Over thousands of years, the holy city of Jerusalem has endured cycles of destruction and rebuilding. The protective city walls have been breached, buildings have been destroyed or abandoned as the populace was taken into captivity or fled for their lives. Even now violence and destruction continue within her walls and in surrounding neighborhoods.
Isaiah writes to a dispirited people who can’t understand why God doesn’t end the destruction. They fast and pray, they engage their religious traditions and still God doesn’t deliver them from their enemies. What more can they do?
Well, Isaiah has a word for them, in fact a lot of words. He makes it clear that no amount of religious observance, or even religious language, no dramatic fasting or display of religious fervor, dare I say not even a National Prayer Breakfast will make any difference unless their actions reflect the priorities of God.
“Loose the bands of injustice. Undo the thongs of the yoke. Let the oppressed go free. Share bread with the hungry. Bring the homeless poor inside. Cover the naked. Don’t ignore your own people.”
Only when the nation cares for its broken, neglected and ignored members will the light of hope be kindled. Only when all of God’s people are treated with respect and dignity will the country be healed. When those are the priorities, and only then, will the gardens flourish and ruins be restored. Then they will call you the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Some of you know about the pilgrimage walk, the Camino de Santiago. In English it is called the Way. It’s the journey pilgrims have taken for hundreds of years to arrive at the cathedral of St. James (St. Iago). By the 20th Century, the path had fallen into disuse. Cities and their neighborhoods had built up over it. Vegetation had obscured it. The many hostels and small villages along its 500-mile route had closed up or been abandoned as the flow of pilgrims was reduced to a trickle. The impulse to take on a 500 mile journey by foot in search of healing, forgiveness and renewal had become unpopular and unnecessary.
In 1984 a Spanish priest named Don Elias wanted to recover and revive the Camino. He spent all his free time in his little grey Citroen covering the countryside of Northern Spain looking for the ancient route. He got a deal on some bright yellow spray paint and he began to spray simple arrows or “flecha,” pointing the direction to Santiago. He talked to people about this traditional French route and the purpose of pilgrimage. By the time he died in 1989, he had rediscovered and marked the entire journey. Still there were few who made the pilgrimage.
But the word began to spread. Each year since, the number of pilgrims has increased until now there are over 250,000 annually who walk at least some portion of the pilgrimage. All along the way the villages are coming back to life. Small, remote, rural places are filled with laughter and conversation in every language. New stone walls are built on top of old foundations. The breaches are being repaired. The streets are being restored.
And Pilgrims are rediscovering the holy practice of walking. All of us who have made our Camino did so followed Don Elias’s arrows. After just a few days, you are attuned to arrow spotting. You can find them on the ground, on walls, signs and even trees. In the midst of busy cities, pilgrims walk with their eyes peeled for arrows, tuning out the crowds and traffic. The flecha glow in the dark. You don’t need a map or GPS or guide. You simply follow the flecha. They literally light up the path.
Jesus tells us that we who follow him are the light of the world. I don’t know how many of us will have the impact that Don Elias had, but we are each beacons, arrows, pointing to the way, shining in dark and confusing times. By us, some may find their way home, some may find healing and hope in God.
Jesus also tells us that those who follow him are the salt of the earth. Salt is good both for preserving food and for enhancing its flavor. Without salt life becomes tasteless and bland. It may even begin to rot.
In our nation, some of the saltiest people in its history are those who have taken a stand for Civil Rights. These are primarily people of color, indigenous people, LGBTQ folk, people who have been oppressed and marginalized. Their stories and voices have been silenced or hidden. And yet these stories and contributions are an essential part of the whole.
And so we are recovering and lifting up Civil Rights history in the locations where its most important events took place. In Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, Atlanta and Washington DC. In small rural towns where individuals were lynched and entire communities of African Americans destroyed. This fall, as part of my sabbatical, I will be traveling to many of these locations to be salted; salted with the tears of years of oppression; salted with the courage of those who risked everything for freedom and dignity; salted with the wounds of systemic racism; salted with the flavor of those who are essential to our communal well-being and who have been, at best ignored, and at worst, systemically destroyed.
The Civil Rights movement is not just history. It carries on to this day all over this nation. You can hear and feel it in the Poor People’s Campaign, A Call for Moral Revival led by the Rev. William Barber. God is still calling out to us to be salt and light in our day. I love that the organization Barber founded is called “Repairers of the Breach.” Here is a short description of their mission:
Repairers of the Breach seeks to build a moral agenda rooted in a framework that uplifts our deepest moral and constitutional values to redeem the heart and soul of our country. We challenge the position that the preeminent moral issues are prayer in public schools, abortion, and property rights. Instead, we declare that the moral public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, women, LGBTQ people, children, workers, immigrants, communities of color, and the sick. Our deepest moral traditions point to equal protection under the law, the desire for peace within and among nations, the dignity of all people, and the responsibility to care for our common home.
Amen and Amen.
Yesterday when our Property Stewardship Team met to determine the next steps for development at St. Luke’s, we studied and reflected on this passage from Isaiah. We are salt and light in this community. We share our bread with the hungry in the Edible Hope Kitchen. We partner with the Bridge Care Center to cover the naked. We provide shelter space for those with no homes. We are a watered garden called the SLUG. And we work to see and be in relationship with all our neighbors, including those who are unsheltered and those who persecute us for our mission. As our resident prophet reminded us yesterday, when it says we are not to hide from or ignore our own kin, that means our brothers and sisters on the street. It even means those we consider our enemies or opponents. It means loving our neighbor as ourselves, all our neighbors, even the ones who are so hard to love.
Here in this place we want to be repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in, a place where all God’s people flourish. Together we are light shining in the darkness, arrows pointing out the way. We are salt, preserving life, enhancing the rich diversity of the flavors of our community and even getting into the wounds caused by sin to bring awareness and attention to what needs healing and reconciliation.
When God’s people function as salt and light, then our prayers and fasting strengthen and prepare us for our mission. Then our rituals and rites have meaning. They give us courage to go forth from this place into a world desperately in need. Amen.