11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Sermon December 20, 2015
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Let us begin with a lovely story from the acclaimed novelist, Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees andThe Invention of Wings. Surprisingly, this author has also written a couple of books on spirituality. The story I share this morning comes from her wonderful book, When the Heart Waits. The author tells of baking bread with her daughter:
“My daughter, who was then five, pulled a kitchen chair to the counter where I was baking bread. You might as well know that I don’t normally bake bread. In fact, I had never baked a loaf of bread before and haven’t baked a loaf since. But that day my creative instinct was popping out not in the usual way (of writing) but in an unpremeditated attack of domesticity. I had wanted to make something from nothing, from scratch, something that would nourish people.
“(My daughter) Ann was fascinated. She knelt on the chair, her face powdered with self-rising flour, and watched my every move. When we got to the part where you put in the yeast and cover the dough so that it will rise, I put a blue-checkered dishcloth over the bowl the way my mother used to do and set it aside.
“Ann wrinkled her brow. ‘Aren’t you going to finish?’ she asked. ‘We have to wait for the dough to rise,’ I told her. I explained how the yeast causes the dough to expand. ‘Well, how long do we have to wait?’ she asked. I looked at the recipe. ‘An hour.’
‘“A whole hour?’ She grimaced and plopped down in her chair to wait it out. Now and then her impatience overflowed and she lifted the cloth to peek at the dough. ‘It’s not doing anything,’ she announced. ‘You can’t see it, but the yeast is working. I promise.’
“I don’t think she believed me. She finally wandered off to play. Toward the end of the hour, though, she returned to peer into the bowl. Her face lit up. ‘Look, Mama, it’s yeasting!’ she proclaimed.
“Yeasting. As the memory faded, that word stayed with me. Yeasting … Isn’t that the invisible mystery inside our waiting which produces the bread of life? To create newness you have to cover the soul and let grace rise. You must come to the place where there’s nothing to do but brood, as God brooded over the deep, and pray and be still and trust that the holiness that ferments the galaxies is working in you too.”
Sisters and brothers, “the holiness that ferments the galaxies is working in you too!” This Sunday – the fourth Sunday of Advent – the final Sunday before we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – is the Sunday when we are most called to trust in God’s promises. And, of course, as the lovely story from Sue Monk Kidd underscores, God’s promises are the yeast that lies deep within every part of creation as well as deep within every moment of time.
Brothers and sisters, God’s promises have come down to us mainly through the Old Testament prophets. And if I were to sum up those many divine promises – what might such a summary look like? Well, to over-simplify what is not easily simplified, I believe the prophets’ promises come down to one recurring divine proclamation: “I, the Lord God who created you, am with you. I will always be with you. I will never leave you abandoned.”
This, to me, is the essence of the prophetic messages. And not only is this the essence of the prophetic messages, this proclamation is also the core of Christmas. Let me unfold this a bit.
Brothers and sisters, if I were to ask you: what is the most daunting issue we face in our world today – what might your answer be? Perhaps you would say poverty. Perhaps you would say violence. Perhaps you would say terrorism. Perhaps you would say lack of faith. Perhaps you would say the disparity between the rich and the poor. Perhaps you would say global warming. Perhaps you would say narcissism and selfishness.
But I don’t believe any of these is the most daunting issue we face today. As a matter of fact, what I’m about to preach is not only what I believe is the most daunting issue today – I believe it is the most daunting issue we humans have faced throughout our long and troubled history. It is the issue of human loneliness, human isolation.
Each of us is born naked and alone. Ideally, we have our family to protect us and keep us alive. But too often our families are so wounded that they cannot well heal the hurt of human isolation. When we gaze out into the vastness of the heavens, do we not feel isolated and alone?
This past week I began watching the newer version of the Cosmos series. It’s certainly daunting to be reminded of the enormous vastness of space – the endless array of billions upon billions of galaxies. What might God have been thinking when God created this vast universe? And an even more difficult question: why did God create in the first place?
Let me warn us that what I’m about to say goes against much of Greek philosophy. In Greek philosophy, God is completely content and in need of nothing. Yet I don’t see God this way. I believe God created the universe – not only because of God’s infinite love – but because God was lonely.
We may well know the name, James Weldon Johnson, the composer of “Life Every Voice and Sing.” He was a very important organizer for the NAACP. He was also a poet. Let me read the opening lines from his well-known poem,The Creation, from his collection, God’s Trombones: “And God stepped out on space; And he looked around and said: I’m lonely --- I’ll make me a world.”
I first came across this poem early in high school. I believe one of our teachers played a recording of it during a class. It made a lasting impression on me. What if the Greek philosophers were wrong? What if James Weldon Johnson is right? What if God created the cosmos because God was lonely? If God was lonely – can it come as a surprise that we humans are lonely?
Brothers and sisters, I believe many, if not most, of the troubles that assail us come because of our scrambling attempts to deal with the anguish of human loneliness. Addictions? I believe most addictions are misguided attempts to deal with human loneliness. Unwanted children? I believe unwanted children continue being born into our world because of misguided attempts to deal with human loneliness.
We want to feel connected and when we don’t feel connected – we often turn to grasping at money. We’ve been misled to believe the more money we amass, the more things we can buy and the more things we can buy, the less lonely we’ll feel. Of course, things – possessions – do not heal human loneliness. They may well aggravate our isolation.
Many of us fight among ourselves because we are unwilling to admit the depth of our loneliness, the depth of our isolation. It’s better to be fighting each other than to be left alone in our desperate isolation. We may well make enemies so we can feel closer to those who are on our side – over against those people over there. Anything to counter the aggravation of human isolation; anything is better than confessing and confronting the loneliness that plagues us.
Why do so many of us, especially our young, disdain church? I believe part of the answer is because church does little to help them heal their loneliness and their isolation.
Churches are too conflicted with people arguing about what we should or shouldn’t believe; too conflicted about how to understand the Bible. Churches are too conflicted to be places of true faith. We fight because we have so little faith. We have so little faith because we don’t really believe the promises God has given us.
But here’s the thing, brothers and sisters: God knows all there is to know about isolation and loneliness. Is this not why God deigned to come among us as a baby – as a human child? God had been promising great things through the prophets. And so God had to – frankly – put up or shut up! Therefore God – through the power of God’s all-powerful Spirit – entered into the empty, virginal womb of a young Palestinian maiden.
Why? To bind humanity to divinity in a bond that can never be broken. Why? To place within history the leaven that will rise within the dough of time and bake itself into a bread that will nourish for eternity all creatures living and dead. God’s promises have, obviously, not all come to pass. It’s true some of God’s promises were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but not all.
Peace has been promised! I believe peace will come. The healing of all creation has been promised. I believe that healing is on the way. Eternal life in the presence of God’s limitless love has been promised. I believe that love is coming to us just over the horizon.
Brothers and sisters, these divine promises are still yeasting their slow and steady progress forward into a bright and never-ending future, a future filled with divine intimacy, a future filled with divine love. God was lonely so God made us. We are lonely so God has given us God. What more can we ask for? Nothing more!
So let us, sisters and brothers, let us, along with Mary, believe that the Lord God will fulfill the promises that have come to us through the Spirit of God. God is faithful. God not only can fulfill every promise – God will fulfill every promise! Of this we can be sure!
All creation is, as our brother Paul phrased it in Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” Another way of saying this: all creation is yeasting. And yes, like the little girl in our opening story, we grow impatient. But God’s promises are yeasting their slow and steady progress thru time. God’s promises will not fail. God’s promises will all come to pass. Amen!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister