Jerusalem’s coming radiance
60 Arise! Shine! Your light has come;
the Lord’s glory has shone upon you.
2 Though darkness covers the earth
and gloom the nations,
the Lord will shine upon you;
God’s glory will appear over you.
3 Nations will come to your light
and kings to your dawning radiance.
4 Lift up your eyes and look all around:
they are all gathered; they have come to you.
Your sons will come from far away,
and your daughters on caregivers’ hips.
5 Then you will see and be radiant;
your heart will tremble and open wide,
because the sea’s abundance will be turned over to you;
the nations’ wealth will come to you.
6 Countless camels will cover your land,
young camels from Midian and Ephah.
They will all come from Sheba,
carrying gold and incense,
proclaiming the Lord’s praises.
7 All Kedar’s sheep will be gathered for you;
rams from Nebaioth will be your offerings;
they will be accepted on my altar,
and I will glorify my splendid house.
Thoughts on the passage:
I was a senior in high school when Columbine happened. I remember at the time we had a crazy notion that Columbine might be to my generation what other national tragedies like the assassination of JFK were to our parents. We were wrong, not only was the moment dwarfed by the tragedy of 9/11 but it is just one in a long string of school tragedies that have taken us from Columbine to Sandy Hook and now to Parkland Florida and too many stops in between.
Columbine was a powerful event for me not just because of the lives lost, but because I knew people who were too much like the shooters. The gunmen were a part of a self-proclaimed “Trench Coat Mafia.” They were students on the edges, sometimes picked on and ostracized. I had friends who wore the same sort of trench coats, who were marginalized, and for all I know, harbored some of the same feelings of alienation and resentment that contributed to the horrific actions of that April day.
In the wake of tragedies like Columbine and Parkland, there is a lot of soul-searching that goes on a lot of asking ourselves what we could have done differently. Politicians will look for legislative solutions because that is their job. The police and schools will examine their policies and procedures and adjust them because that is their job. What I think we are called as Christians to do is to look into the mirror and ask ourselves what we could have done differently.
None of us were in Florida on Wednesday to do anything about the shooting and in fact there is nothing we probably could have done before hand to have much impact on this shooting, but we still need to ask ourselves what we can do to make sure that there is not another one like it. We do not need to wait until after the fact again to wonder what we could have been doing differently. I say that we as Christians need to do some soul-searching on this because I believe that we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. I believe those hands and feet are supposed to be working to spread God’s love. We need to ask ourselves what more we could be doing to be agents of peace in the world.
One of the great lies we tell our children is that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I say it is a lie because while there is a fraction of truth, words by themselves cannot harm a person, the meaning and message behind the words can have the power to injury, maim, and kill, as surely as any stick or stone ever has. I have seen the effect that unkind words have had on my children. I bear the scars from my own school days of what it was like to be called names and teased and the lingering damage that can have on a person, not just in the moment, but years and years later. Words have power, how we use that power is up to us.
As recently as Friday I was under the delusion that my sermon today would be more of an academic treatise on the first of the five love languages that Gary Chapman talks about in his book. The first love language is “Words of Affirmation” and I planned to look at the different ways that he understands words of affirmation to have power. I say it would have been an academic treatise because while I believed it might have been a good message it would have largely been a parsing out of the exact meaning of those words and talking about the different ways that we communicate to people in our lives.
Unfortunately, the more I contemplated the events on Wednesday, the more I felt compelled to take a different track. The importance of “words of affirmation” continued to grow in my mind as I thought over and over about the tragedy that had occurred. What could drive a person so young to want to cause so much pain? What hurts existed in his life that he felt it necessary or acceptable to cause such violence to others. I am not trying to say that if he was hugged more as a kid everything would be solved, but can we honestly say that how people treated him did not have an impact?
To me the importance of the “words of affirmation” as one of the five love languages is underscored in the violence we see in the world. Over and over, when we talk about a young person turning to violence, whether it is people being radicalized by ISIS or individuals resorting to violence like the two shooters in Columbine, we see how language can be used to create feelings of isolation and how language can be used to inspire and combat those same feelings.
Our text from Isaiah feels fitting to me because it carries with it both the reality of the moment, that darkness still covers the land, but also the hope of a time where things will be better. Over and over in scripture we see how God uses words of affirmation to express love to the people. The words in Isaiah are not stating a present reality, it takes generations for hope to be realized, but are promising that through the darkness and the pain, God is there. The words that God speaks are meant to give us hope and comfort and to help us know we are loved.
For many of us, talking about our feelings is hard. For many of us speaking the love language of affirmation is not easy. We are reluctant to do so for lots of reasons. For some of us, expressing the feelings we have is hard. For others it is because we believe actions speak louder than words. What we need to remember is that words have power. It can seem subtle and at times unimportant, but words have an impact on people’s lives. The words that we say matter. When we talk about how we express love to others, we need to remember what we say with our words.
What can we do to be more affirming in our words? Maybe it is with our spouse, our parents, or our children. Maybe we need to do it more with our friends. I know that I am probably guilty of saying things in jest that can be hurtful. That can be fine from time to time, but it is important to also take the time so say something loving as well. We all could do more to affirm the people around us. Over and over in the scriptures, we see the ways that God loves us. Over and over in scriptures we hear it as well. What can we do with our words to tell others of our love for them? Amen
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you have felt the negative effects of words?
When is a time that someone said something that made you feel affirmed and loved?
Do you find it easy to say affirming things or is that something that is difficult and why?
What are ways that you might be more affirming of those around you, whether it is a spouse, family member, co-worker or neighbor?
God, even in the midst of darkness and tragedy you remind us of the presence of light and love. Help us to hear your words of affirmation and the love and grace that you have for us. Help us also to speak words of love and grace to those around us that they might know that they are loved by us and by you. May our words reflect your wondrous presence. Amen