A New Thing

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21

Sports fans are familiar with the concept of “tanking.” In baseball the Baltimore Orioles are actually a good example of this right now. The Orioles have been a good team for several years. Last year they were not a good team, even though they had a lot of the same players they’d had when they were good. But some of those players had gotten a little older and weren’t as good as they used to be, and weren’t likely to get better again. If the Orioles were going to get back to being a contending team they needed to get rid of these older, higher-priced players. This would give them room on their roster to try out a whole lot of younger players, players who both might develop to be better than the older players and who would be a lot less expensive to pay than the older players. This would free up money to invest in finding and signing even more good young players.

The downside of all this is that it means that for the next two or three years, the Orioles are likely to lose a lot of games. They aren’t necessarily trying to lose these games – the players are playing as hard as they can and trying to win. But they aren’t good enough to win, at least not yet, and

that means that they will lose more games in the short term, which gives them better draft choices of amateur players, which means that in the long term they are likely to get better and contend again. Does that make sense?

That’s what is meant by tanking. Putting together a team that is young and cheap and not likely to win now, in hopes that they will develop and that you can find and sign some better young players and be a good team again in a few years. It is very difficult and very frustrating for fans to watch a team that is tanking, but the fans usually understand what’s going on and are willing to put up with losing now in the hopes of winning in the future. It has become a part of the regular cycle for sports teams.

In Psalm 126, our Call to Worship today, we see this interplay of hard times and of good times, of struggle followed by joy. In verses 1 and 2 it says, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;” The laughter and the joy comes after Zion’s fortunes are restored, which means the laughter and the joy come after something bad and difficult and hard. The laughter and the joy come after a time of turmoil and a time of desolation. You see it again in the prayer captured in verses 4 through 6, particularly in verse 6. “Those who go out weeping, bearing the

seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” With faith in God after pain comes rejoicing, after risk and work comes reward.

I preached a sermon here several years ago about being adopted. I don’t remember if it was after Nate and Jenn started worshipping with us or if it was before then when I was doing pulpit supply around 2005 or so. To sum that part of it up, I’ve known ever since I was a little child that I was adopted. When I was around 40 or so my doctor recommended that I see if I could find out anything about the medical history of either of my birth parents, as things related to that can start to develop more as we get older.

I asked my parents if they knew anything, and they had a possible name, and they said they would see if there was anything more that they could find out. I took the name that they gave me and played around on Google a little bit and found a couple of other names, maybe, but not really enough to do anything with or about.

A while later when I was visiting my parents they gave me an envelope with all kinds of information about my birth mother. They learned that I had been named Derrell Gebhart at birth, and they had learned who my birth mother was. They had visited a couple of her sisters, one of whom was related to a family that we knew. They had found some pictures of my

birth mother, including a high school graduation picture and others that her sisters had, and they had recorded some stories and information from her sisters. They told me that I had four brothers and sisters. They’d learned that my birth mother had died of ALS several years ago.

I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to do with all of this information. I’d just wanted to know a little bit about my medical history – I wasn’t trying to do any genealogical research or anything. I couldn’t process all of it and so I mostly didn’t do anything with it. I let it sit.

A year or so ago my sister-in-law Gaye bought a package of Ancestry.com DNA kits for family members. She had one left over, and wondered if I would be interested in using it. I was – I’m a little bit interested in history and I’d heard stories about my Davidson ancestry being German/Irish, and I wondered if that was true. It didn’t occur to me at all that this test would not trace my Davidson ancestry; it would trace my Gebhart ancestry, my birth ancestry.

When the results come back on these things, there are different pages to click on that give you different information. The first one that I looked at was about geography, and I learned that based on this DNA sample they estimate that a large percentage of my ancestry is from England, generally speaking – Great Britain, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland.

A smaller percentage is from the Scandinavian countries and Western Europe.

Then there was a tab for possible DNA matches with other people. I clicked on this tab, and then I knew. The first name it showed was a possible first cousin, and I realized that it was a match from my birth family. I recognized this person’s maiden name as the same as my mother’s last name after marriage. I knew it was possible we were first cousins, but I don’t know if I had considered that we were a closer relation than that.

I wasn’t ready to do anything with the information. I’m not sure if I even told Julia about it – I thought I did, but she says I didn’t. Anyway, I just let it sit.

A few months later this person I matched with wrote to me asking if I knew how we could be connected. She couldn’t figure out how we could be cousins and couldn’t find the connection. I still wasn’t ready, and still didn’t do anything.

A week or two ago it occurred to me that I should probably write back to her. I thought that it wasn’t fair for my own uncertainties to leave her with questions about herself or her family that she couldn’t answer. I wrote back that I thought we might be connected through my mother and shared what information I could remember. The material my parents prepared is still

boxed up somewhere after our last move, I think, so while I could remember her maiden name was Gebhart I couldn’t remember her first name for sure.

She wrote back with her mother’s name and wondered if we might share the same mother. I replied that since I wasn’t sure about my birth mother’s first name I couldn’t say based on that, but that there was one piece of information I remembered that might settle it. My birth mother died of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

She replied that so had hers. I was pretty sure We were brother and sister.

I’ve spent the last few years withdrawing from people emotionally I think. My work takes a toll on me, and my coping mechanisms for the stress of work are to eat mindlessly and watch TV or play games on the Internet mindlessly. My sister Lori, who I grew up with and was also adopted, died a couple of years ago. I got closer to my parents during the year or two that they lived with us, but then they moved back to Ohio so there is a lot more geographic distance and the various issues they are dealing with can create some emotional distance sometimes.

All of that is to say that while this wasn’t totally unexpected once I’d seen the DNA results, I still wasn’t sure how to feel about it. My sister

shared that she was struggling with mixed feelings too. Her first message after we confirmed our relationship said near the beginning, “It’s almost more than I can grasp and at this point I feel kind of numb” and said near the end, “…despite the pain I am thankful our paths have crossed.” While I worked with and through the pain of never having known my birth mother, she had a pain that was almost the opposite: the pain of thinking you knew someone and finding that they had a secret or hidden past and maybe you didn’t know them after all.

Over the last week or two we’ve both made strides processing our feelings and reaching some conclusions. Her last message to me ended saying, “P.S. As time goes on and the shock of all this wears off I have to tell you I am so excited to have another brother.” I feel the same way about her and the three other siblings I haven’t met yet.

The theme of great joy coming after great pressure or pain or worry or stress is a common one in the Bible and in life itself. We talked about how it shows in our Call to Worship, Psalm 126. Our scripture reading from Isaiah opens with a reminder of the bravery it took to have faith and trust that God would part the waters so that Israel could escape from Egypt. We see in nature examples of butterflies that come from cocoons, or flowers that grow from bulbs.

One of the most famous sermons of the 20th century is called “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.” It was made famous by the sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo, who adapted it from a sermon by the great African-American preacher the Rev. Dr. S. M. Lockridge. (Shadrach Meshach Lockridge.) Lockridge was a pastor for decades in San Diego, and wrote a sermon around the darkness of Friday, when Jesus was on the cross, dying. The disciples were discouraged. Peter had denied Jesus three times. The man they believed was the Messiah, the Son of God, had died on a cross like a common criminal.

But Lockridge’s message was to not be discouraged. It was Friday, yes, but Sunday is coming. The resurrection is coming. We should cling to our faith in God, because the blood of redemption, pouring out of the broken places of Christ’s body, truly redeems on the Sunday that is to come. Easter Sunday when Jesus is risen from the grave and his followers see his victory over the grave.

We are going through something of a Friday as a congregation. We’ve had families who were important and active members of our body move away. We’ve seen our attendance at worship go up and then back down again, and we have difficulty sometimes in finding people to fill the spots that need to be filled in our administrative structure.

It’s easy to be discouraged, but Sunday is coming. God is doing a new thing. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know it will be wonderful whatever it is.

We’re going through something of a Friday as a denomination. Along with a lot of other denominations attendance and giving are down, evangelism in multi-cultural settings is a challenge, and we are facing differences that seem like they may be impossible to reconcile around certain issues. The denomination may end up splitting.

It’s easy to be discouraged, but Sunday is coming. God is doing a new thing. Whether that means a Spirit-led renewal within our own denomination or two new denominations no longer arguing over various issues but each moving forward with God’s Spirit and God’s leading as they discern it I don’t know, but I know that whichever of those happens it will be wonderful.

We all have pressures and doubts and pain in our own lives. It may feel like Friday, but Sunday is coming. God is doing a new thing. I don’t know what it is for you, but I know that God will lead you through it and that you will end up in a much better place as a result.

In my situation, I know what at least part of the new thing is. I have a new relationship with a sister and at least a couple of nieces. I spoke on

Facebook yesterday with a new brother. I have some new family to be connected with, new stories to learn and to share, new memories to make. I know what the new thing is, although I still don’t know what all it will look like, but I know that God is in it and it will be wonderful.

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” Thank God for the new thing. Amen.

(Embodying Hope) A baby, a girl, a body

Preacher: Jennifer Hosler

Scripture: Isaiah 7:10-17, Luke 1:36-38, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, 1 Timothy 4:12

You probably recognize our texts in Isaiah and Luke as scriptures we read in Advent, but they are also from a church feast day held on March 25th, called the Feast of the Annunciation. Hands up if you typically celebrate the Annunciation, or if you’ve ever celebrated it. I didn’t think there would be many—or even any. In the Church of the Brethren, we don’t typically mark the Annunciation, though I’d like to change this, at least for our congregation. The Annunciation is the announcement from Gabriel to Mary that Jesus would be born.

I stumbled upon the Annunciation passages in the Lectionary and thought they would complement our Lenten theme, the start of April (which is Earth Month), and Tori’s report about Christian Peacemaking Teams. Within today’s passages, there is a broader theme about embodying hope, about God bringing hope through those whom society says cannot contribute, through people whom we would not expect, in ways that rulers and leaders would not imagine.

Our passage in Isaiah shows someone with the opportunity to ask God for a sign. If I was in trouble and the Creator of the Universe says, “Ask me for a sign that everything is going to be okay,” I hope I would actually ask for something. Whether it would be good or smart or witty or pious is another story. I think I would at least ask for something.

In our Isaiah text, the people of Judah are facing calamity. The Lord gives King Ahaz the opportunity to ask for something cosmic to signal God’s deliverance. It’s implied here that God will rescue them, if Ahaz is just willing to ask. The Lord says, “Ask me for a sign—let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” In other words, God is saying, “Ask for something as metaphysically unfathomable as the place where souls go, or as cosmic as the sky or the place where God dwells. I can help you through this coming calamity, but all you need to do is ask. For something.” Yet Ahaz says, “No, no, no. I’m okay. I don’t want to test God.” Ahaz is trying to look pious, but really doesn’t want God’s involvement – probably because it would mean he’d need to change how he lived or worshiped. Rather than trusting God, he’s putting his hope in some wheeling and dealing with another ruler (the King of Assyria). Lots of money, big armies—that’s a bit more comforting than a God you can’t see.

Ahaz’s refusal to ask for a sign is not what God wanted. Isaiah sends this message, “You’re trying to act religious here? Do you realize you’re playing holier than Thou with the Capital T Thou. You don’t want to ask for a cosmic, transcendental sign? Well, God is going to give you one anyways, something cosmic and miraculous: a baby, born to a young woman. The baby will be the sign that God is with Us and he will be named that—Immanuel.”

The baby is a sign that God is trying to work against all their wayward, idolatrous intentions, and is trying to bring about hope. God ends up delivering Ahaz and Judah from the nations who threaten the country, but also ends up promising judgment on Ahaz and the people for their ongoing idolatry and injustice. The baby is a sign of hope—but the presence of hope does not mean the people can just sit idly by. God still requires that people reckon with their failures and their consequences, God still requires that people transform their lives to work for the healing of relationships and the healing of our whole created world.

Babies bring hope. When there is ecological devastation, when species are threatened or endangered, the birth and growth of offspring are signs that the situation is turning around. I follow a few different Smithsonian Instagram accounts and I’ve seen recent postings of baby cheetahs or baby pandas born and growing—making a future of these vulnerable species a little less bleak, thanks to countless hours and dollars of research and ecosystem conservation. The furry little ones born give hope—and their cuteness often prompts people to donate and, I hope, to act in ways that guarantee their future.

My son is 10 months old. As my husband and I were preparing to have a child, we discussed what it means to bring life into the world when injustice and violence seem to be growing, when governments are chaotic and not caring for the common good. Theologically, we believe in a solidified outcome—that God will redeem and restore all things. Thus, we can bring new life into this world knowing that the Divine hope and reconciliation will overcome the chaos. Our baby is sign that we believe God is making all things new (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). The presence of life brings hope—and gives us the vision we need to do what God calls us to do. When we want children to live in a world of God’s wholeness, it can help us focus on our tasks and calling: To love our neighbor. To love our enemies. To heal this earth and this soil and the oceans and these rivers that we destroy with our consumption.

Our passage in Luke is the Annunciation passage itself. And in it we hear that God is acting in a way we’ve never seen. Not in a whirlwind, not in a burning bush, not in a pillar of fire or a cloud. God is acting through a young woman and a baby. Again, of all the cosmic ways to give a sign, of all the possibilities to manifest and deliver salvation, the LORD does not choose the depths of Sheol or the heights of heaven. Of all the cosmic possibilities for a noncorporeal cosmic ruler to be manifested, God chooses to enter a womb. The womb of a young, unmarried woman—a girl, many would call her—who bravely says yes to God. God chooses to enter our journey of cells multiplying and organs growing, with arms and legs wiggling and kicking, squishing a bladder, kicking a rib. God chooses to enter our world with a tiny, helpless body. Hope is found in a baby, a brave girl, in a body. Hope is found in bodies.

The story of the gospel is that hope is found in babies, in girls, in bodies. God’s hope is not ephemeral but tangible. The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, The Message). God works through babies, through girls, through bodies, through people.

God works through people the world does not expect and that the world thinks little of. We read 1 Timothy 4:12 this morning, “Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” God works through youth who sue the government to try to address climate change. God works through students who organize a strike around the globe, who use their bodies not in class to make a statement: the health of our planet is serious, and we need to act.

God acts through bodies. God acts through bread shared together, cups of tea drank, through relationships and accompaniment. God embodied hope through Jesus. Jesus has tasked us to embody hope in this world. To love our neighbor. To love our enemies. To heal this earth and this soil and the oceans and these rivers that we destroy with our consumption. Hope is in the baby born, the brave girl, the youth striking, the tea shared. We see hope in Jesus Immanuel: God is with us. AMEN.