son who had served as his co-regent (or co-king) for 11 years would be on his own. The Assyrians, who were heavily armed and ready for battle, were encroaching on the borders. The status of the earthly kingdom was more than little dicey when Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord sitting on his throne.
The status of our earthly kingdom is a little dicey these days. Our country is divided in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime. I wasn’t born until 1970 and so I missed the height of the civil rights movement, and while I was born in the midst of the Vietnam war, I don’t really remember anything about it. So those of us in our mid-forties and younger have never lived through a time in our country as divided as this.
There has been a call from many in our country for everyone to “come together” so that we can move forward as a country. But I believe that is an unfair demand to make on many members of this great United States.
To paraphrase some of the questions my friend and seminary classmate American Baptist pastor Robin Lunn has been asking:
How does a married couple come together with people who want to dissolve their marriage?
How do Muslim-Americans come together with people who want to round them up and send them away?
How do people of color come together with people who do not believe they are equals?
How do people who voted for change come together with people who have now unilaterally labeled them as racist homophobe haters?
How do any of us who have been told we are sick, bad and stupid people come together with the people who have told us we are sick, bad and stupid?
The answer is we can’t. We simply can’t. At least we can’t until there has been a chance for some healing. And healing can only happen when we admit that there has been hurt and injury. Insisting that people “come together” is really just insisting that those who have been hurt keep silent. That’s no way to move forward as a people. Before we can really come together, we have to acknowledge the real (and justifiable) fear that many of our friends and neighbors face and assure them of our intent of moving forward as a country where all of our people feel safe and secure.
In our prayers services on Wednesday, we used a prayer entitled Hanto Yo which means “clear the way” in Lakota language of the North American Plains Indians. Perhaps that is a better goal for our country at this point than coming together. I think we have a better chance of clearing the way. Because clearing the way acknowledges that some stuff has to be dealt with before we can make it through.
So what can we do to clear the way?
Acknowledge people’s fears
It is important to acknowledge the fears that people have and not make light of them or discount them. And just because someone else’s fear is not your fear does not make that fear any less real. So whether someone is afraid for their person safety or afraid that their civil rights will be taken away or afraid that they will never be employed again or even afraid that we will be overrun with terrorists if we don’t ban Muslims from coming into our country, we need to listen to and acknowledge those fears. We don’t have to agree with or even affirm those fears, but we will never be able to clear the way ahead if we don’t take seriously each other’s fears and work to address them. And as I said at the vigil on Friday night, any good Harry Potter fan knows that being able to name our fears gives those fears less power over us. And fear is something that must cleared in order for us to move forward.
Tend to Your Light
We are all bearers of the light of Christ. It is in times of darkness that it is most important to keep your light kindled. If you don’t know where that Bible is, now is the time to find it. Download that Bible app and that prayer app and that devotion app on your phone. Study. Pray. Spend time with others who cherish your light and who will help you fan the flame. Don’t let it go out. Because we can’t clear the way in the darkness.
Traffic in good news
Be someone who traffics in good news—not only the Good News of Jesus Christ, but the news of the good things that are happening in this world, when our airwaves and newsfeed are full of conflict and despair.
Did you know that our Governor has increased the budget for our child welfare system next year which will allow them to add caseworkers to help serve the 5200 children currently in foster care? No. You didn’t know, because the news outlets weren’t interested in anything other than the election this week.
Did you know that a retired Baptist pastor who has a heart for feeding people sent a $1000 donation to our church for our program at Seventh Street? No. You didn’t, because I held on to that info to use in a sermon.
There are lots of good things being done by good people in the midst of all the conflict and dissension. Let’s make sure we share them.
Answer the call to be the church
I hesitate to say that because talking about what it means to be the church these days can illicit as much controversy as the Presidential election! But what I mean by being the church is to continue to do what we have always done–feed the hungry, tend to the sick, welcome the stranger, share the good news of the Gospel. But I want to add one more thing to what it means to the be the church. Prophecy. I think we all need to be a little more prophetic.
It was in the year that King Uzziah died. Who can tell me the name of the king to follow Uzziah? Anyone? No,because he didn’t do anything worth knowing about. But you know who did? Isaiah. The prophet. The one who said, “Here I am Lord, Send Me.” The words of a fierce prophet proved more powerful and enduring that those of the ruler of the land. So be fierce prophets and clear the way for a life together for all of us.
Clearing the way. I think we have a much better shot at that than we do at coming together. To misappropriate the words of St. Francis of Assisi for the sake of continuing my metaphor:
where discord is blocking the way, bring harmony
where lies are obstructing the path, bring truth
where despair is impeding progress , bring hope
where darkness makes travel impossible, bring light
where sadness halts all movement, bring joy
It was the year that David Bowie and Prince and Leonard Cohen died. It was the year the Cubs finally won the world series. It was the year the United States was deeply divided over the presidential election. There was a spirit of dissent and discouragement throughout the land. But the Lord was still seated on his throne and still called prophets to share God’s word with God’s people. And committed groups of followers of Christ who said “Here I am, Send Me!” kept the dark forces at bay and cleared the way to a better future through small acts of justice, kindness and love.