Starting All Over Again

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on January 2, 2022

Jeremiah 31:7–9

7For thus says the Lord:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame,
those with child and those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Every morning, when I was little, every morning, I got up, went downstairs, and my mother made me breakfast.  Every morning.

It didn’t matter what else was going on.  She made breakfast.  On Christmas Day morning it was a fancy breakfast, but every day there was breakfast…. cereal, toast, fruit, juice….  The milk was fresh, the cereal good, the dishes clean… every morning.

And when I was six, I could not imagine anything else.  She had always done that; she would always do so.

There’s a part of me that’s still astonished that my mother isn’t hiding somewhere in my home, waiting for morning so she can come out and make breakfast.

Well, of course, you know, and I know, that my mother is not hiding in a closet, waiting to come out and fix me breakfast.  But, I suspect we all also secretly wish that would happen… that the day would come again when someone would do their very best to take care of us, provide our every need.  Even those of us who always wanted to “do it myself”, remember the trust that we had, or the hope that we had, that someone, somewhere really cared for us, and that nothing bad could happen.

And of course, bad things did happen.  Even when we were small children, our parents weren’t perfect, sometimes not even close.  Even then, our parents couldn’t protect us against all harm.

Hold that dream in your mind, and compare it to the promise of Jeremiah:  see I am going to bring them from the land of the north…. with weeping they shall come and with consolation I will lead them back…

We all have that hope in our hearts that there exists a place where someone – our mother, God, the CEO of our company – will keep an eye out for us, will make us breakfast every morning.

And we’re all doomed to disappointment.  Because it just isn’t going to happen, not in the way we want.  

The prophets tell us that the Jewish people lived in the hope that when a Davidic king was finally back in charge, that every bad thing would stop, and everyone would be brought back with consolation.

But it didn’t happen that way. It doesn’t happen that way because it was never designed to work that way.

My mother didn’t get up every morning energized by the hope that she’d be able to make my breakfast every day for the rest of my life.  In fact, I dare say she was glad to shoo me off to college where, she hoped, I’d learn to fend for myself.  In much the same way, I do not believe that God intended for us to live in a system of perpetual happiness, with our every want and need supplied.  One of my commentaries says that God never intended Scripture to be a kind of existential lollipop, a kind of sweet and peaceful ease in perpetuity.

In fact, I think the real, substantive, nutritious plan of God is for us to find our joy, not in peace but in the struggle.

And maybe part of the struggle we face is the temptation to live back in that dream of nostalgia.  In September, Ted Koppel did a segment for CBS Sunday Morning (a show I never see), about Mt. Airy NC, where tourist go to get a glimpse of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry.   They go out of a yearning, Koppel reported, for a time when neighbors looked out for neighbors, where everyone lived in peace, and a fumble-fingers like Barney Fife could actually be a sheriff’s deputy.  

I really haven’t seen the story, but when I was reading about it in Wednesday’s Washington Post, I was struck by one point.  Koppel pointed out that the Mayberry everyone loved, that we yearned for, really only existed in the minds of the writers in California.  In the real world of that time, we were tortured by Vietnam, rent by the strong emergence of the struggle for civil rights, and disoriented by the changes of the sexual revolution.  But in the Mayberry on our tv, everyone was good, and kind.  Mt. Airy, Koppel reported, was filled with tourists, looking for a “real” Mayberry.

I’m going to suggest that we can travel far and wide looking for that place where we’re safe and cared for – we can even go to Mt. Airy, or Disney World – but the reality of our life is that the best place to be isn’t a place, so much as it is a way of living.  You can live in one of the most beautiful places in Connecticut – you can even live in Glastonbury – but if the best you can do is get into a literal fight at the School Board meeting – well, it’s not going to profit you one little bit.  That is not what God put us here for.

Forget the fight in Glastonbury.  What about the passengers who rise up out of their seats on the airlines and punch the flight attendants in the nose? And what about the famous politician who, just before Christmas, told a crowd of folks that it was a waste of time to “turn the other cheek”?  

How are we to live, in this world?  In this time?  Do we worry and wish for that world where everything goes well?  The one where our privilege kept us safe?  Here we are in a world where everyone is angry, where it doesn’t even feel safe to go to the grocery – again!  What happened?  How can we make this world worthwhile?  

God put us here to build community.  God put us here to be ambassadors of love.

God put us here to tell the truth.  Tell it with tact, tell it with kindness, but tell it true.  It is our calling to help others see the way the habits and customs of the centuries have harmed those on the outside.  It is our calling to help others see the way our world really works.  It is our calling to change those habits – in ourselves, in our community, in all our world.

God put us here to live in a way that makes for peace.  In a world rent by dissention, weakened by mistrust, it is our calling to make things better, by stepping away from anger and distrust.

God put us here to create places where people are welcome, where they feel safe, where all can be known as they are, and loved, as they are.

God put us here to follow Jesus Christ.  Maybe sometimes that’s as comforting as having someone make us breakfast.  Today, it’s so much more.  Today, we are called to change our world.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child