8/11/19: Sermon Transcript on Isaiah 1 & Rock Climbing - Becca Griffin - Brookmeade Congregational UCC, Nashville, TN
“Remembering”—Brookmeade Congregational UCC, Aug. 11, 2019, Nashville, TN
Readings for the liturgical calendar today:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Heb11:1
Words of Meditations:
from Toni Morrison's book Beloved:
"Love either is or it ain't; Thin love ain't love at all."
Sermon:I’m speaking from the space of a person with limitations…in case you were doubting that...
I manage anxiety and have to know when I’m getting too excited (I can get too happy) or anxious (spinning thoughts due to certain triggers or fears)…
I am young and haven’t experienced everything…so there are certain things I do not know
I’m also speaking from the space of a person with experiences some have not had…this gives me the ability to handle certain situations from a space of familiarity…
A Story about Rock Climbing:
One of those familiar settings is rock climbing.
Now, I’m not the most familiar at rock climbing, nor the most skilled.
So, I read books from people who are more skilled and experienced.
One such book is The Rock Warrior’s Way.
Now, some shy away from this book as it sounds like it was written by someone who might not be grounded in the kind of sensibility that we find to be valid, but the author is talking about mountain climbing, so that’s not the most familiar territory if we’re honest…and we can simply go with him on his journey throughout the book.
In The Rock Warrior’s Way, there’s one section in particular that has had meaning to me in rock climbing and beyond…
After warnings on safety and gear, of course, and, after having discussed planning your upcoming climbs and being aware of your surroundings, The Rock Warrior’s Way has a section on moving through discomfort in particularly challenging climbing sections. As far as rock climbing is concerned, here’s how that fleshes out:
I was climbing in Yosemite Valley.
I was climbing at the base of an exciting pitch that is part of a climb called El Capitan.
I was only planning to do the first pitch of this 31-pitch climb. This pitch is 100 ft or less and has what’s called a "chimney" where you climb through an area that's somewhat enclosed around you.
I am a bit claustrophobic, another limitation :), so this was a mental as well as a physical challenge since my brain started spinning with what falling would look like…
However, I remembered The Rock Warrior’s Way.
It says to move through discomfort and not just sit there and freak out about it…because if you simply cling to the rock during a challenging moment, you will use up all your energy holding yourself on and won’t be able to keep going…since the goal is climbing, though not necessarily finishing climbs if you don’t want to…
So, I moved through, slowly, each part of this climb…
Inching my way up the climb…
It's funny to me now that, at one point, I was actually crying…and climbing at the same time…
I remember that climb as one that I was the most proud of completing, not because I wanted to make myself cry, but because I was grounded in what I had learned previously and practiced it in real time.
The memory of the book gave me tools to use when I was in the midst of a challenge.
Now, I will never forget that advice when climbing and when in a challenging moment. I make an attempt to move forward in climbing…and in life, because simply clinging to my challenge will result in a definite fall and I'm kind of opposed to such a predictable outcome…
Having said that, it’s important to mention other limitations I’ve had again since mental illness is something that has left me clinging to my challenges at times without option to move forward, and, when that happened, others have stepped in or I sought help from others who helped make movement happen--thus, it's ideal never to climb alone...or do life alone for that matter if you can help it.
So, when facing a challenge, the choice, where possible, is to make something happen, because otherwise, you’re stuck out there on the rock going nowhere... (you could get lowered back to the ground, though)…and here’s where the climbing metaphor ends :)
Relevant to the Readings for the day (see as part of Revised Common Lectionary here):
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, in Hebrews 11:1
These verses indicate action and inaction and a sense of grounding in faith that helps us toward continuing on.
In Isaiah 1, there’s this sense that worship has become this thing to cling to instead of action, instead of justice…in the face of these needs or necessary challenges: removing evil doings, learning to do good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow…
Those things are not easy things to do. So, instead of doing those things, worship is clung to…and God, according to Isaiah 1, calls such clinging a waste of energy…
Then God says, “Come now let us reason together…though your sins are like scarlet, they will be like snow, though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool…"
The “crimson” and “scarlet” words here have a similar root in the original language of the text to words like “worms” or “maggots.” (from Like a Lone Bird on a Roof: Animal Imagery and the Structure of Psalms by Tova L. Forti)
So, maggots are eating away at folks’ lives while their community clings to worship/sacrifice…
God is saying, instead, restoration is needed through a removal of that which eats away at us, through learning how to restore ourselves, through seeking justice (and when we seek, we find, if our faith is to be believed), through rescuing those who are oppressed, through defending not first the President, but the child orphaned due to a mass shooting in a Walmart...
God says, “Come now, let us reason together…” or The People's Bible says, "Let's argue it out..."
As God’s people continue to burn up their resources, their sacrifices…by clinging to what's familiar,
“Come now, let us reason together…”
This is a call to break from clinging to what is familiar:
“Come now let us reason together…”
Sometimes all our bodies know is what we’ve been exposed to…
When I first go to rock climb, my body naturally wants to cling to the rock because that’s what I know at first, in terms of familiarity, about what to do when I’m off the ground and close to a solid surface…you cling…
However, really, I can learn a better way…to not get sucked in, but to look at my surroundings and ask for help from those on the ground who might see a way I can go…so that I can move forward…
That, though, requires faith…
Faith in those around me...
Faith in myself...
Faith in physics...
Faith in the rock and my surroundings...
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen
Put another way, as the NRSV Study Bible notes,
Faith is the "REALITY" of things hoped for,
the EVIDENCE of things not seen.
So, to exhaust the climbing metaphor,
When I go to a sport climb where there are already bolts in the mountain that is to be climbed, people have climbed it before I was there, and, the author of The Rock Warrior’s Way is a lifelong climber.
So, my faith while climbing isn’t in magical handholds that will pop up on the mountain because I wish upon a star, my faith is in the reality that someone has climbed this before me and my faith is in the evidence given by the author of the book that is meant to help me move forward physically and mentally on this climb, attesting to best practice for climbing.
Often times God calls God’s people to this type of faith.
Really, it's a faith of
There’s this phrase that repeats throughout the Bible when God is calling God’s people out,
and though it doesn’t occur here, it is in the same canon of scripture.
The phrase is “Remember, I am the LORD,”
and it has a similar tone to the phrase here, “Come now let us reason together."
It’s preceded by the use of the same capitalization of the word LORD, as well.
The phrase, “Remember, I am the LORD,” is often followed by “who delivered you from the land of Egypt, out of your slavery…”
And at one point, God even gets God's people, in the story of the Exodus, to carry a jar of manna with them, not so they could have a snack on the way, but because
There weren’t cameras then…I’d imagine…
The jar of manna was so that they could remember times when God had delivered them before
and this memory would invoke their faith in the LORD who cares for them…
It’s like a mother doing this type of thing:
“Okay, everybody, get together so we can take a picture…”
It’s a similar sentiment…which values memory and remembering as much as we can.
The mothering God knows the importance of remembering.
And it’s important that we remember that we have a mothering God
who makes choices during times of oppression to deliver those who are in need.
This mothering God does not cling to what’s familiar and waste energy while God’s children are suffering, but this mothering God moves into action, seeking justice…
What a love story we have before us…
That love story is shown in the lives of mothers and fathers bringing their children across US borders. That love is shown by such guardians shielding their children from gunfire.
Relevant to the Words of Meditation (see above) from Toni Morrison' Beloved and recent events in the US relevant to Gun Violence and Refugees and Immigrants:
The words of meditation this morning come from Toni Morrison’s book,
Beloved… "Love either is or it ain't; Thin love ain't love at all."
In Beloved by Toni Morrison,
Where a mother makes a choice deemed questionable by others involved. This choice haunts her for the sake of her children who she loves…
And she’s called an animal
And she’s alone
And she loses her children
And her love is so "thick," according to Morrison's writing.
This mother is caught between a rock and a hard place.
And the choice she makes is just that…a choice.
And she doesn’t have any good choices available to her like some of us would.
And the mother in the story of Beloved would easily be demonized for her choice
Just as some demonize parents who bring their children across the US border,
Blaming them for putting their children at risk.
But the real demon, the real devil, is the situation that people are born/forced into.
This situation is the devil, created by the maggots and worms of exploitation, violence and oppression, that eat away at life and what is whole and healthy and good.
And folks, stuck between a rock and a hard place,
without “the best” outcome available in a real world,
Get caught, lost, and wander from home.
So they should not be attacked, but exorcised from having to make any more of those kinds of choices which their devil of a situation asks of them…
So the real exorcism isn’t of the person, but of the oppression and violence and hardship and exploitation.
And so God speaks, as these mothers,
saying, “I am the one who will choose to get you out of this situation,”
and the devil would say in response, “You should go back and cling to that situation
and waste all of your energy clinging to it instead of looking around and looking for help."
Violence is a maggot, a worm, a locust, according to a book called The Locust Effect,
Eating away at everything.
If we ignore it,
If we cling to what’s familiar
in worlds where, perhaps, we have not had to endure such realities,
It will eat away at all that is good and healthy and alive.
We must act
Because faith is the reality of things hoped for…it’s possible for this to end
Because faith is the evidence of things not seen…people have ended bad things in the past...
What we will do is up to us
But wasting energy not trying is just that…waste…maggots…rot...
Action steps (please comment with advice and networks that are working on gun violence and the plight of refugees and immigrants):
The UCC has recommendations regarding violence and many places of worship are taking action.
We can email the UCC statements and calls to action on gun violence and refugee/immigrant situations out this week relevant to our situations and those of our friends.
Some of you are already aware.
Some of you have taken action on your own.
We are a community with faith grounded in reality.
We are a community with faith based in the evidence of history’s long arc (Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr.) toward justice…
May we remember where our faith lies when we face the challenges ahead…
And move on…
"Love either is or it ain’t, Thin love ain’t love at all…" (Toni Morrison)
Toni Morrison is an example of someone whose experiences allow us to
Engage with that which is beyond our own experiences.
Just as I sought out The Rock Warrior’s Way and the experiences of an expert for my future in climbing,
May we seek out people like Toni Morrison,
Who bring us out beyond what we are familiar with...
And when we seek people like her out
May we find them
When we seek with all our might.
There is enough mercy for us
And for the whole world.