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Who Have We been, and Who Are We to Become?

Carlyle Fielding Stewart, IV
Sun, Oct 13

Text: Isaiah 40:21-31

Isaiah, I personally love the relevancy of his message and its poetic language. Some general points. Isaiah prophesied Judah’s judgement, exile, and subsequent restoration. He warned corrupt leaders that their rebellion against God would come at a cost. If they persisted in idolatry and oppression of the poor there would be consequences.

When he speaks about the impending destruction and exile, he attributes this to the abandonment of the covenant, which was a social contract created to ensure the flourishing of all people.

But that message was also accompanied with a message of hope for future generations. The belief that God would fulfill the covenantal promises, and Gods’ blessing would restore the nation.

It was his hope in the power of God to change the future. In my mind, the question that drives Isaiah here is, “Oh Judah, Who have we been, and who are we to become?

Israel was forced to consider the stability and well being of future generations. These texts serve to deter future descendants from making the same mistakes. The Prophet Isaiah was gifted with foresight and insight. His eyes were open, and his heart was tuned to the suffering and needs of his people. He knew that because humans are so pre-disposed to losing our way, that these future generations would need a concrete recording of past events. You can say that Isaiah had a vested interest in creating a Public Remembrance Project! “Who have we been and who are we to become?”  

 I will speak on the importance of ancestors momentarily but first, his attempt at answering this focused on understanding the power and presence of God. That reaches to all ends of the earth. And it was only through remembering the covenant that the people would be able to stay faithful. For example, much like in our lives when we go through highs and lows, or we feel that we are a pendulum swinging from one end to the other, the history of Israel’s faith and action shows that they strayed and returned in a similar fashion. Strong faithfulness on one hand, and on the other, forgetfulness and corruption. But remembering the power and everlasting presence of God helped them maintain spiritual balance to ensure their wellbeing.

 “Have you not known? That the Lord is the everlasting God who does not faint or grow weary”?

The power and spirit of God pervades throughout the generations. In other ways Isaiah is saying that God does not have a shelf-life. God does not expire. In that case, our walk with God should never cease. “Have you not seen, do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning, The God of all creation who sits above the circle of the earth!”

“The Lords power is just as strong now, as it was when the priests  of the nation with ark in hand, crossed the Jordan with the Power of God at the helm. There the Lord commanded the waters to cease at their feet to make a path for the people. He reminded Joshua of that power, “Joshua! As I was with Moses, so I will be with you!”

God’s power is just as strong as it was during the years when God incarnated into the flesh of a Palestinian Jew named Jesus, who changed the course of history forever.

God power is just as strong as it was when he converted “Paul” on the road to Damascus, there he was blinded for three days before the scales fell from his eyes. The Lord saying “Go for you are a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the children of Israel.”

God’s presence does not expire and God’s power does not dwindle through the ages.

The things that do expire, the things that need to be reformed and revolutionized, are our human tendencies, especially when they are destructive; what tendencies? That list is exhaustive. This occurs on a personal and a societal level. There are practices that we employ that at moments in time, we believed were so innovative, (or healthy) only to then realize how wrong and misguided we were.

The power of God can only shine through us when we recognize the error of our past ways. We release them by honestly confronting the reality of history.

We are well on our way to accomplishing this. A task which we as a community should all be proud of. Truly First Church, and I say that with the deepest sincerity.

As we work towards this future Isaiah reminds us that we must be in a cohesive intimate relationship with God, because God is the source that allows us to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint, and to complete the hard work that may difficult.

Now I’ve mentioned ancestors a few times. In my understanding, Ancestry  is a form of continuity that is important to understand. Whether were talking about the Aaronite priesthood or the line of David. Why Is there such a strong emphasis on descendants? Understanding our ancestry allows us to know ourselves.

I believe in the concept of higher spirit/soul that cannot be destroyed.

 I believe people and places have spirits that live on,

I believe our ancestors walk with us.

 I believe in the sacredness of the physical world.

Therefore when things occur in history, the legacy of those events remains in the places they occurred, and that legacy remains in the bodies of the people that were involved…. (That’s why visiting places can be so powerful!) And if we are the living descendants of the spirits and bodies of our ancestors, therefore they, as well as their legacy, is still here. How do we honor our ancestors regardless of which “side” they were on, how do we heal and amend past wrongs, we lift our eyes to the hills of history, and no matter how ugly it is, we tell the truth! I see a sanctuary of truth tellers here today. I see a community with hearts for justice and sense of urgency and fervency, to build this better future.

But! We need strength to do this work. We must call upon God to be our strength when we are struggling, discouraged, or confused. This is not easy. I’ve had conversations with some of you about lineage and ancestry, and the challenge is not finding the courage to address 400 years of inequality, but it is laboring to figure out what shall we do about it!? This can be paralyzing work. Truth be told, it has been for me at times….. Revisiting the ancestral trauma of injustice and its legacy may re-traumatize those who have deep connections to this history. Which is true for any type of trauma. During some conversations about race, or when I have to look into the past at all that ugliness and violence, sometimes I notice myself feeling a gut wrenching anxiety and a pain that emanates from my heart. Sometimes its a foreboding feeling of fear and uneasiness that twists and contorts my insides. And for the longest I didn’t know what it was. The feeling you know, it reminds me of when I used to get in trouble at school, and my mom would say, mm just wait to your father gets home. Emotions cause physical responses in the body. In those moments I wonder what is going on? Why am I having a severe biological response to watching a documentary about slavery, or speaking about my experiences?  Then I realized this is more complex then we can imagine. It is my own pain, mixed with the pain and experience of my ancestors. These experiences are fused into my DNA and they have inscribed themselves onto the tablet of my soul. Therefore no matter how long ago something occurred, it still lives inside of us. But we don’t have to be at the mercy of the past, we can rise above it. By lifting our eyes and voices to tell….. the truth.

I am taking a class on trauma and resilience and we’ve spoken about embodiment. And the importance of being connected to our bodies. Much of our suffering has to do with the pain inflicted on us, and the injustice of the current age; and also the ancestral pain of history that lives in our souls and bodies

This is not about atoning for past sins so our ego is fed and guilt dissolved.

This is about hydromodification. Do you know what hydromodification is? (Neither did I. But according to Google). Here’s an image, it is the process of re-engineering a body of water. If you picture a river that flows. And if you imagine a legacy as a river.

This work we are doing is about damning this river of injustice and exclusion with the pure force of our hearts and determination, causing a ripple effect powerful enough to re-route it towards a new land, a better future! This is about physically and spiritually changing the course of history, which always starts with one community; so we can all thrive in an environment when the contortment of our hearts can be no more.

 This requires enough people to wade into the depths of those frigid waters to know that they may be battered by the current.

But when you step out with God as your life vest.

 When you step out cloaked in the power and strength of God, there is nothing that you cannot accomplish.

I recently was on my knees in prayer looking for answers, trying to hear Gods voice, and I told the Lord, “I’m tired, my journey is long and I don’t know where I’m headed, What will you have me do?!

And God said, child “I chose the length of your journey, and there I placed the Stoney obstacles upon which you step so you REMEMBER, that you can rise above them!”

I told God, “But I feel faint and weak”. God said, “Is it not I that gave you flesh and bone, so that what may fall weak, will one day be strong, have you forgotten that I am the well of strength from which you can always drink!”

(And once God said that I said Okay! I hear you)

I think of Isaiah, pondering, who have we been, and who are we to become? But like Isaiah knew, we have to face the actions of the past and present to learn from them, to then re-orient ourselves to move towards the future. Siblings in the spirit we are taking the steps, we are on our way.

 In that future, we don’t always know who we are to become, but we have to be honest about who we were, and when we lift our voices to speak the hard truth, to do what’s right, God will be with us on our journey as we walk towards the light. And that’s all that matters.  

Praise the Lord- Amen






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