Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays

Sermon: “Repairers of the Breach”

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Isaiah 58:9-14

9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;

you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10 if you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

and your gloom be like the noonday.

11 The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters never fail.

12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to live in.

 

13 If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,

from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;

if you call the sabbath a delight

and the holy day of the Lord honourable;

if you honour it, not going your own ways,

serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;*

14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,

and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;

I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

 

 

 

“Repairers of the Breach”

 

            In ancient Jewish traditions they tell the story of the creation of the universe, and of the world.  It goes like this:

            No one really knows how the universe was created.

One idea is that before our world was created there was only G-d.
G-d’s light filled everything.
In order to make room for the Creation G-d had to contract, to pull back, some of the Divine light. That light was stored in containers, in vessels.

Somehow, some way and for some reason, the vessels broke. And with that breaking, the pieces of the vessels and the sparks of Divine light that were stored in them were scattered throughout the Creation.

Since that time people have been living with the sparks of light and the broken vessels, trying to sort them out.

The Jewish people, so this story goes, have a particular job. That job is to gather the sparks of G-d’s light and do the work of tikun olam, repairing the world.[i]

            Our passage for today speaks directly to this idea – repairing the world.  Only, in Isaiah, we are called to be repairers of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in.  This call went out to the post-exilic community that was trying to make a new life in Jerusalem, and it goes out to us today.  The Israelites who had been held captive in Babylon were returning home, and the rebuilding of the temple had begun.  This rebuilding was not the easiest of construction projects, and building had stalled.  The leaders of the church were at odds with each other, and there was division not only about the physical construction, but also around the re-building of a culture and people. For 70 years the people of the temple had been scattered in Babylon and held in slavery.  Some married “foreigners” while they were away, and so the society was becoming diverse.  When they returned and began to rebuild the temple, there were drought and food shortages.  Not only were building materials scarce, but the necessities for survival were scarce as well.  The identity of the community was threatened by social and economic inequity.  Homelessness, hunger, lack of clothing, and food were common.[ii]

 

            The beginning of Isaiah 58 sets the context for where our reading for today picks up.  This is the portion that discusses “the fast that I choose”.  Many of you may recognize it from the readings during Ash Wednesday as we focus on preparing ourselves spiritually through Lent for Easter.  There was a disconnect between worship and justice, between worship and the work of the church.  Fasting was a common religious practice at the time – giving up food to devote oneself to prayer  – for those who had enough food to give it up.  That’s the twist with fasting – the poor fast by necessity, not by choice.  The pious were praying and fasting in the temple and then ignoring those who were starving outside the doors.  I think about the folks who come to Friendship Table each week asking for boxes to take meals home.  For some, that is their food for the next day, and without it, they fast, but not by choice.  Those who stand in parking lots with signs asking for food are possibly fasting, but not by choice.  Contrast that to us giving up Starbucks, alcohol, chocolate, or TV for 40 days.  We will not starve, but the poor might.

            This portion of Isaiah is directed at those who were in the temple fasting, and then not doing anything out in the world to alleviate the suffering around them.  Isaiah writes, speaking for the Lord, “If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.”  The yoke to be removed symbolizes the injustices and oppression in the world.  If we are able to remove ourselves from those processes and offer food to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted, we will still have enough — even if we share.

Did you know, that according to the World Hunger Education Source, “The world produces enough food to feed everyone.”  World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 [calories] per person per day.”[iii]  The average recommended caloric intake is 2,000 a day.  The message for the Israelites is the same for us today – there is enough.  We need to use what we need and let the rest go to others.  God will provide.

            That is a good news message for us, as well as a hard word to hear.  It is easy to fast with a full pantry and freezer.  The challenge is to give away what is in our pantries to those who have no choice.  And, I’m not talking about giving the expired stuff to the food pantry – they can’t use it.  I’m talking about the good stuff.  The stuff you want and need.  For me, that’s the staples that I use to bake with, my fancy spices and sauces, olive oil.  “The challenge, the call is to empty your cupboards to meet the needs of others, and then trust that God will satisfy you in the parched places”, and provide what you need[iv].  In other words, offer the stability we have to others who don’t have it.

            I had the privilege of taking three of our high-schoolers to Triennium this summer.  This event is a Presbyterian youth conference held every three years at Purdue University, and there were over 5000 youth in attendance this summer.  I think the temperature had cooled down to a chilly 99 degrees the day we did our mission project – packing meals for Stop Hunger Now.  The National Guard armory had been transformed into a packaging facility.  This massive space had row after row of stations set up, and each small group packed meals for about 30 minutes in the un-air-conditioned building.  Using a funnel that looked like a caning funnel, a plastic bag was filled with a vitamin packet, dried vegetables – like what is in ramen noodles, a soy protein, and rice.  It was weighed and sealed – if it weighed to much some of the rice was removed.  If it weighed too little, rice was added.  Each bag held three cups of ingredients – 6 half cup servings.  The triennium conference packaged around 150,000 meals.  As we left, there were university employees passing out samples of what we had just made so we could taste it.  I’ll be honest – I took a bite and did not want anymore – it was mushy, bland, and as one youth said “gross.”  Looking at the almost overflowing trash cans, it seemed many of the youth had the same opinion, and all I could think was “wow – how many people are desperate to eat what we just threw away.”  If you live in a poverty stricken area of the world, if you are one who is in one of those parched places, this small bag of food could literally save your life.  It was easy to turn away from it knowing we were going to have lunch in a fancy dining hall.  But if you live in Africa, this may be all you get. 

 

            The theme of Triennium was “I am”.  What I hope our youth left with was the sense that they are capable of doing things to change our world – to repair the breach and practice tikun olam – restoring the world.  “We are all connected” was one of the other themes.  What we do can make an impact, and small actions can change the world.  It’s like the saying that the ocean is filled one drop of water at a time.  While the theme we are all connected is great for community building, it creates a stark reality when we realize that all means all.  I am connected to the homeless woman living in her car because there is no room for her at the shelter to stay with her kids.  I’m connected to the drug addict that wants to get clean.  We are connected to the people living behind K-mart.  We are connected to the family in the parking lot with a sign asking for food.  We are connected to the parents in the desert who mourn the loss of their child because there was no clean water.  We are connected to these we don’t like and can’t imagine loving.  We are connected through Christ and called to do what we can to repair the cracks in the world – cracks created by poverty, injustice, and oppression.  Our connection calls us to action – through Christ we are to not only co-exist, but work for one another.

            You see the brokenness here in Cartersville, every day.  We live in an area with inadequate public health facilities – I learned from a colleague recently that there is no place in Bartow County to send someone who is in need of detox.  If an individual does not have health insurance, affordable medical is almost impossible to find.  Bartow Health Access does what they can, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to needs.  This week, the Deacon’s fund paid for a woman to go to the doctor and have a test to see why she has been in pain for months – she was not able to find help anywhere else.  Every day we have individuals at the doors of the church needing help.  Despite the hard work of a lot of people in our community, the streets are still broken, the systems don’t exist or don’t work, and we are called to do more.

            Did you know that one child dies of hunger somewhere in the world with every breath we take?  Poverty and powerlessness are the chief causes of world hunger.  Thirty-five million people in the US are hungry or don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  13 million of them are children.  In 2010, 17.3 million people lived in households that were considered “food insecure” – they did not know where their next meal would come from.  This was up from 11.9 million in 2007, and 8.5 million in 2000. 

If you remove the yoke from among you,

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

10 if you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

and your gloom be like the noonday.

11 The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters never fail.

12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;

you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;

you shall be called the repairer of the breach,

the restorer of streets to live in.

 

We are called to raise up the foundations of the next generations.  We are called to restore the breach, repair the world, and offer water to parched places.  We do a lot as a church – we have ministries that feed the hungry and provide education for children.  But what do we do outside these doors to repair the breach?  Just as the Israelites fasted in the church and then ignored the hungry outside their doors, we can individually be guilty of the same thing.  I’m a Pinterest user, and this week, I saw a graphic that hit home.  It said, “Oh, honey.  You must be confused.  You are supposed to live out Bible verses, not just get them tattooed and hope that does the trick.”  Yes, it is loaded with sarcasm, but it also rings true –whether you are tattooed or not.  The living out the Gospel is the important part.  And while we are called to be repairers of the breach, we don’t have to fix the whole thing by ourselves.  Mother Teresa said, “if you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”   We are all connected, and called to work to repair the breach.  Where will you participate?

Rev. Julie Jensen
            First Presbyterian Church, Cartersville, GA
            8/25/13

 

           

 

 

 

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