October 9, 2016 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Isaiah 61:1-6; Romans 8: 35-39
Several weeks ago I made a list of themes for each service for the rest of the year. I then sent the list to Michelle, Gail and the library ladies, so I’m kind of committed to these themes. The bad news is that when I looked at that title this past Monday I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I had in mind when I chose it. Near some of the themes I’ve jotted some thoughts, but for this one; nothing. So when I got an email from Chris Humphrey asking me to tell him a little more about where I was going with this title I was a little stuck. That was the bad news.
The good news is that there are lots of good news/bad news jokes. Jan often told jokes and in her day we laughed a lot. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve poured over websites promising funny stories or good jokes, only to find one after another not the least bit funny. But with this title, I found a treasure trove. So here goes:
There’s a story about two friends who were avid baseball fans. They made a pact that whoever died first would come back and let the other know what heaven was like. The first one died and came back and contacted his friend and said, “Hey, man, I have great news for you! The good news is that there is baseball in heaven. The bad news,” he continued,” is that you’re scheduled to pitch Friday.”
A guy is in the hospital with two broken legs. The nurse comes in and tells him that there’s good news and bad news. The guy asks for the bad news first. The nurse says, “We’re going to have to remove your legs.” Then the guy asks for the good news. The nurse says, “The guy in the bed beside you wants to buy your sneakers.”
A doctor contacts his patient and says, “I have some good news and bad news.” The patient replies, “Ok, well… Give me the good news first.” The doctor says, “You have 24-Hours to live.” The patient responds, “How is that good news?!? What’s the bad news then?” To which the doctor answers, “I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.”
After these you probably won’t want me to look for any more jokes.
But my title isn’t just good news/bad news, it’s Change: Good News/Bad News.
Change is a constant in our lives. We’re all familiar with the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait a minute”. And this is particularly true here on the coast. Everything changes. Sometimes these are changes that happen to us and sometimes change is a result of choices that we make. Change can come in many forms in our lives. It might come forcefully like a tidal wave; one major event, or it may creep along incrementally like a glacier. Perhaps like me you’ve had the experience of looking in the mirror one day and wondering, “When did I become an old lady?” Change might come in the form of devastating tragedy, difficult choices, or even new opportunities. Dealing with uninvited change in our lives is often difficult and painful. In many cases, even when we instigate major and necessary change in our life, it can also hurt.
All change takes us out of our comfort zone. And whatever change we’re dealing with, has an impact on our future. So there’s often a fear or anxiety component with change. We’ve all had experiences of making a small, wanted change, like buying a new car or appliance. And, even though we may like the new more than the old, there are probably aspects of the old that we missed; things we don’t like as well about the new. And this is about small things.
Most of us have had big changes in our lives and we have more major ones still ahead of us. What will the future hold for us and for our loved ones?
A great spiritual discipline that can prepare us for change is developing the virtue of detachment. Detachment is the practice of caring without clinging. It is difficult and takes constant practice, but I believe that it is key to growing old gracefully.
When I was a young mother I remember attending a conference for family therapists and the presenter said something that stunned me then and that I’ll never forget. She said that the role of a parent is to raise our children so that they are capable someday of loving someone more than us. That brought detachment home to me.
There are major change experiences in our lives, a bad medical diagnosis, loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, that seem to be only bad news. There are those events from which we think we will never recover; never be able to feel joy again. And yet, we do recover. We have healed. There is good news that has resulted from having experienced real tragedy. One, we are stronger. We know that we can survive and even come to enjoy life again. A second common growth experience following recovery from tragedy is that though we might still get irritated from time to time about the small unpleasant changes in our daily lives, once we have experienced truly painful change, we’re able to sift out the more trivial from what we know really matters. Some call this wisdom. A third blessing is that there is an intimacy we experience towards others once we emerge from the depth of profound suffering. We understand at a gut level the anxiety, the disorientation and the anguish of others who are experiencing painful change. There is a depth of knowing that makes us one with them.
Though we might not have recognized it at the time, looking back at our experiences of devastating change, in all of our suffering and through our recovery has been the constant presence and action of a divine spirit. The God of our understanding has sustained us and healed us.
Isaiah the prophet understood the good news/bad news concept. In 605 BCE the Babylonians started attacking the land of Judah and eventually conquered it. Their king, Nebuchadnezzar, then began a series of deportations. The people of Jerusalem were forced to leave and live in Babylon, doing the hard, and dirty work that immigrants are often forces to do. For approximately twenty years the Babylonians entered Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside and pulled people from their homes forcing them to live in a foreign land. Several of the psalms express the pain felt during this Babylonian captivity. Psalm 137 is one such example: “Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept as we thought of Jerusalem.” Then, in 539 BCE Babylon fell to the Persians and the exiled Judeans were permitted to return to Jerusalem. Good news! But when they returned, what they found was not what they had imagined. Their city was in ruin. Picture Aleppo that we currently see on the news. Their temple was destroyed. This was not just a place of worship. It was also the center of trade and social life. All was gone. Though the weary exiles had finally come home, as they looked over the piles of rubble of their once-elegant city, all they could think of was what had been lost. Babylon and exile was behind them, but as they viewed the ashes of their holy city, as they stood in the midst of devastation, they grieved and mourned for a glory that was lost. And likely many looked back to Babylon. Yes, they had been a captive people, immigrants, foreigners, but they had been living in a prosperous land, most had been well treated, and many had become successful, even wealthy. For a while it seemed that everything about having returned to Jerusalem was bad news. They had to have been totally discouraged. These people, so beaten down, needed to be freed from their fears, lifted from their discouragement and have their joy of living restored.
Then, from out of nowhere, a prophet appeared on the scene with news — good news from God. This prophet was certain that he had been sent and joyfully announced: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed.” Isaiah assured the Judeans that change is coming; that their fortunes would be reversed. The prophet wanted the returning exiles to understand that their cities would be restored, and they would be compensated for their loss. This good news overcame all of the bad news which had been in place for so long. The words were meant to bolster and strengthen the people.
The message of the prophet is simple, and yet startling Good News! It is this: In the midst of change God is ever present. In the midst of change God is faithful to his word and his promise. God is a God who brings relief and comfort to all people.
After his desert experience at the very start of his public life, Jesus returned to his home town, went into the synagogue, and as was his right, picked up a scroll and began to read. The scripture reading that he selected were the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the oppressed.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his famous, “I have a dream” speech that he gave in 1963, proclaimed the same good news. For him the stimulus was not change, but lack of change. It was the plight of blacks in America that was the bad news, but he preached hope for freedom and equality so powerfully, that people accepted the good news of his vision. He could have rightfully begun his talk that day with, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the oppressed.”
But the reality is that all of us here can also rightfully declare the same thing. Through the changes that have interrupted and shaken our lives, and because we have come through to the other side, we also have been anointed. (Baptism by fire). The spirit of the lord is upon us and as we try to comfort and strengthen others in their pain, we can say with conviction, both in words and in our actions what St. Paul wrote to the Romans: Whatever change happens, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, no power in the sky above or in the earth below; no bad news will overshadow the good news that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. As people of faith we are called to believe this good news and we are called to proclaim it. We have been sent to encourage, support, and help heal each other as individuals and as a church. What good news that is!