This was the sermon I delivered Sunday, October 13 at Danville Congregational Church United Church of Christ. (There’s an audio recording of it which will be posted at some point, but I forgot to start the FB live video before I got to the pulpit so there’s only this manuscript.) It is the final sermon in our six-week series titled “Be Still” which focused on engaging in the spiritual practice of quietness and stillness to become more attuned to the Spirit of God. The series included sermons titled Be Still and Know (Psalm 46); Dealing with the Noise (1 Kings 19:9–13); Knowing and No-ing (Mark 1:29–39); and Stand Still and See (Exodus 14:10–22).
Call to Worship
This morning, we pause in stillness before God.
Leader: In times of calamity or chaos, we proclaim God’s loyal love.
ALL: God’s steadfast love never stops!
Leader: In instances of hardship and heartache, we wait for God in hope.
ALL: Great is God’s faithfulness!
Leader: In moments of uncertainty and doubt, we trust in God’s presence.
ALL: I seek you, God, wholeheartedly.
Leader: Where injustice and inequity exist, we remember God’s greatest instruction:
ALL: I will love my neighbor as myself.
Leader: Come, let us worship God who has always loved us and all of creation.
ALL: Let our worship of God be reflected in our lives of hope and love. AMEN.
Lamentations 3:21–26 (New Revised Standard Version, adapted)
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of God never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in God.”
God is good to those who wait for God, to the soul that seeks God.
It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of God.
Romans 13:8–12 (New Revised Standard Version)
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments,
“You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not murder;
You shall not steal;
You shall not covet”;
and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to
wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Song of Preparation, Meditation, and Response
The last time I was up here [to preach]—I noticed afterward that I might’ve gone a little long with my sermon. And if that’s the case, it would appear that I might owe you a few minutes back this morning.
But … I’m a theologian not a mathematician. So what do I know.
We are still, contemplative.
Waking to God’s presence, we are—as the song we just sang reminds us—waiting for God.
And our hearts…our hearts are open wide.
For weeks Pastor Eric and I have engaged this theme alongside you. And the portion of the Hebrew lament we heard this morning assures us that God is good to those who are still—those who wait quietly—on God. And so it is that I come to you in the last week of this series to ask us—
…to what end are we being still?
You see, we gather this morning on the day that falls right smack in between National Coming Out Day and the 21st anniversary of the torture and murder of Matthew Shepard and a day many observe as Columbus Day, one that honors a man for a discovery he did not actually make but which nonetheless ushered in an era of enslavement and genocide of Native American people.
And so I ask us, friends:
What is it are we waiting for???
[We pause to pray.]
I must admit to you that I have struggled a bit with this sermon series—and to an extent, the passage of the Hebrew scripture I chose for us to consider together.
Partially (and anyone who knows me knows this) that’s because I don’t like to sit still.
And partially because … well … waiting, in this day and age—well…
It feels like a luxury the world just doesn’t have time for.
And yet I know that we absolutely must cultivate space to sit in the sheer silence and listen for God. We must discern what things we say yes to and those that we pass on by. To be still and let God move in our lives. As a community, we simply have to take those moments to assess where God is calling us and why we are doing what we are doing.
Yet here it is—tucked away in the book we know as Lamentations—a reminder of why we wait and what we are waiting for.
If we had the time, I bet we could go around to every person in this room and discover that each one of us in here has experienced a moment or moments
where we have been face-down, at the lowest point ever in our life,
abandoned, praying for a miracle, a cure, a homecoming, a healing, a reconciliation.
And when we read Lamentations, we find out immediately that we are not alone.
This lament, this expression of grief and suffering, is written as a retrospective of the destruction of Jerusalem…and it is devastating.
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become… (1:1)
Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper… (1:5)
All her people groan as they search for bread; they trade their treasures for food to revive their strength (1:11)
For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed (1:16)
…my groans are many and my heart is faint. (1:22)
My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground because of the destruction of my people, because infants and babes faint in the streets of the city. (2:11)
Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! (2:18)
The young and the old are lying on the ground in the streets; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; (2:21)
Then suddenly, in the middle of the lament, something remarkable shifts in the author:
But I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope.
God’s love is steadfast.
Like the dawning of the day, God’s mercies never end.
Great is God’s faithfulness!
You, O God, are all.that.I.need.
And so somehow, this writer—this people group—devastated as though they are actually manage to stay rooted in hope, summoning the strength to declare:
I will hope in God.
“God is good, all the time … And all the time, God is good,” we might paraphrase.
It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of God.
Now I don’t know about you…but sometimes, it is hard to wait, much less wait quietly. Today, I want to share with you a shift I encountered in my understanding of this text.
You see, I wondered—waiting? Really?
Even with sea levels rising…
And the incarceration rates of young men and women of color rising…
And the gap between the wealthy and poor widening…
And the instances of violence toward transgender and gay people increasing…
And the suicide and homelessness rates of young queer kids rising…
And the instances of HIV among men and women of color and the poor spreading
And the numbers of people fleeing their countries so they can feed their families rising…
BE STILL and WAIT ON GOD—really?
Someone who needs a miracle?
Is all out of hope?
Is down to their last dime?
Is afraid to close their eyes?
Wait on God, that’s the response?
Because you see, this text doesn’t mean that we pause in some apathetic stupor and do nothing—as if God is some kind of fairy princess who will wave a wand and make all our strivings cease.
You see … waiting means to remain firm in our hope. In that Hope that was planted like a homing device—a beacon, a connection—to the Creator. That no matter what may come, no matter what I may experience, no matter the aches and grief I suffer, I am going to hope in God. It is there, with that resolve, I will wait.
And quietly most certainly doesn’t mean I’m gonna keep my mouth shut when another trans woman of color is killed. When another child is separated from her parents. And I won’t be quiet either when I encounter a moment of joy or kindness and I have occasion to praise God and rejoice because of it—even amidst struggle.
Quietly means that somehow—in the way only God can—my anxiety can slow,
my fear that I am not enough, my waning courage and negative self-talk…..all that noise quiets.
Because God’s got this and salvation—salvation is at hand.
My friends, all through these ancient texts, God promises salvation. God has promised salvation to all people and the earth over whom the ancient text says we have been given dominion!
Not salvation because any one of us or any people group is wretched. But salvation because of God’s indefatigable love for us.
For God so loved the world…
The steadfast love of God never ceases….
God … is … love …
And so it is that as I heard this lament I was reminded of the words we read this morning from Romans.
God’s salvation is always nearer to us than when we first believed.
And the salvation—the deliverance from harm or ruin or loss—the very salvation that someone else is waiting on God for…
Well…it is as near as you and I, siblings of Jesus.
“WAKE UP!” the text shouts at us millennia later!
“You know well the times you are living in.
It is time for you to wake up and see what is right before your eyes!”
Oh, there is most definitely a time to be still.
It is always time to place our hope in a God that is still speaking, still moving.
And it is vital that we engage in the silence, to take care of ourselves and tend to our own issues and growth and spirits.
And there is a time to get up off our pews and off our knees and out of our quiet places
and get to work,
being God’s hands and feet in the world,
disrupting and dismantling systems that keep people in oppression,
accompanying those who have lost hope,
living as an advocate for so many who are waiting.
The text reassures us, “God is good to those who wait for God.”
Well, perhaps this morning you are waiting.
You know who else is waiting?
Mother Earth is waiting.
Queer youth are waiting.
Transgender people who face ongoing discrimination and violence are waiting.
Young Black and brown boys and their mothers are waiting.
The poor and housing insecure are waiting.
Those who hunger are waiting.
Parents who want to feed their children are waiting.
And so I ask us, Danville Congregational Church United Church of Christ…
What are we waiting for???