A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise. Idaho.
You may be more familiar with this text because of who quotes it, rather than from its own context in Isaiah. This is the scroll from which Jesus reads when he preaches in his home church in Nazareth. He announces it has been fulfilled in their hearing.
Then they try to run him off the cliff.
In other words, this is a challenging text.
It requires things of those who hear it. We’re reminded God will anoint us, will set us apart, for particular work. We are anointed to bring the Good News, and to bind up the brokenhearted and to proclaim.
So much proclaiming.
Liberty to the captives,
release to the prisoners,
the year of the Lord’s favor and God’s day of vengeance.
I’m a proclaimer. But that amount of proclamation makes me a little tired.
After proclaiming, Isaiah announces the comforting for those who mourn. And as Christmas gets ever closer, I hope we are all remembering those for whom the holidays bring fresh mourning. Comfort to those who mourn is an important gift.
I also wonder if what God is anointing us to proclaim might lead people join the ranks of mourners because their privilege is being challenged. We see this in our culture today. Rights have been extended to people who have historically known exclusion, and some people are feeling as if their own rights are being taken away because other people now have similar rights. I have a clergy colleague who speaks of the “war on Christianity” and worries about her loss of rights and freedoms because of the passage of marriage equality. We know from our experience here that equality strengthens Christianity. She feels it threatens Christianity when people are proclaiming the Good News differently than she does.
It is a challenge for us all to acknowledge when people are mourning, even when we cannot see what it is they have lost. They still need comforting. They need the proclamation of Good News and Hope and Abundance, so their mourning might turn toward rejoicing. Because people who get stuck in endless mourning cannot live out their anointing either.
Isaiah didn’t know about Jesus, but he and his people knew about mourning, and exile, and dislocation, and occupation, and about things not working out the way you planned.
And so the messenger comes to bring Good News, which looks a lot like a big list of things God needs us to get busy with.
This is a good reminder. Even in the middle of a busy Advent season. Maybe especially. God anoints us to participate. I don’t think God ‘needs’ us, necessarily. We aren’t earning our angels wings or ticket to paradise. God anoints us because the world needs tangible signs of God’s love and we’re the ones God has chosen for that task.
Sometimes, as Carolyn mentioned in her confession, we’d rather be Christians on the sidelines, cheering Jesus on quietly with our thoughts. We trust that Jesus knows what is in our hearts.
The time for just loving Jesus with your hearts, if that ever was a real thing, has passed, my friends.
Because there are a lot of people out there proclaiming all sorts of things in God’s name. And proclaiming hatred, as was done this week here in Boise when the “n” word was written on the roof of a building at the Idaho Black History Museum.
That’s a tangible sign of hatred that is in opposition to the Good News of the Gospel.
There is plenty of proclaiming out there that gives tangible strength to intolerance and exclusion. Proclaiming that does not seem to be anointed or bring any amount of Good News. Proclaiming that leads to tangible acts of violence and hatred.
And when we stand silently by, loving Jesus quietly in our hearts, how are people supposed to know that what we would be proclaiming is different? How are they to know the Good News we’ve heard proclaimed and have lived and experienced in our lives?
I’m not saying we all need to become street preachers. Or even respond as Carolyn did at the Add the Words rally. God has created us each with different gifts, temperaments, and tolerance for public disagreement. I won’t tell you how to do it. I only remind us we’ve been anointed to do it. How might God be calling you to proclaim?
And the Spirit of the Lord God is upon us all, in all of our different giftedness, anointing us to bring good news. Which means God is relying on us to participate and respond to this anointing, but the work originates in God, not in us. It means that God will give you what is needed for you to do the work for which you’ve been anointed.
God speaks of making an everlasting covenant with the people, and says their descendants will be known among the people. The text says the people who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. You will be able to tell by looking at them–there’s something visible and tangible about the people anointed to proclaim the good news.
The text goes on to speak of garments of salvation, and robes of righteousness, and garlands, and jewels and other signs that would be visible to people.
What are we wearing? What do our garments of salvation look like? I’m not talking about literal garments, but I am speaking of tangible signs. Things that people can see, point to, share with the world, as signs of our proclamation.
A few of you have spoken to me about your experience wearing safety pins, which we talked about last month as a way of showing people they are safe with you and that you will not judge them for the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, or their religious persuasion, etc. I’ve heard about the conversations you’ve had with people who asked why you were wearing it. Some of you have been grateful for the conversations. Others have said that you wished you felt more comfortable talking about your faith. And wherever you are with that, be kind to yourself. Wearing garments of salvation can take a while to get used to.
Especially when some people seem to use their garments of salvation as weapons against other people. Don’t wear your garments like Miranda Priestly does so well in the Devil Wears Prada:
Don’t wear your faith like that, throwing it all over someone else as if your garments of salvation matter more than their lives.
It’s good news we’re anointed to bring, after all.
Maybe think about the people in your life whose garments of salvation were a gift to you, or showed you the way to faith. My grandparents wouldn’t have used “garment of salvation” language, but in their quiet and steady faith, I picture their garments as comfortable sweaters that gave me grounding and comfort when I was a child. Church was a warm and comfortable place for me as a kid. I’ve had friends whose garments were more like chain mail, giving them strength and protection as they stood publicly in protest for their beliefs.
This week, whether you actually wear something as a garment of salvation or not, I hope you’ll consider how your life to proclaims good news. Do the brokenhearted find comfort? Do people held captive by situations in their lives find release and freedom? Do people know of God’s good news and find hope for the future? What are the tangible markers so that people can see the blessings we share, and feel the touch of kindness and comfort?
I want to leave you with this blessing by Methodist pastor and poet, Jan Richardson.
Blessing the Way
With every step
this blessing rises up
to meet you.
It has been waiting
long ages for you.
and you can see
the layers of it,
how it has been fashioned
by those who walked
this road before you,
how it has been created
of nothing but
and their dreaming,
how it has taken
from an ancient hope
that drew them forward
and made a way for them
when no way could be
and you will see
is not finished,
that you are part
of the path
it is preparing,
that you are how
this blessing means
to be a voice
within the wilderness
and a welcome for the way.
May it be so. Amen