A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8
Would you change the world, if you could?
And if you could, where would you start?
I’d start by making a list.
I’d list the things that are just wrong in this world-
The suffering that is in exponential proportions to our sin,
The sufferings that we make by our own stubbornness,
The sufferings that happen from somebody else’s fault,
The sufferings that just happen.
I’d list soldiers that come home physically whole from war
But all twisted backwards in their souls.
I’d list whole generations raised to adulthood in refugee situations,
Without anything to do with their life.
I’d list plutocrats in third world countries
And second world countries
And first world countries
Accumulating mountains of wealth-
Often without producing a thing-
While children glean mountains of trash for anything with the slightest value.
I’d list people slandered and harassed and worse because their skin is a different color
Or their words are to different
Or their weight is too much
Or their mannerisms are too butch.
I’d list nations governed by desperate men
Who make political capital
By bad mouthing other nations
And threatening war.
I’d list nations arming themselves to the teeth
While children die from disease and malnutrition and cold and abuse.
My list of how I would change the world
Would go on and on and maybe you’d call me an idealist.
But those things deserve to be on somebody’s list,
And we’d better have them on our prayer list.
But maybe your list would be different.
Maybe it would name real people who are suffering
Or giving up.
And maybe you pray about those people every single day,
And maybe you think they’ve paid double for their sins
(whatever they were)
And maybe you wonder- wonder with a great deal of anguish-
Whether things will ever change.
Because really, there’s an awful lot wrong with this world
But there are few things sadder
Than seeing a life go to waste.
To tell the truth, sometimes we settle.
Instead of trying to save the world
Or praying for God to change the world
And expecting it to happen
We settle for getting through the day
For taking care of our self
And to tell you another truth,
I’m not even sure God would blame you.
Because Evil- with a capitol E-
Is prevalent in vast portions of the globe
And it’s present everywhere
And it’s power to oppress our soul
And twist our spirit’s arm
And destroy our ambition
And crush our prayers before they escape our lips
As the great Reformation hymn by Luther says,
“On earth is not his equal.”
All over the world-
In every neighborhood-
There are folk who look at their situation
Or OUR situation
And feel overwhelmed.
It’s true now
And it’s always BEEN true.
Not for everybody,
At least not all the time,
But enough times.
That’s the way it was for Israel,
Bound over to another nation
For a generation.
That’s the way it was
For the demon-possessed man
Who lived among the tombs
In the region of the Gerasenes,
Who cried out night and day
And cut himself upon the rocks.
That’s the way it was
For the Syrophoenician woman
Whose daughter was possessed
By an evil spirit.
That’s the way it was for a blind man
Begging by the side of the road
And that’s way it was
For a widow with a dead son
And that’s the way it was
For a woman whose bleeding
WOULD NOT STOP
And that’s the way it was
For one leper after another.
I’m here to tell you,
There are people on our prayer list
With very real names
For whom that is the way it is.
And I know I know I know
That some days
That is the way it is for you.
So where do we start?
We start with very little-
With next to nothing,
Except that the next to nothing
Is the most important thing.
One of the Psalms put it this way:
“Lift up your eyes.”
Montana author Carrie La Seur tells the story of a young girl growing up on a Montana ranch. Her father had the kind of eyesight that comes from working on the open range. He was USED to looking a long way off, and after a while he became able to SEE what was a long way away. She writes, “”He had a gift for spotting wildlife from absurd distances- the slightest movement on the landscape was enough to draw his eye, then he’d pull Alma to stand under his arm and look until she saw…vast fleets of pronghorns spread out over the high pastures.”
So I’m going to concede this: Those ranchers- they practice, without knowing it, looking as far as they can see. And after a while, they become good at it.
And here’s my point: so can we.
What is God doing in the world?
What is God doing in Ketchikan?
What is God doing in my life?
Look, and keep on looking, until you see.
But that’s not the message of either Isaiah or John the Baptist.
I am reminded that this very week, three years ago, Steve had to finish preaching the sermon because I became exceptionally sick.
That NECESSITY was a message that told me I needed to change-
And the context of both Isaiah and John the Baptist is also that message of necessity.
But the message they sound-
That which they speak and proclaim
Is that things CAN change
And they WILL change
ONLY because we are not on our own.
Their message is:
God is coming, and God WANTS you to KNOW God is coming.
God wants you to HEAR
God wants you to SEE
Because when you hear
And when you see
Then your life will begin to turn inside out,
By God’s mercy and God’s grace.
Those low places in your life will start to lift up.
Those rough places in your life will begin to turn smooth.
Those unjust situations in the world will point themselves out to you
And you’ll lift up your voice
And here’s what you’ll say:
I’ve got GOOD NEWS, folk.
I can’t change this
And you can’t change this
And working together we might change some THINGS
But the world will still be wrong.
Because we are not alone
The Prince of Peace is on his way
In fact he’s here,
He’s in every broken heart
He’s on the cusp of every anguished prayer
He’s on the jagged edge of every broken home
He’s on the mountains of trash with starving children
He’s in the shadow of every tormented life
He is the friend
To every friendless soul
And even though we may not be worthy to stoop
And tie his sandals,
He stoops from heaven
To be with us
Because his Kingdom
Starts right here.
It’s only a beginning,
But it IS a beginning
And before long
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in his arms,
And carry them in his bosom,
And gently lead the mother sheep.”
In fact, if you look,
You can see it now.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.