Like many pastors stepping into the pulpit the Sunday after the 2016 election, I was at a loss for words. My congregation is wonderful. They are kind and generous and remarkably politically diverse. Here’s what I came up with, starting with Isaiah 65: 17-25.
When it comes to the history of humanity, we’ve got a complicated relationship with creation. The scriptures tell us that in the beginning God created everything—God created the skies and the seas; God created animals and stars; God created humans. Everything was going great. Then he said to those humans, “Hey, Adam! Hows about you name the animals?” And Adam said, “Sounds good!” (We’re reading from the Jon Chapman translation, in case you haven’t noticed). And that’s how we ended up with animal names like aardvark. And pointy pig—also known as: a hedgehog. Maybe the names aren’t that bad, but the point is that we came along and we screwed things up. In the creation story, it’s that we believed the lies of the snake—that there was knowledge we needed, fruit we needed to eat. Then it was the lies of idols; next the lies of the Pharisees. Today, it’s that we believe the lies of politics. More on that in a minute.
Later in the book of Genesis, after the story of creation, there’s a story about a man named Noah. Many of us first learned about Noah in Sunday School. For me it was the nursery. Much like our own—there was a mural on the wall that depicted darling little animals going two by two on to a giant boat with some old, bearded white guy stood proud by the entrance. Turns out there’s more to the story. Way more. Noah first appears in chapter five, a chapter that runs through every descendant of Adam until Noah. We finally make it to meat of Noah’s story in chapter six, a chapter dramatically titled in one translation: The Wickedness of Humankind.
You see, Adam and Eve were alright until they weren’t. And then they had kids. We know how that worked out. And so the trajectory continued. Things got grim. The Scriptures tell us that “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth.” So God decided to hit the restart button; God decided to wipe out all of creation with a flood. This is the part we like to rush past in the nursery rhyme version. “Oh, get out your yellow rain jackets and rain boots, folks—it’s gonna be a little rainy!” NOPE. We’re talking about a flood that covered THE ENTIRE EARTH. And Noah and his family were the only ones to be saved (which opens up an entire can of repopulation worms after the flood recedes—but that’s a story for another day!).
But here’s the beautiful part of the story. It isn’t the cute, oddly named pointy pigs and other animals coming two by two. It isn’t quirky Noah building a boat bigger than anything ANYONE had ever seen before. It isn’t the bit in the story about the dove returning with an olive branch. It’s the rainbow—the one hanging high in sky as a sign of God’s covenant with us that “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Listen to these verses from Genesis 7: “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about rainbows this week. That is, I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s faithfulness. When I was first in talks with Westfield’s search committee I wasn’t sold on the big move to Connecticut. Connecticut was, after all, nine states away from everyone I knew and loved. I didn’t know ANYONE up here. I was coming up on a year in a relationship I saw going places. So, I met with my pastor. And one morning over scrambled eggs and bacon, I laid it all out for her. I told her about the job and the move and the relationship and my uncertainty. And she looked at me right in the eye and said, “Jon, God is many things. But above all, God is faithful.”
A few weeks later, after I had met all of you and all of you had voted for me to become your pastor, I was driving home—teary-eyed from a long conversation with Greg about what it meant for us. It was raining—the hot, muggy kind of rain that pops up in the Southern summer afternoons. And there, hanging in the sky was a rainbow. And my pastor’s words echoed in my mind: God is faithful.
I believe that; I believe that God is faithful.
It’s been a hard week, hasn’t it? It’s been tough to listen to pundits and reporters this week. It’s been tough to be online this week. And, I’ll confess that it’s been tough to be your pastor this week. It’s been tough for me to get phone calls and text messages from church members devastated by the election outcome. It’s been tough to watch others celebrate. It’s been tough to watch heated exchanges. It’s just been tough.
And truthfully the thought of standing in front of you—this wonderful, loving, diverse-in-a-hundred-ways-including-politically congregation—today was for a few days a little more than I could handle. Luckily, Greg and I had a few days away scheduled. So we left. And didn’t turn on the TV or the radio. Instead of listening to the din of political assertions being slung one way then another, we listened to the ocean. Instead of tasting the bitterness between family and friends, we ate things like lobster mac and cheese. I tried not to check Facebook; instead, I played Pokemon Go. I read a book—not for work or for school, but for me. I was finishing the last pages of that book two nights ago curled up underneath a giant afghan our interfaith stitchers made for me. And as I sat there, I remembered: God is faithful.
God was faithful to the Israelites, a faithfulness we encounter in Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah was speaking to an occupied people. It’s called the Babylonian exile. The kingdom of Judah had been conquered by the Babylonians—and the Jews were exported. God, through Isaiah, offered them words of hope. Listen to them again:
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
Now that’s a vision of God’s faithfulness, isn’t it?
The truth is that God has been faithful since the beginning—since Noah and Abraham. And God will continue to be faithful. And that faithfulness doesn’t depend on political candidates winning or losing. God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on who you vote for or how you spend your money. God’s faithfulness is independent of all of that.
Let’s think about Isaiah’s vision of God’s faithfulness for a minute. Did you notice how it started? “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Now listen, to those of you who are heartbroken and those of you who are rejoicing and those of you who are in between: God is about to create new heavens and new earth. And hear me when I tell you, listen close: God doesn’t need an American president to make that happen. We aren’t the brokers of God’s faithfulness. We never had been. Our candidates aren’t the brokers of God’s faithfulness—not the ones who lost, not the ones who won. And so we, as Christians, aren’t going to put our faith in God in the things or people that are not God.
Now let me take a minute to remind you about the ridiculousness of God’s faithfulness. Author Shane Claiborne, in his aptly named book Jesus for President, writes, “the greatest paradox and humor of God’s audacious power: a stuttering prophet will be the voice of God, a barren old lady will become the mother of a nation, a shepherd boy will become their king, and a homeless boy will lead them home.” He covers Moses, Sarah, David, and Jesus. But he doesn’t mention the absurd stories of God’s faithfulness in the gospels alone—stories about walking on water and lepers being made clean. Stories about children being welcomed and a king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Stories about that same one—the one proclaimed as king—being killed. And the story that taught us the story wasn’t over—that three days later the tomb was empty. That’s the story of God’s faithfulness–that’s the story that reminds us day in and day out that God is about to do a new thing.
This week, American Poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes, wrote: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” So the question I have for you is this: how are you going to mend the part of the world that is within our reach? Let me put it another way: How are you going to participate in God’s faithfulness—how are YOU going to help?
Now you know it wouldn’t be fair for me to ask a question without offering some answers. So, here’s how you—each of you— can help. First, all of us can acknowledge that people are more than their vote. That goes both ways. Next, we can all acknowledge that there are lots of emotions associated with this election and its outcome. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your emotions, for how you feel. If you’re sad or angry or afraid, that’s legit. You have a right to feel that way. If you’re happy or jubilant. That’s legit. You have a right to feel that way.
What none of us have the right to do is write people and how they’re feeling off yet. Hold the eye rolls! Hear me out. What I mean is: as Christians we covenant to journey with each other. Do you remember what I ask new members? Will you fight with us and forgive us and bring us casseroles when we’re sick? What I’m really asking is, will you journey with us. And journeying with people means making room for their whole selves—and their whole lives—their relationships, their fears, the hopes, their dreams, and their realities.
And we make room for people, we journey with people, by showing up. We show up to church to sit beside the people we know voted differently than we did because we believe that God is bigger than American politics. We show up to volunteer in our community because we know that we are the best chance we’ve got to better our community. And we show up to support one another because we believe that our faith isn’t an individual one best lived out alone, but a faith that is founded on being in community with one another—that wherever two or three are gathered, there we’ll find Jesus.
We show up and tell the story of God’s faithfulness—a story that been passed through generations, around the world and has rung true through millennia. It’s outlasted kings and empires. It’s outlasted conflicts and uprisings. It was heard in the watchfires of a hundred circling camps in the depths of the greatest conflict this country has EVER known. And it will be the story we tell tomorrow and the next day and in four years. And for generations to come.
And here’s the story we’ll tell—the story Noah knew then and we know now: God is faithful.
Y’all, God has work for us to do. We’ve got work to do so that “The wolf and the lamb will feed together. We’ve got work to do so that the lion shall eat straw like the ox. We’ve got work to do so that no one will be hurt, no relationship destroyed on God’s holy mountain. We’ve got people to feed and keep warm. We’ve for kids to teach how to be good, decent people. We’ve got truth to speak and love to share. We’ve sin to overcome—sins like racism and ego. We’ve got to be better than our fear of people who look different than us. We’ve got to work to open our arms wider than before –not because of any election but because God calls us to do just that—to welcome everyone, everyone, everyone.
God has work for us to do. The truth is, it’s work we’ve been doing do some time now, and I, for one, don’t have any intention of stopping now. And when you wonder if it’s worth it, if the struggle and the sacrifice are worth it, look to the sky and find the rainbow. And you’ll know—it always has been. Praise God. Amen.