Picture Perfect

Rev. Megan Huston
December 14, 2014

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

My friend Jenna was the minister of the Presbyterian church down the street from my church in Tennessee. We often did ministry together and so one year we decided to hold a joint Tenebrae service for Maundy Thursday. The service involved many participants between the choir and the special readers and so we prepared for weeks. When the evening came to observe this somber service of slowly putting out candles and remembering the last supper, it didn’t quite happen the way we imagined.

We started to hear the Presbyterians whisper before the worship began, and quickly realized that we had overlooked a misspelled word. In large print on the front of the bulletin was written Maundy Thursday "Tenebra" service of worship. It is amazing how one little letter can change a word.

Then, maybe because we were so flustered over the misprint, we somehow forgot to light the candles at the beginning of the service, which happens to be a rather important detail when the entire worship revolves around extinguishing light. But we recovered and managed to get the candles lit without throwing things totally off and that is when the next major mishap occurred.

The sanctuary only had a few lights on, so all the readers and the music minister were given little sort of “stage lights” to read their parts. But the music minister somehow lost her mini light that was supposed to light the music so she could play the piano, and rather than subtly try to find it she started mouthing the words to her husband who was all the way in the back of the sanctuary, She was saying “I lost my light!” which actually looked like… This would be one thing if she was sort of off to the side, but she was right in the middle of the chancel area and was really the focal point of the service. And for you to get the full picture, you have to know that said music minister had decided to wear a rather low cut blouse that evening. And so as we were trying to prepare our hearts to remember the last supper the only thing anyone could focus on was our hysterical music leader who didn’t have any sound coming out of her mouth but was very animatedly trying to communicate to her husband that she lost her light.

Somehow we stumbled through the service, eventually finding her light, but afterwards the whole thing was such a disaster that Jenna & I ended up at the local Mexican restaurant, hiding in a back booth so our church members wouldn’t see our irreverence, drinking margaritas and having to laugh about how much effort we put into the service and what turned out to be what will be lodged in our memories as the Maundy Thursday “Tenesuperbra service” You know we had put so much thought into the service and pictured it to be such a moving and thoughtful worship experience but it just didn’t turn out that way.

Have you ever noticed a difference between what you pictured that your life is supposed to be and what it actually is?

This week was sort of stressful because today the board was supposed to be meeting to vote to recommend a candidate to be our next Associate Minister, but instead the search committee is now preparing to look at a new candidate. I never pictured that the search process would look quite like it has. I thought that it would be really difficult to find good candidates, but instead we have actually interviewed three excellent candidates and ultimately decided that none of them were the right fit for us. And this last one was a real doozy.

Our ministerial alliance in Bowling Green has a special prayer service once a year in November where we lay hands on and pray for each other, everyone having the opportunity to share special prayer requests. So when my turn came I asked them to pray for this last candidate because, I said, “I’m really trying to convince God that I am supposed to do ministry with this person.” I felt so entirely convinced until it became clear that it was not going to work. But it wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. We were supposed to turn away candidates that weren’t any good at ministry, not really great ministers who just weren’t the right fit. It just wasn’t what I imagined the search process was supposed to look like.

Kind of like what I imagined my family was supposed to look like many years ago. I remember feeling sorry for all those kids who had divorced parents and feeling so grateful that our family was still in tact. Both my dad and my mom showed up to every event and my dad was the one who everyone else wanted to be their dad. We had great Christmas traditions like my dad reading to us out of the Norman Rockwell Christmas story book every Christmas Eve. We had the picture perfect family. So I wasn’t ever supposed to get the phone call that my parents were divorcing and that what I thought was so great wasn’t really what it seemed.

I wonder if the Israelites could have felt that way when they returned to their destroyed homes and had to realize that their lives would never be what they had once hoped. All the dreams they had for their future had vanished. They probably weren’t really in the mood to hear Isaiah’s “good news.” When we imagine what our lives are supposed to look like they aren’t supposed to appear this messy.

But somehow, it is amidst the mess, that a prophet speaks. It is amidst lament and deep grief that a Psalmist suggests that one’s sadness could be transformed like rushing water in the desert.

This Advent I am especially aware of a sort of hole we have in our ministerial staff here. But I wonder if this season of waiting is actually preparing us for a new season of ministry that we haven’t even yet imagined. I am amazed that you all have stepped up to begin new ministries almost completely on your own, like Room In the Inn, which is allowing us to start to build up some broken places in our community. So if we are able to do this now, imagine what is possible…

Things in our lives often just don’t look like they are supposed to. And yet, I hope that today you will hear the words of Isaiah and our psalmist speaking directly into your darkness, that there will be joy again.

Because the truth is that life is constantly throwing us these curve balls that make no sense. And there are things that no one should face like the loss of a child or a sinking depression that robs a loved one of their joy. There is divorce and disease that were just never a part of the plan.

So this year, I pray that we can stop waiting for our lives to look like what we expected them to be, and start embracing what they actually are. That we might start waiting for God’s unexpected grace to show up in the places we thought they never could.

Our scriptures for today assures us that God’s transformation is possible, even when it seems impossible, and it might just spring up when we least expect it. I can see shoots of joy coming forth in our community when we have found a way to do ministry with Living Hope, a church I never thought we would be partnering with. But we depend on them to open their church to the homeless every week so that we can open our church to the same homeless. I could see something budding when our choir sang at Massey Springs. I looked around the room and saw some really sad looking faces. But slowly they started to look up as our choir sang songs of joy into the darkness. When Josh sang Oh Holy Night the hairs on my neck stood up as I listened to the words, “Fall on your knees and hear the angel voices” and I looked around the room, wondering how many among us were beginning to hear those angels voices, right in that moment… It was this paradoxical and beautiful moment where young choir interns looked tired despair in the face and sang anyways.

I guess it is the good news that our lives will never be quite like we pictured them. And it is the hard news that our lives will never be quite like we pictured them. True joy happens, not when everything has turned out exactly as we planned. Joy happens when we take a look around, glare right back at the darkness and decide, “Ok God. Let’s see what we can do…”


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