You probably have seen this major news story, Two and a half weeks ago a condo in Surfside Florida collapsed, and since then a search at first to rescue, later to recover bodies of those killed. It is a tragedy and many are mourning the sudden and unexpected death of their loved ones, or perhaps the loss of their home and possessions.
I was drawn to the response of local Rabbi Sholom Lipskar who has been among those tending to the grieving gathered around the collapsed building- he emphasized the importance of providing what he calls “Unadulterated, unquestionable kindness’ , saying they try to provide whatever might help a little in the moment, if they would like a blanket, to get them a blanket if they want a Monster Energy drink, to provide them with that.
Unadulterated, unquestionable kindness. We could call it other things: compassion, radical hospitality, caring for the neighbor, love in action- Grace. No a blanket will not bring a loved one back; an energy drink won’t make the undamaged home reappear, but a small comfort provided in a caring attitude can provide a small step toward healing, help tether someone going through shock and loss, to something good in this world. A human connection, small acts of love, become a healing balm that will begin to soothe the roughest edge of the pain.
For the next few weeks I am going to do a sermon series about healing, God’s healing for us. The tragedy in Florida is certainly that, a tragedy. But our whole country is trying to come out of a time of pandemic. Trying to remember what normal life is like, trying to grapple with what has happened. And I have heard and read that at least for some, if not a majority, as the the time of more immediate stress ends, other problems surface. It’s been compared to how some people get to the moment of retirement after a demanding career and are diagnosed with severe disease almost right away. We have survival mechanisms but sometimes they cause a build up of toxicity in our spirits, minds and yes sometimes in our bodies. It is the healing we all need that I want to focus on.
Are the high number of shootings going on in America the way to take the temperature of how we are handling this transition out of pandemic- asterisk the delta variant is still a concern I’m not trying to erase reality, but many are currently returning or have returned to life like it was before…. I saw there were 230 people killed by shootings over the July 4 weekend. I don’t think we can draw a straight line here, of course all of this is complicated but still I can’t help but wonder if it’s related. Our unprocessed grief, our despair, our lack of trust in officials and one another, coming out in harmful ways that aren’t always as final as a bullet but still harming one another.
I would like to wrap America in a big hug- let us all cry it out- but since we can’t do that, what we can do is bring our pain before God, find healing, and then be able to share that with our communities. We will have an opportunity to express what we need to, next week in worship. And the Rabbi is right- kindness, compassion, acts of love, they do make a difference.
This we find in Isaiah 25
This chapter we find in the middle of chapter after chapter of Isaiah laying out all that has been done wrong, all the sin, all the wrath, judgment and punishment
These verses are dropped in the middle of Isaiah like a gleaming ruby in a sea of muck
It is a vision- of a dinner party
An outdoor picnic a celebration
On this mountain- and a few verses down we find out what is being celebrated- the Lord destroys the veil that covers, this is the funeral shroud- a symbolizing of death, and then it says it plain- God will destroy death.
The Lord is after all, the God of life.
The nation of Israel has been through a lot of war, a lot of battles, seen a lot of blood- so have the neighboring nations, many of them enemies.
But here is the party of victory, it is not one nation’s victory over another- no, it is God’s final victory over death
And the victor, the Lord, should be the guest of honor, instead plays the role of chef, wine server, host and waiter, all in one, bringing out the very best of food and drink
All of this, to tend to hurt peoples
Who have suffered and lost, so much
Showing unadulterated kindness, or compassion, love in action, grace, whatever you want to call it, to those who are suffering, grieving, in pain
This is the God we worship, Beloved
This is the Way of the Lord we follow
But there is something uncomfortable here, because after Isaiah has spoken punishment over so many specific peoples and regions, this vision is specifically not only for Israelites, but for all peoples. Including the enemies.
Can you imagine it? being seated across the table from one you had done battle against? This vision is powerful in inviting us to see that all of our posturing against one another, all of our battles over who is right, in the end, will come to naught- that God’s surprise is that we can be healed from it all.
So on that mountain, on that day, in this beautiful vision, we receive the gifts of grace the Lord has been offering us all along
And in that abundant, amazing feast, where there is nothing left to fear, for death has been defeated, we will see each other as we truly are
Made in the image of this tending, serving God
God of unadulterated, unquestionable kindness
Of compassion, of love, of grace
We see that we do have more in common than difference, certainly the difference isn’t to be fought over
And it will be enough to make us drop our weapons, and sit down together at the feast
And laugh in joy at how God overcomes it all.