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God’s Promise…

November 12, 2016

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It seems like it has been forever but in all actuality it has been just over a week since Denise and I went hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Now it HAD been forever before that. To go from August until November without hiking was unthinkable! But it happened to us. We gradually became overcome by events and full calendars.

Full schedules with church, Rotary, Estes Park Non-Profit Resource Center, Estes Valley Partners in Commerce, and classes for our Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation through Columbia Theological Seminary gradually took over the calendar. Additionally, we made trips to see our parents who are in the midst of life changes. We needed to “lay eyes” on them and see for ourselves how they are doing. My folks are now in their new home (a condominium) after moving out of their 49 year “forever home” in October. Denise’s parents are on a waiting list for an apartment closer to stores and the things they need. We went to see them towards the end of September.

The ironic part of this saga (which began in August with our two month on-line course on Augustine’s Confessions) is just now coming to a close. Just before Halloween, we went to Montreat for a class on “Practicing Sabbath” which was an excellent experience. We finished our ten-page papers on Augustine the week before we left for Montreat. So how did we practice Sabbath? We drove from Montreat to Atlanta and then flew to Minnesota where we rented a 12 foot Budget Rental Truck and went to see my folks in Minnesota. Following three days of helping them (and two very dear saints who have been such good friends to my folks) pack up the remainder of the house (that didn’t fit into the condo) for storage, we loaded the truck with things that my Mom wanted us to have and drove back to Colorado.

We finally arrived in Estes Park on the Saturday before Halloween, unloaded the truck, delivered it to Boulder, and made it back home by about 10:30 pm. Denise preached at the church the next day (Presbyterian Women’s Sunday) and we had our harvest festival that afternoon along with a worship service at the local Nursing Home. A week later, after I led worship, we headed to Denver to fly out to Columbia for ANOTHER course (Growing in Discernment… yes, I see the humor in the fact that my/our discernment process sort of stinks if you look at our schedule!).

Okay Padre, what does your “planning” and “discerning” have to do with Sunday’s Scripture readings? Interestingly enough, more than you may realize. While in the class all week and walking with friends through the November 8th elections I was also reflecting on the readings for Sunday. To be honest, my head and my heart are still spinning a bit with all that has been experienced and continues to be experienced by so many friends and neighbors.

When you look at the reading from Isaiah and Luke side-by-side it is pretty amazing and overpowering. Jesus describes war, persecution, fear, insurrection, and anything else but peace! This is one of his more apocalyptic sayings concerning the future and the Temple. While the people were busy admiring the beauty of the Temple (and probably gloating about it and patting themselves on the back) you could almost hear Jesus say, “Meh! That won’t last!” What Jesus described was the full-scale destruction of the Temple — “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Luke 21:6) Oh and if that wasn’t enough? Just wait until you see what is going to happen to the “neighborhood”!

Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.” (Luke 21:10-11) And not only that, you will be brought before the religious and political authorities to be harassed, questioned, imprisoned, betrayed, and even killed! All of this will happen because you chose to speak boldly in my name about the Kingdom values justice, mercy, and peace! Because you stand against the Empire and its perversions of God’s Kingdom values even your own families will turn against you!

I have to admit that reading this particular passage from the Lectionary for the Sunday after such a divisive and hate-filled time in our nation’s history I have done more than my share of tear shedding and holding those who are scared for their very lives and civil rights! What has been uncorked thanks to the hate-filled rhetoric by politicians on both sides of the aisle is the sick and twisted underbelly of this nation.

Flying out to the Sabbath Class I read a book about the last lynching in the US which occurred in Mobile, Alabama in 1981. Following the criminal trial, the Southern Poverty Law Center took on the United Klans of America and not only won the case but bankrupted one of the most powerful hate groups of that day! Can you imagine my horror to see pictures of robed Klansmen on highway overpasses in North Carolina celebrating the Presidential election AND planning a victory march next month in the same state?!

I have been struggling mightily this week (and honestly, in the weeks leading up to the election as the slime oozed out of the sewers of hate) to find hope in the midst of so much fear. I held friends in my arms and prayed with them as they worried about everything from healthcare and marriage rights being taken away from them along with messages of hate being thrown their direction. A groan… a cry… came from deep within my soul… My God, where is your hope in the midst of this nightmare?!

We are back home in the mountains now… our heads are still spinning… our hearts are still aching… the hate is still spewing forth… As we drove into town, I wanted to stop the car and run up and hug the first Elk I saw! Obviously I didn’t do that. But my heart sincerely did leap with joy when I saw the herd.

The herd reminded me of the promise from the prophet Isaiah! “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…”. (Isaiah 65:17-20b)

How does the herd remind me of that? Well, early in the history of this area (before Estes Park or the Rocky Mountain National Park were established) the native Elk herd was slaughtered almost to the point of extinction. There was nothing left! However, thanks to the foresight of the Women’s Club of Estes Park, Elk from Yellowstone National Park were brought to Estes Park and successfully transplanted in their new home in 1913. Out of the despair of slaughter and population displacement by humans came a revived herd who’s descendants are thriving here today!

God’s promise to the people of the Exile which Isaiah shared was one of hope. The Elk herd in my mind and heart reveal a similar promise as well. Out of destruction came new hope and new life. Now I know that we are far from the time of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We are also a loooooooong way from healing divisions of hatred and fear in this nation and in the world. This isn’t something that you “just get over” and move on. The ones who say that are typically the ones who have not experienced the sort of hate those who are living in fear have experienced.

Yet despite the struggles, I am slowly coming to see hope in the resilience of the people of this world. I see Muslims and Jews working together for peace and understanding. I see the LGBTQ community and their allies standing together and being examples of reconciliation in the midst of the chaos of hate. I see the younger generation standing up and saying “No more hate!”

So, dear reader, despite what has happened and what continues to happen, I see cause for hope. Will you join with me in being an instrument of that hope? Will you stand up to the bullying, fearmongering, and all the horrible “-isms” this country is experiencing? May we find our strength in the promise of Isaiah 65:25? “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.”

In the spirit of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, may we “stick with love… Hate is too great a burden to bear.” As he also said — “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

God help us to stick with love and let the light of that love shine in the darkness!

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