Where does God live? In people who hope. The Old Testament book of Isaiah is one of the richest stories of hope, because (as is often the case) God’s people find themselves in seemingly hopeless conditions. War. Families separated. Mothers in anguish. Children’s ears ringing with the sounds of wailing. Sound like today’s reality for millions of our siblings across the globe? It is. The same world in Isaiah’s day is the same world into which Christ is born, the same world that Mickey Thomsen entered nearly a century ago. The same world today. Always desperate for good news, God’s people then and now search for hope amidst the ashes.
"This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord."
The search is not in vain, because God’s way of peace is coming. We were created for peace, and we practice it each week in worship when we pass the peace of Christ. Several years ago I learned a simple melody inspired by Isaiah 2: We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God. I sang this song while marching in Milwaukee alongside hundreds of other UCC friends and colleagues around an immigration detention center that was keeping children apart from their parents. Driven by war from their countries of origin, not enough visas to go around, these families knew the wailing of separation. Cries for hope in what seems like an impossible situation. You and I could describe a hundred different scenarios similar to this that remind us things have not changed all that much since the days of Isaiah.
We are still searching for hope, trusting that if we walk by faith, one day we will be able to join the great chorus that sings: We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.
As we lit these Advent candles this morning, the first candle of hope, I am reminded this faith community embodied hope long before any of us were around, and we sure intend to make it so long after any of us are here. Today, as you looked around while passing the peace, this is today’s people who hope. We draw from the great source of hope that is our ancestors in faith; today we embody the stories of hope that continue to germinate in our lives and those who will come after us. That's what it means to march ever forward in the light of God.
I’ve been a part of this church family for 5 ½ years. As I reflected this week on what all has transpired since we moved here in 2017, I am aware of the many patriarchs & matriarchs we’ve lost and those who’ve moved away. I am also aware of the many new adults, youth, and children who have joined our body. It can be hard to hold this constant flux of grief & joy in balance. In fact I believe it would be impossible without one thing: hope. Even as we mourn the loss of loved ones, new babies are born and baptized. This is the constant of life: change. And we must practice the delicate balance in order to find our way toward hope.
Pastors get to see hope in action as a part of our job (SUCH a cool job); my favorite way is to witness YOU ALL giving your time and energy to our shared mission. As we prepare to vote in a new slate of 2023 leadership next Sunday & prepare a faithful budget for 2023, I stand in awe of the way you all contribute SO heartily to ensure we are people who embody hope for one another and our community. You’ve caught the vision, and that fills me with hope.
Now my favorite way to be surprised by hope is to receive the unexpected news of a large memorial gift to this church. Last week it happened again for the 4th time since I became pastor. My first year Glenn Kietzmann donated $30,000 for our Daktronics Sign, a memorial for Janet; Then Alice Doscher’s daughters Jeanie, Bobbi, & Mary donated $80,000 for our new kitchen remodel. A year later, Jim & Nora Wosepka donated $70,000 in memory of Verly & Louise to complete our Bradford Hall renovation. Just last week, we received a check in the mail from Mickey Thomsen’s estate in the amount of $25,000. Each time this happens, I cry tears of hope. People who’ve caught the vision and want to see it through, even after they’ve departed.
Do we need an updated and efficient building to be people who hope? Absolutely not. God lives in us regardless. But because we function as a community who gathers a LOT for worship, fellowship, service, and good ole’ fashioned fun AND because we are people with a variety of physical needs…it is a blessing to be able to call this place home.
Both Nancy Thomsen and our trustees agree that it would honor Mickey’s legacy best by using her memorial gift toward our new elevator. Accessibility and full inclusion are hallmark values for us as a church; a new elevator will improve our functioning in a big way. I don’t have full details on the elevator project just yet, but we will keep you informed as soon as we have the green light from our contractor. We’ll need additional funds (and you’ll hear totals when we have them), but we estimate already having over ½ of what we need set aside. Jack’s quilts in the back for purchase will also be for the elevator fund. So many displays of hope, even in the aftermath of grief.
At the end of the day, raising money toward a common cause is an act of solidarity with all the saints who’ve gone before us. We are ensuring that this faith home will continue to be functional and vibrant for a new generation. This hope is what turns our mourning into dancing, our tears into laughter. I can think of no greater place to tend the delicate balance of grief and joy than right here in worship.
The Lord’s call beckons us from the days of Isaiah: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. God will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in God's paths.” Thank you for choosing to walk in God’s path with us. It's my deep honor to share good news in the name of Christ as we begin another Advent season.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.