Wednesday in Holy Week 2011:
“The word that sustains the weary”
On this Wednesday in Holy Week we hear these words from the prophet Isaiah: “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” 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 a garden variety “Oy, what a week I’ve had” tired … 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 or the most recent example of one part of the human family oppressing and marginalizing another part.
It comes from those who yearn for political leaders who offer hope rather than hype. It comes from those who desire church leaders more committed to the Kingdom of God Jesus came to proclaim than to the Institutional Church they are determined to maintain. And it comes from those who wonder if we can ever become the human family we were created to be. Where, oh where, is there a “word to sustain the weary” in all of this?
I’m recalling tonight a reflection I wrote a few years ago -- focused on one of the gospels appointed for Tuesday in Holy Week. It’s the one where Jesus tosses the moneychangers out of the Temple in a fit of righteous indignation.
I wrote then: 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 used to be 'righteously indignant' but now I'm just tired. Some days I just want to lay it all down and stop. But here’s what keeps me going. 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 – even though he wasn’t thrilled she was a woman -- 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 burden we’re carrying and just stop.
On Monday I had the chance to be part of a panel of clergy speaking over at Fuller Seminary. (Not too often do I get to say that!) Anyway, in our conversation about reaching across the divides that challenge us, I was reminded what I was taught in seminary about 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. Y
es, 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 a letter on the lawn 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.