July 12, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Isaiah 52:7-10 (Inclusive Bible)
We often hear today’s reading from Isaiah around the time of Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the one called the “Prince of Peace.” The people to whom Isaiah writes are oppressed and exiled by their captors. They have known much suffering. When Isaiah writes “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings good news,” it is not the feet, specifically, that are beautiful, it is the whole message of release from suffering that creates a beautiful peace. It is akin to the saying, “you are a sight for sore eyes!” The image of a messenger that brings good news is a welcome sight and cause for joy. To be part of the restoration of love and peace and hope is our call to unveil more beauty in the world.
Isaiah 52: 7-10 (Inclusive Bible)
How [beautiful] upon the mountains (a)
are the feet of one who brings good news—
who announces peace,
and brings news of happy things,
and proclaims deliverance,
saying to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Those who keep watch raise a cry,
together they shout for joy—
for they see with their own eyes
YHWH’s restoration of Zion!
Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem!
For YHWH comforts the people,
and redeems Jerusalem.
YHWH bares a holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God!
Today, I want to share with you my very favorite word in ancient Greek. It is fun to say, but more importantly, its meaning is at the heart…or should I say spleen…of our life a disciples of Jesus Christ. That word is—Splagchna! Isn’t that fun! Splagchna! It is the ancient source of our word ‘spleen’ as splagchna comes from the root word ‘splen.’ In the New Testament splagchna is translated, almost always, as ‘compassion.’ Spleen…compassion…they just naturally go together.
Many times in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, the writers record Jesus as being moved with compassion or as having compassion. In Matthew 9:36, Jesus gets off of the boat and sees the crowd gathered. He has compassion for the crowds because “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Splagchna. However, ‘had compassion’ is a very tame way of translating this dynamic word. If you remember a few weeks ago, I shared that for the ancient Hebrew people, the heart was the center of the will and of the intellect. The gut—spleen, kidney—was the center of emotions. You felt something in your gut. Splagchna is a word used to describe an emotion, bringing the word for guts right into the name. This is a compassion that is a punch in the gut, an emotion that rends the gut. Jesus disembarks the boat and witnesses the crowd. He sees their hunger, both spiritual and physical. He witnesses their yearning and need and he is almost doubled over with compassion.
Isaiah 52, our reading today, is very much an embodiment of Splagchna…splagchna in action. The people of God have lost everything. The holy city of Jerusalem is utterly destroyed. They have witnessed neighbors and leaders slaughtered before their eyes. The great and holy temple of God, where in the Holy of Holies the very presence of the divine dwells, has been razed to the ground. Many of the survivors have been taken prisoner and force-marched to Babylon. Isaiah 52 is addressed to this remnant people in captivity in a foreign land, despondent and oppressed. Psalm 137 captures the despair of these survivors:
By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung our harps…
…How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
But now, Isaiah sings a new song for a new day is dawning. Chapter 52 begins in verse 1 with “Awake! Awake!” Isaiah calls for the people to “shake the dust off of yourself! Rise up!” Redemption is on the way! Restoration! Salvation! Look! A messenger comes with the good news of freedom. How beautiful the feet of the one bringing such news! But these feet are not just any feet. This messenger isn’t just some anonymous messenger. Verse 6 identifies this amazing bearer of good news. God speaks, “My people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know it is I who speak: Here I Am! How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of the One who brings good news…” “Here I Am!” God is the messenger! God is sprinting over the mountains, announcing peace, proclaiming deliverance, bringing good news! Babylon’s king is nothing. “Your God reigns!” God has witnessed the suffering of the people of Israel and God comes running to restore and to comfort and to bring peace. It is time to go home! Splagchna!
What is the source of such radical compassion? What sends God on the run? What drives God to take on flesh in Jesus Christ? What turns Jesus’ face to Jerusalem and the cross? It is a compassion rooted in a love that knows no bounds, a love which perceives the beauty in all God ha created and cannot stand by as that beauty is disregarded, disrespected, damaged and destroyed. God…Jesus…contemplates the beauty of creations, sees the pain and suffering, and it is a kick in the gut that compels action. That is the definition of Splagchna!
That is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, to follow the way of Jesus, the way of beauty. We commit ourselves to seeing the world as Jesus sees it; through worship, prayer, reading and studying scripture—together and individually, holy fellowship…and contemplation. We take the time to stop and see the movement of the wind in the trees, a metaphor for the movement of the Holy Spirit. We spend time drinking in the beauty of nature and giving thanks to the One who called it into being. We take the time to meditate on the wondrous diversity of humanity; these individual images of God here on this planet. We accept God’s invitation to open ourselves more and more to the beauty—the sacred worth—of all created things and all created beings. And thus, we our hearts, minds, bodies, souls…and guts…open, we cannot turn away from the suffering in the world. We see the hurting environment, the oppression of people, the pain and the illness and the violence, all marring God’s beautiful work. We hear their cries and it rends our guts and it kicks us into action.
Splagchna—a compassion that compels action. As I quoted Dr. Wendy Farley at the opening of our service, “contemplating beauty is the seedling for the birth of compassion and justice.” As we continue to self-isolate due to this virus and for the love of God’s beautiful human family, let us take this time to deepen our contemplative practices, nourishing our hearts, souls and spleens. Let us open ourselves to the cries of our siblings of different races and sexual orientations and gender identities. Let us open ourselves to the needs of those struggling to make ends meet with low or no income, those who are homeless, the ill, the refugee, the immigrant in our midst. And let us pursue action that brings God’s dream into reality.
Say it with me…Splagchna…Splagchna…Splagchna…for the beauty of the earth. Amen.