The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
26th Sunday after Pentecost
November 13, 2016
Little Orange Flag
Priests learn all sorts of things in seminary. We take classes on the bible, church history, theology, ethics. But there are all sorts of things that we don’t learn. And it turns out, the things we don’t learn are almost as important as the things we do learn. One of our favorite things to do is to come up with courses that we would have taken in seminary. “Architecture 101” or, “Introduction to Fundraising.” I would have loved to have taken “Basics of Institutional Plumbing” or “Who To Call When Everything Breaks.”
But I am learning on the job. I’ve learned that finances and fundraising are not so scary when you have capable people working with you. I’ve learned that when everything breaks, you call Church Insurance. I’ve learned that master plans don’t begin with pretty pictures, they begin with spreadsheets. And, I’ve learned, that building projects begin with little orange flags.
You may have seen them out there on our campus. Little orange and yellow flags marking utility lines. With all the construction going on in the area, these pop up here on our campus and around Spring all the time. And they don’t look like much, do they? Little orange and yellow flags just fluttering away. But, at least for us, they are signs of things to come. Signs that construction will begin. Signs that something is coming soon. Those little flags, they are not themselves what we are hoping for. But they point to our future reality. A new reality that God is creating here at Holy Comforter.
And that is always what God is doing. God is creating new realities. God always has a bigger, brighter, more beautiful vision in mind. Our passage from Isaiah begins with God speaking, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth. The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.” See, God’s mission is nothing less than the wholesale recreation of the world. God’s vision for this new world is laid out in Isaiah: “they shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” God’s vision for the world is the peaceable Kingdom; a kingdom of joy, and economic justice, and social harmony.
This vision, this dream that God has, seems so distant. The election results last Tuesday only brought this home for us. While some were joyful, others were hurt, others were angry. And it could have easily been the other way around. We are a society that is at odds with itself. A society that is far from the peaceable Kingdom. We are a country of wolves and lambs, of lions and oxen; it seems we are more likely to devour one another than to share a meal together in peace. We are a country that is broken down, divided, and analyzed by age, race, educational status, and voting precinct. That is not God’s vision of the peaceable Kingdom.
God has a greater vision for us. A more loving, beautiful vision. God intends to renew this world through the power of Jesus Christ. God has a vision wherein everything is new. Where death is no more. Where mourning and crying and pain are no more. Where the wolf and the lamb feed together, not off each other. And God is going to make that vision a reality. It will happen. Whether we are on board or not.
In the meantime, until that happens, the Church is that little orange flag in the ground. Fluttering away. We are not the peaceable Kingdom, but we point out that one day it will be upon us. We say to the whole world that something new is coming. Something more is coming. We are little signs of the recreation that God is going to accomplish.
And the work laid before us is so clear. As he always does, Jesus is calling us to be agents of reconciliation – to bind up the wounds that we have inflicted upon each other by virtue of our race, our orientation, our gender, our country or origin. I believe that Jesus is calling us to listen, truly listen, to those whose voices have been shouted down – the lonely, the oppressed, the forgotten, and the hopeless. To listen, before coming up with our response. That is the work of the Church, to start the process of reconciliation that God will one day complete in the peaceable Kingdom. God is bringing the wolf and the lamb to feed together, and the Church’s mission is to set the table.
It seems like foolishness to flutter in the wind like that. In the face of such anger, and animosity, and distrust, and discord, it would be easier to shrink farther back into our own little corners, to double down on our fear. But that is not the work of the Church. The work of the Church is to plant those little orange flags, to start our work on the peaceable Kingdom. So that when God does indeed return and set things right, the work will have already begun. Let me share with you my story.
Every week I spend an hour with my student over at Salyers Elementary School for mentoring. Truth be told, we spend most of our time playing Connect Four. And I’ll admit, I’ve gotten pretty good. This does not seem like much. In the face of the adversity that those students face. Many of these students do not look like me. Many of them are impoverished, and face real issues of hunger on a daily basis. They depend on school to provide them lunch and breakfast, otherwise they would go without. Some of these students don’t even have shoes that fit. Many do not have a consistent home but are shuffled around among family members and friends and foster homes. Some are homeless. In the face of such sadness, such injustice, such loneliness, what am I doing playing Connect Four? In my despair I think that I’m just a little flag, fluttering in a hurricane force wind that is trying to blow these students away.
But I go week by week, because I believe that even such small relationships point to the great future in which God will restore all things. Recreate all things. Of the future in which there is economic justice, and joy, and social harmony. Where kids don’t have to go hungry and where children are raised in safe environments. I believe in a future in which God puts things right. And it’s already happening.
When I see our mentors and students, when I see people from this church streaming to that school in order to help, to offer their lives, what I see is an image of the peaceable kingdom. The lion and the ox, the wolf and the lamb. I see a glimpse of the future that God has in mind.
This image of the future, it’s not just happening over there, it’s happening right here, too. Take your pledge cares for example. They don’t seem like much. In light of the work this church has before it, our pledges don’t seem to add up to much. We have buildings to build, we have ministries to run, we have refugees to provide for, foster kids to care for, blood to give, we have addicts to help, we have so many demands. There are hurting and hungry and lonely people right here in our neighborhoods that are crying out for help. They are crying out for the peaceable kingdom. And our pledge cards, they are little pieces of paper with numbers on them. Yet what those pledge cards point to is God’s renewal of this church. The renewal that God is working here, it’s not about church growth. It’s not about numbers. It’s not about putting more people in the pews. What is going on here is a sign to the world of the work that God is doing. Work of peace, community, economic justice, joy. It is a sign that God’s people are not afraid, but will boldly give of themselves to get the ball rolling on God’s grand vision of the future. Our money, yes our money, that we give to the church is a sign that this generous God is recreating the world.
If you ever have any doubt in what you are doing; if you ever wonder what the church is actually doing for the world; if you show up to meet your kids over at Salyers and it’s a tough day for them; if you wonder about why you are giving money to the church – think of those little orange flags. It might seem that we are just fluttering in the wind, but we are actually staking out the future, God’s future. God is renewing the world, and that God has already begun in this church.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind,” says the Lord. Be glad and rejoice in what God is creating. Plant yourself as a little orange flag, fluttering in the wind. And in all that you do, and all that you give, start laying the groundwork for God’s beautiful vision for the future.