A Sermon by Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
February 27, 2011
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
Matthew 6:24-34
Old Testament Lesson:
Isaiah 49:8-16
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Sometimes the words of scripture are so clear, so comforting that they do not need interpretation.

What is God saying to us this day?  God is telling us not to worry, we are not adrift in the sea of life; we are not alone.  In fact we are fully known by the God who loves us unconditionally.  Our names are written on the palms of God’s hands.  

In his words, the prophet Isaiah was sending this same message to the people who were living in exile; to the people who were living in a foreign land, surrounded by the signs and symbols of their conquerors might.  These were people who had been forcibly carried away from their homeland. Sure, there were some who were comfortable in their new environment, but there were many who felt alienated, abandoned and adrift in a culture that was not their own. 

Recognizing the alienation and vulnerability of exile, the prophet offers our poem found here in Isaiah 49, in which the distance felt is overcome by intimacy, and the helplessness experienced is met by the comforting presence of God.  The people of Zion, another term for Jerusalem and Israel, describe themselves as prisoners, to which the Servant of God says, “Come out” They describe their plight as those who live in darkness, to which the Servant says, “Show yourselves.”

They feel as if they have been cast to the far reaches of the world, forgotten and abandoned, to which God says, “I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways will be raised up.  These shall come from far away for I have compassion on the suffering ones.”

But it is hard for those who have met the cruelty the world can dish out; it is hard for those who have experienced the deep disappointments; it is hard for those who have found new ways to make sense of the world; it is hard for those in exile to trust and believe.

We hear these words of comfort from Isaiah and we hear Matthew’s reminder to NOT worry because God provides and God’s knows we need clothes and food and shelter.  But for some they sound hallow or empty because we also hear endless stories in the real world about deprivation and suffering.  We hear about and experience the “deep dark nights of the soul” when all feels like it is slipping away or already lost.

And we realize how easy it is to end up in exile; to turn a corner and not recognize the terrain that was once so familiar; to find little comfort in the old routines and ways of life and so we go looking for new paths. 

About 14 years ago a terrible news story helped change the face of SC.  At that time the state was filled with those electronic video poker machines.  The machines were addicting; people would spend their whole pay checks in hopes of winning big money.  They were everywhere; every corner store, every bar, every gas station was a mini Vegas.  Well, one woman was so addicted to these video poker machines she left her 10 day old baby in the car so she could tango with lady luck. 

The baby was not so lucky and neither was that mother.  She was so addicted to those games she had forgotten about her nursing child.   

This is a story of exile, a story that makes you turn around and realize you are in a land you do not recognize, in circumstances that feel foreign, that cause you to search for meaning.  How do we make sense of exile?  We don’t!  We don’t make sense of exile! 

We begin by remembering God does not forget us.  How can God forget us, when our names are etched on the palms of God’s hands?  Remembering this gracious Good News, Matthew reminds us that we are to move forward striving to help usher in the reign of God in our midst.  For those of us in SC at that time, the kingdom way meant voting to get rid of those video poker machines.  But those kingdom steps look different in different times and different places.  To borrow the Prophet Isaiah’s words, we could be called to feed those along the way; or we could be called to provide pasture for those searching for a place to call home.  It just so happens we have an opportunity to do just that beginning next Sunday as we host our guests from the Interfaith Hospitality Network. 

Are you searching for God’s highways?  Are you listening for God speaking your name as God traces it in the palm of God’s hand?  Maybe serving with IHN is a way for YOU to take a few steps; to make sense of a new situation; to strive for the kingdom of God. 

Wherever you are in your journey, DO NOT worry because your name is written on the palms of God’s hands.  Remembering this, strive first for the kingdom of God.