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Sermon: All People Are Grass

This sermon was delivered at Cobleskill United Methodist Church on December 6, 2020


“All People Are Grass”


Isaiah 40:1-11


40 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. 5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.


Mark 1:1-8


1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”



SERMON


During this year of Covid, I found myself cooking and thinking way more about comfort food than I ever have in the past. There’s just something about food and the memories is brings back that feels so stabilizing and healing when everything is unpredictable. There’s also something about spending every major holiday away from your family that makes you want to recreate something familiar right in your own kitchen.


I want you to close your eyes for a moment and just imagine with me one particular kind of food that you have always associated with this time of year. What does it smell like? What does it taste like? Maybe it’s a dish at a Christmas meal that someone special to you always made without fail every single year. Maybe it’s a kind of food that you yourself look forward to making each year. Maybe it requires special ingredients or special tools. What comfort food comes to mind for you? Feel free to share it in the comments.


For me it was always peppernuts, little teeny tiny anise-flavored cookies that from the Mennonite side of my family. Each year at Christmas, every cutting board in my Grandmother’s house was gotten out the cousins would all take turns rolling out the long strands of dough and chopping them into little pillow-like lumps that would go into the oven by the tray-full. It’s a special memory. But here’s the thing. The cookies themselves were not my favorite as a child- they were hard like little pebbles, spicy like anise, and there was always the rumor that Grandmother had put lard in them. But there’s something so familiar about the smell of them and the ritual of stealing hot ones off the counter before Grandmother could see and eating them along with a cold glass of milk. Peppernuts- the smell and the ritual of making them- bring a certain comfort to me, even if they are themselves an acquired taste.


Now I hope this doesn’t come across as weird, but I’m going to pivot from talking about comfort foods to talking about comfort scripture. Just like we have classic and memorable comfort foods at Christmas, I think there are also classic and memorable scripture passages at this time of the year. This week, for me, and maybe for you too, was one of those passages. Two, actually. They were both so familiar, I could choose between them. Just like that glass of cold milk and warm peppernuts are a classic, memorable combo for me this time of year, the Isaiah and John the Baptist scripture readings are a classic combo as we sit about three weeks out from Christmas in the thick of Advent.


Comfort, Comfort my people, Isaiah begins. As though God’s calling everyone to a big delicious meal of all the comfort foods you’ve just thought of. You see everyone who was listening to Isaiah back in those days really needed a comfort food feast. Isaiah is speaking to people whose lives had been torn apart. These were people who had been uprooted from their homeland and isolated from everything they knew. It wasn’t Covid, but the people Isaiah was talking to had been overtaken by another kind of disaster- they had been taken prisoners into the foreign land of Babylon. Isaiah’s first audience needed comfort just as much Isaiah’s current audience needs comfort. They were lost and forlorn. Estranged from everything familiar. Isaiah must have wanted desperately to speak a word of hope to them just as much as I want to speak a word of hope to you know in the midst of every feeling of estrangement and isolation we are currently experiencing.


Now Isaiah could have said a simple “everything will be okay” and that would have been a really easy and quite comforting thing to say, then and now. But sadly it wouldn’t be true. Isaiah knew the world was shifting under his very feet. The people who needed the comfort of God were the very people whose lives were ephemeral and fading away. There was nothing Isaiah could say to make this untrue. Life is short. Life has sadness and disappointment. Life will not wait for things to become perfect before it starts to pass us by. Comfort is not always sugar-coated.


God is speaking through Isaiah to tell us what we already know. The fleeting nature of life is very real to us, especially when we have blinked and the children are grown, or when our bodies tell us that we are not as young as we used to be, or when we know people who have passed too soon. The grief goes deep. Life is too short. The world is shifting right under our very feet and there’s not much we can do about it. As I read this passage this week, this line stuck out to me in a big way: “All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades.”


Some comfort scriptures, like some comfort foods, are hard to swallow, in a manner of speaking. And this is one of them. God is telling us that our life will be fleeting, that we will go through wildernesses that strip us bare.


So where does the comfort come in again? “The word of our God will stand forever.” God’s justice and love spoken through God’s people over generations and generations will outlast any one of us individually. Like a key, the word of God, the good news of Jesus Christ opens our fleeting lives to something much more enduring.


The comfort for us, comes not from anything our own shifting and fading lives can offer but from the enduring presence of God. The timelessness of a divine power that withstands every change we humans can invent. The comfort for us comes, ironically, when we recognize our own shortcomings and admit that it’s God who holds our beginning and our ending. It’s God who carries our fragile lives in God’s bosom. It’s God whose constancy outlasts every heartbreak and endures through every season of grief. We may not outlast it, but God surely will.


And because our life is fleeting and short and fragile, there is something we each must do right this very hour. Make ourselves right. Let go our grudges and the things that separate us from God. In other words, repent of our sin and turn away from that which is literally killing us: bitterness, anger, division, self-loathing, greed and dishonesty. John the Baptist said, if you want to make room for the one who will come next, Jesus the Christ, you first need to clear out all of the other junk that is in the way. Life is too short and fragile to waste time going in the wrong direction. People are like grass! Don’t waste the precious little time you have! Make the path straight.


This passage is to a comforting pep-talk, just as my family’s hard little Peppernuts are to comfort food. It’s the kind of comfort that’s not sugar-coated and it may not even be enjoyable to read. But it’s exactly what we need to feel loved and prepare for the holy day come in just a few weeks. It’s not just an “everything will be fine” kind of comfort. This is tough love. This is God saying, life is hard and life is short. Don’t waste your time in sin. Now is the time to turn away from that which estranges you from your neighbor and from a God who just wants to love you. God wants us to be whole again. Because when we’re whole and we’ve left our self-damaging sin behind, we finally have room in our hearts for the Christ who comes at Christmas. God needs us and wants us to repent. It’s the only way to truly be ready for Christmas. God loves us too much to watch our life just fade away. All people are grass, but the word of our God will stand forever. Trust God with the fragile life you have and leave behind everything that gets in the way of that trust.


Prayer of Confession


Great God of Presence and Promised Coming, We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to fulfill your desire for us to love one another. We have not followed the paths you have given us, Choosing instead to follow our own. We acknowledge that this crisis has exposed our idols.

We accept that we have placed our trust and hope in stability, in consistency, and technology. And now, as we recognize our lack of control over this disease, help us turn to you: the only true source of stability in a world that is constantly changing. We have not heard the cry of the needy, The mouth of the poor is still hungry for mercy, The cause of the oppressed is still thirsty for justice. Free us for joyful obedience, through the Advent of Christ, Our Lord, Our Messiah, Our Hope. Amen.

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