Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Sermon for Sunday 7 July 2013 – Isaiah 66:10-14

There are many joys in being a parent, and one is the privilege of being able to comfort a child in distress. It is amazing how a sobbing, hysterical child can, in just a few moments, be laughing and smiling once more, simply through the reassuring warmth of a mother or father’s embrace, and words of reassurance. ‘Let’s kiss it better,’ we say, and, although it’s nonsense, it works! The pain doesn’t necessarily go away, but the child knows that he or she is loved. If we can do that for our children, how much more can God do it for us, as we see time and time again in the scriptures, not least in the words of prophet Isaiah.

Have you ever had one of those days? Days where the weather outside is raining and you have a load of washing to dry, the computer was running slow, the battery on your mobile phone is dead and you need to make an important call!  You know these days!

We all have those uncomfortable days, when it is best to stay inside, not make any rash decisions and not talk to anyone because you may just say something you’ll regret. We all have those days, as did our parents, as did all the people who came before us, such as those mentioned in the Isaiah reading.

Isaiah is writing to the people around him who are living during uncomfortable times. Not only were they having one of those days, they were having one of those centuries. They were dealing with the after effects of the exile, a period in history in which they were attacked and the enemy took a portion of the population into captivity. It was many years before they were set free and allowed to go back home. But what they discovered wasn’t pleasant. Their land, their businesses, the place they worshiped was destroyed. They tried to rebuild everything, but it just didn't feel the same.

The land didn’t fully recover from the abuse it underwent, the economy had gone bust and the country was torn in political turmoil. People were stressed out dealing with the economy and everyone felt as though things weren’t improving fast enough. Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Our world today!

Isaiah was aware of everyone’s low spirits. He also knew that people have a tendency to only see what is currently happening, reducing all expectations to the present moment. So the he relays to the people a message from God, a message that reaffirms to everyone that God has a goal and will not rest until the world is restored to its rightful state.

In chapter 65 the prophet gives the people something to look forward to: a vision of a new heaven and new earth, in which there will be rejoicing, where weeping will no longer exist, and they will all have a place to call home. And then God, through the prophet, offers an image of comfort. Jerusalem, the city that they love, that has suffered politically, economically and environmentally, shall become like a mother, nursing all her residents with bosoms rich in milk. “For the Lord says...you shall nurse and be carried on her arms...As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you: you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)

The key word here is comfort. Comfort to people who have lost everything. Comfort to people trying so hard to get it back. Comfort to people having one of those days, one of those years, one of those decades. Comfort! What does that word mean to you? What images cross your mind?

It should be no surprise to you that when I hear the word comfort I think of food. Comfort food. Soul food.

Ask me what, and I’ll tell you that a favourite comfort food is my Mum’s Steak and Kidney with Short crust Pastry Pie. But it’s not just the taste of it is the smell of it cooking slowly for hours before the pastry goes on top. It reminds me of Mum and offers me comfort. Until a number of years ago, when we went to see her she would make it you us, ok me!  The best part! How the place smells afterwards, of steak and kidney and seasoning, a reminder that there has been people and food.

That is the power of comfort food. The bond it forms, the comfort it creates. That is part of what makes today’s reading so powerful.  God understands just how uncomfortable and worried the people are, even today, so God offers them and us an image of comfort: a child being breast-fed by its mother, the original comfort food.

There has been a lot of discussion about breast-feeding. The pros and cons, the responsible public actions, the proper age to stop, etc. But the more research that has been done, the more scientists find the benefit of it. Mother’s milk is easy to digest and an excellent source of nourishment. Breast-feeding improves the child’s immune system, staving off infection, reducing the risks of intestinal and respiratory tract problems.

But breast-feeding does something more: it provides the child comfort. The baby, weak and vulnerable, is held in the protective shelter of the mother’s arms. The infant, with its head next to the mother’s chest, can hear the sound of her heartbeat, the source of life. The child can look up and sees its parent looking back.

Taste, touch, sight, sound, every sense incorporated, every sense saying you are comforted, you are mine, and you are loved. Breast-feeding is about a relationship in which one is dependent on, and loved by, another.

Imagine how powerful of an image that is for people during a time of economic, political and environmental hardship. This image invites folks to look beyond their current situation and to look towards a future in which they will be comforted, a time in which their every need is met, a time in which every sense says to them “You are OK, you are well.”

Comfort, like the smell of steak and kidney pie, like a suckling infant receiving its mother’s milk. That is what God wants for us. That is what the Spirit is busy working towards. And that is what Jesus is calling us to offer to one another and to the community around us and to the outside world.

And that comfort comes in so many ways, doesn’t it? Here at church we have members who provide pastoral care by volunteering to visit people at home, hospitals and hospices, offering comfort to the sick and dying, a listening voice to turmoil in a family etc. Week by week, people place food and other items into the Besom box, offering comfort to those in need in our town, Christian Aid week raise thousands of pounds in our local area to comfort those overseas. We are by our Renewal plan offering comfort to the generations who will grace the church doors in the future. We are starting a fund raising event ‘Parable of the Talents’ which I will talk about later in the service. Renewing of ourselves as we seek God’s comfort in our lives so that we can be healed and restored to offer comfort to others. 

How else can we offer comfort? By speaking words of forgiveness, by saying that we are welcoming of all, by celebrating communion and having an open table. Communion, the Lord’s Supper, means so many things. Communion is also a sign of grace, freely given; grace that we receive, grace that we pass on to the person besides us.

Communion is a form of comfort. And like most comfort foods, it’s made from simple ingredients, in this case grain and fruit, two items you can find in almost any home, two items that transcend rich and poor, worker and jobless. The bread, as the body, the wine, as the blood; meant to nourish us, sustain us, let us know we are comforted, we are the Lord’s and we are loved.

Communion is a chance for us to taste, touch, hear, see, a chance for our heart to rejoice, our bodies to flourish and a time for it to be known that the hand of the Lord is with us.

In conclusion, we all have those days. We all have those weeks, we even all have those years.  But we are not alone, nor does our current situation define us. We are more than our finances, we are more than our mobile phone network, we are more the land around us.

We belong to God, and our God is holding us in tender yet strong hands, and our God is comforting, and caring: “Comfort, O comfort my people...” (Isaiah 40:1).

Thank you Jesus for inviting us to the table, to the Spirit that leads the way and to God, our Father/Mother who desires to feed us all with comforting milk. Amen

  • No protector like a mother or father. Consider God’s protection – Psalm 91:1-4.
  • No touch like a mother and father’s touch. Consider the touch of God in scripture.
  • There is no forgiveness like a mother or father’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is supernatural – Jeremiah 31:34.
Consider God’s forgiveness for you.

  • How can we offer comfort to a family, community, world in turmoil and maybe on the verge of burnout,

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