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Not the End of the World

The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield

Scripture: Isaiah 66:10-14

The last few months have felt, well, impossible. Multiple mass shootings in which some of the most vulnerable have been killed. The January 6 hearings that have revealed just how close we came to the violent overthrow of our democracy. The Supreme Court dismantling fundamental freedom of bodily autonomy, freedom from religion, and just this week overturning rules that help to protect our planet.

We also learned this week of the cruel deaths of more than 50 immigrants crossing into Texas from Mexico in a tractor-trailer. They were locked inside, hiding because our country wouldn’t have allowed them in if they were discovered, and they died of the heat.

The last few years have felt impossible. A global pandemic that had us living in deep uncertainty for literally years. The ways the isolation of quarantine reshaped our communities and relationships. Families cut off from each other, people in recovery cut off from their support systems, vulnerable people cut off from their resources. And the stress of being locked down with the same people for so long, revealing every crack in a relationship, a slow motion stress test.

Or the stress of essential workers who had to be in the community, providing healthcare, selling groceries, keeping gas stations open. Wondering every day if they’d get sick, and if so, would it be mild or deadly. Having to choose between their physical and mental well-being and their ability to pay their rent and buy groceries.

I think it’ll be years before we can know the full impact of this pandemic on our lives.

I know I’ve been riding the edge of despair, afraid for the future of our country, wondering if we’ll ever be okay again.

But the book of Isaiah teaches us that there have always been times like this. There have always been times of devastation and loss, times of uncertainty and fear. Times when folks have wondered if they’ll ever be okay again.

And the journey of Isaiah, which is a long book, teaches us that, yes, we’ll be okay again.

I know you probably know this, but here’s a refresher: Isaiah tells the story of the fall of Jerusalem, when it first came under Assyrian rule and then was outright devastated by the Babylonians. The temple, their spiritual center where God dwelled among them, was destroyed, and a large number of people who lived in Jerusalem were taken away from the city and exiled to Babylon.

And Isaiah tells us that the people of Jerusalem became vulnerable when they turned away from God, when they turned away from the values of their faith. When they started loving power more than they loved their neighbor. It was the prophet Isaiah telling them over and over again to turn back to God, but no one wanted to hear that.

I think we’re surprised over and over again that God’s will is usually not compatible with the will of those in power, with the will of those who would rather maintain that power at any cost than to love one’s neighbor. This isn’t new. Isaiah spoke of it. Then Jesus spoke of it. Then Paul spoke of it.

But it feels current again, doesn’t it? Power over love. I know a lot of us right now are afraid our community will be torn apart, that our country will be changed forever. Well, Jerusalem crumbled. And we might be crumbling, too. I don’t know.

The truth is, sometimes things crumble. Jobs lost. Relationships lost. Loved ones lost. Safety lost. Democracies lost. Wherever there is life, and especially wherever there are humans, things crumble. And sometimes, crumbling feels like the end of the world.

But it never is. That’s what Isaiah shows us.

As a mother comforts her child,

so I will comfort you;

you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;

your bodies shall flourish like the grass;

The temple was destroyed in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. That’s also when the exiles were sent to Babylon. We hear the sorrow of the Jews in Babylon in the book of Lamentations. We read in Ezra about the hardship of those left behind in a shattered city. This devastation defined the identity of the Jewish people. Not because of the suffering and loss. But because eventually, nearly 50 years later, Jerusalem was returned to the Jews. The exiles came home. They rebuilt.

We hear about that today in Isaiah.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and honestly, I’m having some mixed feelings. There’s always been an element of choosing power for oneself over loving one’s neighbor when it comes to our American democracy. And we all know the ways that has continued through our history. And how the grasping for power feels especially acute lately.

To be honest, I’m doing more mourning than loving for the United States lately. But Isaiah makes room for that.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,

all you who love her;

rejoice with her in joy,

all you who mourn over her.

Isaiah recognizes that Jerusalem was shaped by its past—its greatness and its injustices, its glory and its destruction. The ways it built some of its people up and the ways it tore some of its people down. Things to love and things to mourn.

But Isaiah also looks to a hopeful future where injustice is overcome, destruction is rebuilt, and Jerusalem may become a community that nurtures all its people.

That’s the hope I’m holding out for our country this Fourth of July.

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