“To sustain the weary with a word”
On this Wednesday in Holy Week we hear these words from the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” Or, as the contemporary language translation “The Message” puts it, “God, has given me a well-taught tongue so I know how to encourage tired people.”
And what a timely message for this Wednesday in Holy Week – Holy Week Hump Day, we might arguably call it. For as we reach this mid-way point in the week between Palm Sunday and Easter I look around and I see an awful lot of tired people. And I’m not just talking about my All Saints colleagues who are working 24/7 to make “Holy Week Happen” … I’m talking about another kind of tiredness … of a deeper kind of weariness.
We don’t have to look further than the latest CNN bulletin on the polarization in American politics or the latest blog post on the schism in the Anglican Communion to realize there is a lot to be weary about. It comes from those who yearn for political leaders who offer hope rather than hype and for church leaders who are more committed to the Kingdom of God Jesus proclaimed than they are to the Institutional Church they are determined to maintain. And, on this fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, it comes from all who yearn for a just end to an unjust war that continues to take both Iraqi and American lives as its economic impact drains us with a price-tag too staggering to even comprehend.
Where, oh where, is there a “word to sustain the weary” in all of this!
Well, some of you may know that I have a blog that I post to on a regular basis. Yesterday, reflecting there on one of the gospels appointed for Tuesday in Holy Week – the one where Jesus tossed the moneychangers out of the Temple in a fit of righteous indignation, I wrote: If we’re not righteously indignant we’re not paying attention.
As we follow the life and example of Jesus may we be given the courage to challenge the civil boundaries that keep us from being a nation where liberty and justice for all really means all. And as we follow Jesus this week in the way of the cross may we also be given the grace to take up the cross of righteous indignation and take ON those religious authorities who presume to say who qualifies and who doesn’t to be gathered into God’s loving embrace.
That post engendered this comment from someone named Jesse:
I was 'righteously indignant' now I'm tired. I've been reading the blogs and the venom and hate that gets promoted there. The vitriol directed at the +PB and the church for trying to defend what's given into their care, their stewardship. I'm tired Susan. I want to lay down this cross and stop. I'm tired of being the enemy. One of the reasons I joined TEC was the sense of welcome I 'perceived'. I have to tell you I wasn't thrilled that the local Episcopal priest was a woman
but when I met her and we talked and I told her my story, that woman gave me the energy to go on fighting the fight to be a Christian.
The priest who gave Jesse the energy he needed to go on being a Christian knew what it was to strengthen the weary … to encourage the tired. And even through cyberspace we can reach out and encourage each other – especially on those days when we, like Jesse, want to lay down whatever cross we’re carrying and just stop.
Yesterday we got a call from a local TV reporter wanting to know if he could come by with the news van and get an All Saints reaction to Barack Obama’s speech on race, faith and politics – and may I just say how refreshing it was to be asked for an interview about something that didn’t involve the words “gay” “bishop” or “Anglican Communion!” Anyway, in our conversation about preaching and the pulpit I was reminded what I was taught in seminary is the two-fold job description of a preacher: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.
And today, on this Holy Week Hump Day, I want to suggest that it isn’t just a job description for those who preach from a pulpit but for those who live out the Gospel in hundreds of different ways in our daily lives and work. Yes, if we’re going to follow Jesus we WILL be … we SHOULD be righteously indignant about any number of things. And that indignation will lead us to afflicting the comfortable in their power and privilege – to challenging those who wage war and who perpetuate bigotry: whether it’s lighting a candle at a peace vigil or signing on to the rector’s letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury it IS work we have been called to do on behalf of the Gospel. But on the other side of that coin is our call to comfort the afflicted – and today I want to call us to remember not to neglect that half of our “job description.”
God doesn’t promise we won’t be weary. But God promises to be with us in the weariness. And God promises to send prophets like Isaiah and pastors like Jesse’s with words to sustain us when we’re weary – to encourage us when we’re tired. And so, like the prophet who is called to both afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, let us commit ourselves – each and every one of us – to not only receive those words of encouragement when we need them but to offer them to those who yearn for them: wherever and whenever we can. Amen.