Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
– Isaiah 58:1
About the last thing most pastors feel like right now – along with their church boards – is a trumpet.
Worn down by months of uncertainty, discord over masks and more, planning decisions overturned by forces beyond our control, and politics firmly upstream from faith formation, there is so little energy or will to proclaim the hope of God like a trumpet. Keeping one’s head down and hoping not to get caught in cultural crossfire is more the sentiment across the land. Who can blame anyone for that self-protective instinct, given the time in which we are living?
What if being a trumpet of love and grace and hope is not only what we are called to do as church leaders, but is the very thing that might lift the gloom and burden weighing down so many faith communities? Is any faith leader fulfilled by having to hold back the joy of faith, the hope of God, the confidence that there are larger claims on our lives than the twisted politics and faux urgency of the latest social media sensation?
Looking at the cultural landscape today…
…loneliness remains at epidemic levels for every generation;
…the already substantially eroded trust in institutions has sunk to a new low;
…our civic fabric has frayed grievously, and the will and way to repair it seems illusive;
…care and kindness feel like increasingly rare events in our common life;
…and, as more than one social observer has said, we are drowning in distractions, while huge social needs go unmet.
At our best as the church from generation to generation, we have been able to summon the will to proclaim God’s truth and love in ways that bring about care, community, and connection.
The rest of Isaiah 58 compares false worship to true worship, shallow posturing as opposed to vibrant faith. And then it sounds forth with a wonderfully strong affirmation of the work of God – filling our emptiness, strengthening us where we are weak, and calling us to be healers amid the brokenness of our world:
11 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.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If churches are not one of the principal forces to mend society’s fabric – to be, truly, “the repairer of the breach” – who will? As a church board, take an inventory of your community. As faith leaders, take a clear-eyed look at the possibilities. Who else can summon a group of people to build up their community with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…? If not the church, then who? If not your congregation now, then when? When will it be time to step into this moment of deep need with the promises of God?
Can you imagine a way to lift up your God-given voices like a trumpet, sounding loud and clear the healing love and grace of God?
In the following ‘praise song,’ American poet Elizabeth Alexander calls us toward that possibility. The poem was written (and read) for the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, but it speaks to a wider hope for every day, including our own.
Praise Song for the Day
by Elizabeth Alexander
Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.
All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.
Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.
Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.
A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.
We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.
We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.
I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.
Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,
picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.
Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.
Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?
Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to pre-empt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
praise song for walking forward in that light.
What kind of world does Alexander describe in the opening passages of her poem? What kind of inventory does she take? What clear-eyed possibilities does she see in America and want us to see?
What is the quality of the love that she invokes toward the end of this poem?
How might you take an inventory of your own community? What clear-eyed possibilities for your church await?
What one step could your congregation take toward being “the repairer of the breach/ the restorer of streets to live in?”