A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
To people returning from exile in Babylon and to those who stayed behind in Jerusalem; to people still haunted by memories of blood in the streets and buildings in ruin; to people divided; to people turning on one another, pointing the finger of blame, speaking harshly, hoarding the little they have; to people serving themselves rather than God, the prophet speaks these words:
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted....The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail....you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Like our brothers and sisters in ancient Israel, we, too, live in the center of a breach. We, too, live in a world with streets begging to be made safe. Streets in Egypt and streets Syria and streets right here in Albuquerque too.
Like those returning from exile in Babylon and those who stayed behind carving out a life for themselves in the ruins of Jerusalem, we, too, are a people divided, a people at odds with one another, a people polarized. We are a people who listen to different radio stations; who follow different blogs; who get different news. We, too, are a people who blame one another and who speak evil of those who oppose us. You don’t have to go far from home to see the breach in which we live.
Like the people in Jerusalem, we, too, face a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots, between the hungry and the well-fed, between the privileged and the powerless.
Like those who heard the prophet speak, we, too, find ourselves stumbling into and sometimes even making breaches in our lives. Little breaches in relationships that keep us from seeing God standing right before us saying, “Here I am.”
Like our brothers and sisters of long ago, we, too, long for the breaches in our lives—both little and big—to be repaired, for the wounds to be healed, for the streets where we live to be made safe.
It’s tempting to wait around for someone else to come along and repair the breaches in our lives. That’s what the people in Jerusalem were doing. Waiting. Waiting and kvetching. Waiting for God to rebuild the ruins of their world, the ruins of their lives.
When the people of Jerusalem kvetched to God, when they cried out to God to hear them, to do something, to make things right, God, speaking through the prophet turned tables on those folks in Jerusalem saying to them,
If you stop oppressing others,
If you stop blaming others,
If you stop talking trash,
If you feed the hungry,
If you meet the needs of the neediest,
Then I will guide you,
Then I will satisfy your deepest needs,
Then I will make you strong,
Then you will be called the repairer of the breach,
The restorer of streets to live in.
We can hear this exchange at different levels. We can hear it as a people divided yet called by God to bridge the gaps that divide. We can hear this as a people, as a country, of great wealth yet called by God to share our wealth with people throughout the world. We can hear this as a congregation called to share what we have with those in need right here in Albuquerque. We can hear these words as words spoken to a gathered community—a community called to be repairers of the breach and restorers of the streets.
We can hear this exchange at another level too. We can hear these words spoken to us as individuals—individuals called to step into the breaches of our lives—breaches we’ve made and breaches we’re just in. That’s what gives me pause. I hear these words from Isaiah and I wince at the breaches I have made and the breaches I have left unhealed. It’s tempting for me to stay in the middle of the parched desert of that wince.
But that’s not where God wants me or you or us together. We’re not called to be residents of the breach; we’re called to be repairers of the breach. Yet our culture appears to reward the breach makers.
This week, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for repairers of the breach and my ears tuned to the echoes of streets being restored. They are everywhere. They just don’t get much press or play or air time. But they are there—sometimes repairing those breaches with words, sometimes with silence, sometimes with laughter, sometimes with a well-placed question or a small gesture. God’s healing grace at work through repairers of the breaches of our lives—people standing up to bullies, people turning from blame to praise.
A caution offered, “Be kind.” A gesture made. A gift given. Little things that add up over time.
Fifty years ago this week, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Marching together, young folks and old folks, black and white and brown, rich and poor, movie stars and mechanics, all marching for jobs and equality, all seeking a better world. At the front of the march, people whose names we remember, whose history we know. Andrew Young, Julian Bond, John Lewis, Joan Baez and at the very front, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. So often when we think of repairers of the breach, we think of people like King. Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.
There were hundreds of thousands there that day. Ordinary people doing an extraordinary thing. Coming together for justice. Calling our country to righteousness. In the moment all were repairers of the breach. I suppose some went home and resumed their ordinary life. Others went on to work for justice full time. Many continued to be repairers of the breach in the little ways that change a world. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Ordinary people repairing breaches one brick at a time. People like you and me and us together working with God restoring the streets and repairing the breaches in our world and in our lives. You and me and us together. Springs whose waters never fail.