Sunday, April 21, 2013

be comfort. be grace.

The following is the meditation I preached at my final Gospel Choir concert at Bluffton University on April 20, 2013.

About a month ago, Crystal asked me if I would be willing to give a short meditation on the theme of this concert: messages of God’s enduring grace, mercy, and provision. At the time, I had no idea that the week leading up to this concert would be one of horrific violence and fear in our nation and world. Last night, as I sat glued to the live coverage of the events unfolding in Boston, I knew that proclaiming the gospel of grace in this time was a much heavier task than I had anticipated. In this world where violence, suffering, injustice, and fear seem to surround us, we are truly a people in need of grace, now more than ever.

Although this is not the Scripture I originally planned to share, this morning I woke up with these words echoing in my mind. Hear these words of comfort and grace from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40:

1Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

3A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

9Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 11He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

These words of comfort were spoken to God’s people after the Babylonian empire had destroyed Jerusalem and taken them captive. God spoke to this community returning from exile with words that we, too, need to hear:

Comfort, comfort my people.

In this dark, wilderness place, my grace is present and calling you out of this cycle of violence and suffering.

From this place, I am calling you to walk a path that will make my grace known to all people.

Do not fear! In the wake of suffering, proclaim to all those whose lives are in ruins: God is here. God is holding you like a mother holds her child. God is leading us, all of us, gently toward healing.

Today, God is speaking these bold words of comfort to the people of Boston, and to the people of Baghdad; to those who have lost loved ones, whether innocent or guilty; to those who are suffering, and to all those whose silent suffering goes unnoticed until it leads to unthinkable acts of violence. When God says, “comfort, my people,” God is extending grace to all people and calling us to do the same, for all people are God’s. To friends and enemies, in our own nation and around the world…be comfort, God says. Be grace.

This call is deeply challenging and profoundly counter-cultural, particularly in times like this. But because grace is a gift that we have been freely given, it is a gift that we are called to freely give. So, be comfort. Be grace. To all.

We need it now more than ever.

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