On Joining, One to Another
May 22, 2022
Each one helps the other, saying to one another, “Take courage!” The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved. But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”; do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
Today our sermon is titled On Joining, One to Another.
I have recently returned from a visit back to my hometown, Durham, North Carolina. It has changed so much since it started to appear near the top of the list of “Best Places to Live in the U.S.” in the 80s. I saw in the paper last week that it is now #7. Even though it’s turned into a bustling city there are many things I love about it. The food is one thing. Turnip greens, black-eyed peas, biscuits, cornbread, popcorn shrimp, collard greens and fried okra are standards on my list. The other thing I love about my hometown is the wide ethnic diversity among the population. People there are really living together in a multi-cultural mix that feels very different from where I have chosen to live and raise my kids.
Being an only child, I think I have gravitated towards living in a small town because it mimics living in a large family. We share so much in common: the General store, the post office, the library. We are one of the last holdouts for small town government. We even learn to recognize the road crew and know many of the people we see each day on a first name basis, if we make an effort to get to know one another. As a result, we shape a community that is joined together at many different points and we feel stronger and safer because of it.
We heard the words from Isaiah this morning that speaks eloquently of the strength and security we can create for one another. “Each one helps the other, saying to one another, ‘Take courage!’ The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.”
There is a deep and sacred joining in these ancient words, joining us to a force in the world we call God, and there is nothing asked of us in return except perhaps to yield to the joining. That may sound simple enough, but in joining with the source of infinite love we are indelibly and irrevocably changed.
Over the past year, my oldest son has been learning to weld. It looks straightforward enough…drop some molten metal along a seam and that cools to join the two pieces together. I have learned that it is not as easy as it looks. Welders work with a state of matter called plasma. There are four states of matter in our universe, solid, liquid, gas and plasma. Plasma is the most abundant. It is the stuff of stars and suns. Plasma is similar to gas but different in that it can both generate and transmit electrical charges. With welding, an electrical arc is created, but only for a very small space, less than a quarter of an inch is the extent of the plasma field within which two pieces of metal can be joined with a weld. This plama field is so powerful that it not only melts the material used for the weld, it also melts the pieces that are being joined together. In the joining, all surfaces are altered to create the strongest possible bond.
My thesis today is this: The force of love in the world that we call God acts in very much the same way as a plasma field, changing all it comes in contact with, and possessing the potential of joining us, one to another with a bond that is everlasting, even beyond death. It sounds wonderful! It is wonderful! I dare say it is what brought us here, together, in this very moment. You do not have to be here, but you choose to be.
Why do we choose to share in this process of learning, of introspection, of practicing how to be followers of Christ? It certainly does not make our lives easier; in my experience, it makes my life more meaningful and, in many respects, more difficult…more difficult because I have been changed by love. I have yielded to the joining together and I no longer experience myself as wholly separate from you. If you are going through something, whether it be something wonderful or something tragic, I experience it, too, on some level. This complicates my life, to be sure, but it also deepens it, widens it, and gives it more meaning, for which I am eternally grateful.
Here’s the catch, Friends (it seems there is always a catch). When we yield to the effects of divine love working in our lives, joining us together with one another in ways both beautiful and difficult, we can no longer go through our lives only concerned about ourselves and those closest to us. Once we yield to the effects of divine love working in our lives, joining us together with the rest of humankind we lose something; we lose the ability to remain separate and unaffected and protected.
As we see, each and every day if we look farther afield, there are those who are trying desperately to remain separate and unaffected and protected. It is no coincidence that we are seeing toxic systems in our culture exposed. Nationalism, racism, sexism, classism, materialism…these are all symptoms of a culture ungrounded; these are all symptoms of a culture coming apart at the seams, unjoined.
There is a force that holds us, Friends. It is like the force at work in the birth of stars and suns. This force joins us, one to another, and proves that there are bonds that can not and will not be broken, not by hate, not by deceit, not by violence, and not even by death. And we, you and I, we are the weld that can join the disparity we see in the world with the confidence that love and truth are indomitable.
I will close with the ancient words from Isaiah. “Each one helps the other, saying to one another, ‘Take courage!’ The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you.”
So be it. Amen.
In these moments of stillness, Lord, we thank you for all of the events of our lives that have made us who we are, and who we are not. Help us to recognize the profound influence we have in the lives of others; remind us to be careful with one another and help us to speak our truth in a way that encourages others to speak their truth, as well. Remind us, God, that our words can carry within them your infinite goodness. Guide us to use words of encouragement, words of kindness, strong words that really say what we hope to offer to one another. And may we never underestimate the power of our sincere prayers, for through them we build bridges of light between ourselves and the very source of love we call God. All this we pray in Jesus’s name, who taught us to pray by saying…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with these words from Paul to the Colossians, chapter one, verse 10:
“May you walk worthy of God, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in knowledge.” Amen.