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Wading into wreckage … how’s that for a finishing touch to a beautiful weekend?!
If you’re someone who seldom or perhaps never darkens the door of a church, I just want to begin by saying that this evening isn’t actually meant to finish you … or anyone of us for that matter -- even though I appreciate our theme sounds a bit daunting.

And yet, it’s no more daunting than the reality we’re already living if we are at all awake. You see coming to church isn’t the hard part … being awake -- now that’s something else altogether!

Wreckage, of course, and thank goodness, is not all there is. There’s beauty … there’s remarkable kindness … there’s the miracle of new born life … there’s poetry and music and connection … there’s creativity and ingenuity and courage.
AND amidst all that goodness and so much more, we are in not just a bit of a mess. You don’t need me to go down the list,
and how it is, for example, that regardless of the warnings surrounding the climate emergency, we’re not only slow in responding, but there’s downright defiance.

What hope really is there? A lot of people are wondering that.

Do you recall that African- American spiritual … There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole … it comes from this passage in the Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Jeremiah … except that there in that pasaage we hear it not as a declaration but in the form of a terribly anguished question: Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? No one to heal?

The context then and there resembles our own in many ways … where greed has eroded the health of the whole social order, and cover-up is the name of the game.

While others are pacifying people with false assurances, and answers for everything, Jeremiah, has the nerve as prophetic people then and now do, to open up the conversation with questions that defy answers: “If someone can help, then what’s with the pain, the crying in the streets, the destruction, the death? If someone can heal, then why has the health of my poor people not been restored? Why?”
Then we hear the cry of his grief growing even deeper …“O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for my poor people!”

And then just when we think there is nothing left to say, there comes one more anguished outpouring … “O that I had in the desert a traveler’s lodging place, that I might leave my people and go away from them! … for they do not know me,” says the Lord.

So wait a minute … this is God who is speaking? who grieves, who is heart sick, who aches for an endless well of tears? who yearns for a way to finally sever the ties, and set up home in some far away desolate desert place? This is the prophet poet daring to articulate God’s grief … exposing the sorrowful heart of the Creator who brought the wonder of it all into being in the beginning, and called it good … who now, in despair is ready to let it all go.

Some chapters later, we come upon more of the same … For thus says the Lord: your hurt is incurable, your wound is grievous. There is no one to uphold your cause, no medicine for your wound, no healing for you.” In other words, the situation is terminal.  And then suddenly, without prior hint of it, there’s this great unforeseen leap …
I will restore health to you, and your wounds I will heal, says the Lord.

So here we have the prophet/ poet setting lose in our imaginations the unimagined possibility that deeper than God’s grief at the mess we’ve made of it all is God’s resilient intention for life, Love’s passion that leads to healing … as though in allowing the grief to be felt so deeply, there comes the discovery of how deep is the love.  
It’s not that there’s no longer any threat. It’s that there is with us and for us a healing Love, a way-making Love that is more powerful yet.

Listen to the piece by Anita Barrows …

And I would travel with you
to the places of your shame

the hills stripped of trees, the marsh grasses
oil-slicked, steeped in sewage;

the blackened shoreline, the chemical -poisoned water;

I would stand with you in the desolate places, the charred places,
soil where nothing will ever grow, pitted desert; …

I would put my hand
there with yours, I would take your hand, I would walk with you

through carefully planted fields, rows of leafy vegetables
drifting with radioactive dust; through the dark
of uranium mines hidden in the sacred gold-red mountains;

I would listen with you in drafty hospital corridors
as the miner cried out in the first language

of pain; as he cried out
the forgotten names of his mother I would stand
next to you in the forest’s

final hour, the wind
of helicopter blades, police
sirens shrieking, the delicate
tremor of light between

leaves for the last
time Oh I would touch with this love each

wounded place [1]

It defies so many of the messages we’re told and tell ourselves, doesn’t it? … that wading into the wreckage, facing the shame and feeling the pain of the mess we’re in will be too much for us, be the end of us. Meanwhile there is this other possibility altogether -- where grief is met somehow by a great grace, and we uncover whole new depths of compassion … and unimagined energy for healing …
that Ancient Love that longs to touch each wounded place.

And so may we take heart … and take our place in this world that God so loves.

[1]  Anita Barrows, cited in Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life - practices to reconnect our lives, our world; New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC; 1998, p 38.