The Rev. Hal Chorpenning,
Plymouth Congregational UCC
Fort Collins, Colorado
You and I are not the first people to live in difficult political times. We are not the first people to feel as though our world might be at an end. We are not the first people who need the cycle of lament, comfort, and hope. We are not the first people to turn to God in a vexing, unstable time.
About 540 BC, when this middle section of Isaiah was written, some of the best and brightest in Jerusalem had been taken into captivity in Babylon, an abduction that lasted for nearly 60 years. Can you imagine what kind of fear and hopelessness you would feel if your favorite political and religious leaders were banished from your nation for two generations – so for us that is going back to the Kennedy Administration. What if all of the best and brightest minds in America had been taken away, and their children and grandchildren were only now returning?
You and I are not the first people to live in difficult political times. And the treasure of Isaiah is that we get to hear the fresh words of God’s comfort…words that may be 2,500 years old, but that speak to us in a nation where leaders no longer value truth, where gun violence is accepted as inevitable, where income disparity grows wider, where immigrant children are separated from their parents and detained, where many deny their own racism, and where morality and justice are absent from the national dialogue. This dismal situation is not God’s final word. There is a reason that Martin Luther King, Jr., used this passage in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Dr. King knew that the evils of segregation and racism were not God’s final word.
Singing is a way that God’s people have worked through tragedy across the millennia. The songs of the Civil Rights struggle are familiar to many of us, and the words of the prophet and captured in this one, short refrain: “Comfort, comfort, O my people! Tell of peace, thus says our God!” Will you sing it with me? “Comfort, comfort, O my people! Tell of peace, thus says our God!”
These words of comfort are driven into our souls when we sing them. They become part of us, part of who we are and what we believe in the marrow of our being. That short refrain can be part of your spiritual toolkit that you bring with you everywhere.
So, when you are watching the evening news and you hear about another school shooting, go ahead and sing: “Comfort, comfort, O my people! Tell of peace, thus says our God!” And when you are listening to NPR in your car and you hear of another strings of untruths that have been released over Twitter, “Comfort, comfort, O my people! Tell of peace, thus says our God!” And when you hear of the devastation of a hurricane, “Comfort, comfort, O my people! Tell of peace, thus says our God!”
Now, that refrain is yours to bring with you wherever you go. Not that it is going to fix everything – it won’t – but it may provide enough of God’s energy – spiritual juice – for you to keep you going when things seem grim.
It is a hard time that we live in, my friends. And if you and I don’t keep our spiritual batteries charged, we are not going to be able to engage the challenge and rise up to be co-creators of the realm of God here and now. It takes spiritual energy to go to the border with Mexico and bear witness. It takes spiritual energy to meet with Cory Gardner’s staff and witness that sane gun controls are essential for our nation. It takes spiritual energy to work toward the end of homelessness in our community. If we don’t lean into our faith, we will lose hope and wither. The good news is that we have a very deep well to draw from: the words of the prophets, the teachings of Jesus, and the presence of God in this very hour.
Hope is a muscle that needs a workout to grow and develop. And like our forebears in the faith, we are being given an opportunity to do some spiritual weightlifting, to build hope, and to flex the muscles of our faith. I know that we are an accomplished, self-reliant bunch of folks, but as I told you a few weeks back, you are not alone, and you don’t have to do this on your own. We need hope and we need to rely on our God. And things will change if we work together. “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill made low.”
It takes courage to have hope in the face of evil. People of faith have been doing it for millennia, and now the hour has come for us to know that God has our backs…that we must have hope and rely on the God who is with us, and on Jesus who proclaimed God’s realm of justice and peace that we pray for every Sunday.
“Comfort, comfort, O my people! Tell of peace, thus says our God!” Amen.
© 2019 Hal Chorpenning, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.