Sunday, December 10, 2017


Spiritual guides nowadays tell us to live in the present moment;
         but each moment contains both memory and anticipation.
Each moment is a thin slice of time
set between a past and a future.
What happened yesterday shapes today’s experience;
Our past can be a blessing or a curse.
It’s hard not to get stuck in memories.
Good memories capture us in nostalgia,
         longing for a past that can never be recovered
                  precisely because it is the past.
We refuse to move on into the future because we know
         it could never be as good as the good old days.

Bad memories capture us in despair.
We identify with our old wounds.
I am the one who suffered this or suffered that.
There is a sticky quality to old wounds
         that traps us like flypaper.

The power of the past over the present depends
         entirely on what we think of the future.
We live each moment with an expectation.
The natural human condition is to be expectant,
         to scan the horizon.
We are all always watching for something.
But we rarely watch neutrally.
We watch with preformed expectations.
We live in dread or hope, faith or fear.

Nothing is more fundamental to our way of being in the world
                  than our attitude toward the future.
God uses prophesy is put a thumb on the s scale
In favor of hope.
God breaks up the stony soil of pessimism
         with the plow of a promise.

Judah had endured a long, hard time.
For decades, they had been in exile,
         writing songs of lament.
         By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
                  as we remembered Zion.
Before they were vanquished by Babylon,
         Judah was occupied by Assyria.
Before that they had been a vassal state of Egypt.
Before that they had been besieged by Aram.
No living Jew could remember peace and prosperity.

Their plight raises a question for us:
         is it possible to hope for something we cannot remember?
Is it possible to anticipate something
we have not experienced yet?

I often ask churches, “what are you hoping for?”
Is it possible to hope for something we cannot remember?
For humans, probably not.
But with God all things are possible.
Judah could not even remember happiness,
         but God spoke to his prophet, Isaiah, saying,

         Comfort, O comfort my people . . ..
          Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her
                  that she has served her term
                  that her penalty is paid.

Can you hear God saying that to you?
Can you see the old habitual sorrows of your life
         as a time of exile, and hear God say
         You have served your term; it’s over?

The Jewish exiles had lost a lot – the temple, homes, families.
We all lose what is dear to us.
Then we live in the loss; abide in the sorrow.
Isaiah acknowledges the loss, but then reminds us
          there is something we have not lost and can never lose.
He writes,

All people are grass . . ..
          The grass withers, the flower fades;
         but the word of our God will stand forever.

The word of our God that stands forever is good news.
It is gospel. The Bible says:
         Get up to a high mountain O Zion,
                  herald of good tidings.
         Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem,
                  herald of good tidings.

Herald of good tidings.
Can you imagine not only hearing God’s promise
         that you will be peaceful and at ease,
         that you will be happy
          but can you imagine that you not only hear
that good news for yourself;
         but that you are, this day, appointed as God’s messenger
                  to tell God’s good news to other people.

Whatever your identity has been up to now,
         you have a new one – herald of good tidings
 tidings beyond anything we have experienced
This good news is beyond the capacity of human language
                  to express directly.

So, Isaiah uses metaphors:
         Say to the cities of Judah, here is your God . . ..
         He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
         He will carry the lambs in his arms
                  and carry them in his bosom
                  and gently lead the mother sheep.

Can you imagine living in expectation
         of a serene joy that you have never felt before?
If you can, then you will experience right now
         a hope you have never felt before.
Even in the midst of the trials and hardships of today,
         you will carry in your heart a warm ember of consolation
                  already glowing.
The quality of this present moment will be transformed by hope.
I invite you each to hear this promise for you personally.
It’s from another prophet speaking in a hard, dark time.
Jeremiah delivered this message from God:
         I know the plans I have for you;
          plans to prosper you and not harm you,
          plans to give you a hope and a future.

God promises to do a new thing in you,
         to make Christ more real to you.
Jesus is going to play a larger part in each of your days
than ever before.

I invite you to hear that promise also for this congregation.
In Christian spirituality, the transformation of the individual
         and the transformation of the community
are intimately connected.
You cannot change without changing those around you
         and if this congregation changes it will change you.

So, I invite you to imagine,
         that Trinity will matter to you in a larger way;
         and that this congregation will do in Reno
                  what no congregation has done before
–that this congregation will become a center of spiritual renewal;
         that you will be a herald of good tidings
                  for the lost children on our streets,
                  the faltering schools of our community,
                  a herald of good tidings for social transformation,   
                           for art, culture, and justice in the public square.

If you live in that hope, you will invest in it.
You will prepare the way for your own transformation
         though disciplines of prayer, study, and service.
You will, at the same time, prepare for the transformation
of this congregation.
You will support it now with your labor, your money,
and your prayers.

You are on the brink of becoming something new
         – not just a gathering place for mutual support
                  but a herald of good tidings for all people.
With this promise, comes a challenge
         – to invest the labor, the money, and the prayer
                  to make room for miracle.

The Lord said to those who were to receive his promise.
         In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.
                  Make straight in the desert – this desert
                           --a highway for our God.
          Every valley shall be lifted up . . .
         Then the glory of the Lord shall appear
                  and all the people shall see it together

                  for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.