“The Grand Pause”

“The Grand Pause”
Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-16
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
February 5, 2023

Name that tune.
Originally by Dolly Parton and done afresh for the Bodyguard by Whitney Houston? “I Will Always Love You.” A beautiful anthem to love eternal. And there is this one moment about ¾ of the way into the song where there is this amazing slow, full build in the verse that leads to this complete silence. Like 3 full seconds…until that bass drum hits and Whitney just goes never level “I will always love you.”

But that three seconds of silence…

What amazes me about that is how the whole song builds with lyrics and rhythm and movement in such a way that when that silence arrives…it is at once completely silent and so full. It’s not an empty silence. A silence full of all that has come before and all that will come after. It’s a silence alive.

In classical music, this is called the Grand Pause. This moment in the piece at once so full and also at rest. The prophet Isaiah speaks about a kind of Grand Pause rest in our Scripture today – something that is not just a nap or a little extra sleep a down-to-the soul kind of peace that is at once full and good…and rest. And Isaiah even goes into
how we might receive it.

But before we get there… At first, it sure seems Isaiah is going in the exact opposite direction of rest. In Isaiah 58, Isaiah is prophesying at a time of significant transition as the people of God are coming back from exile in Babylon and rebuilding their home and Temple and worshiping life in Jerusalem.

Of course, not all return – it’s been years since they’ve lived in Jerusalem and some found homes in exile, but certainly a good core is returning, and they are hard workers. In fact, our Scripture makes clear that in many ways they are ideal Temple-going people: they “delight to learn God’s ways” (Scripture); they regularly call upon God that God’s righteous judgments to be made known (prayer); and, regularly, they are fasting – disciplining their bodies with heads bowed deeply and lying in uncomfortable sackcloth and ashes (spiritual discipline).

They are actively doing a whole lot of faithful things.

And then at the outset of our Scripture this morning, God tells the prophet Isaiah to say this to the people: “(Isaiah), Raise your voice like a trumpet…”

(the trumpet was an instrument often used to summon people to war, an instrument whose sound immediately conveyed the serious urgency of the matter. In other words – this is not sounding restful at all right now):

“Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins!”

The people understandably speak up. “God, Why do we fast, but you do not see? … humble ourselves, but you do not notice?”Or quite literally, “why do we afflict ourselves, but you do not notice?” “We are, after all, the ones returning from exile and doing the work of bringing our life back together here. Maybe a little noticing and blessing is in order come to think of it…”

Perhaps we feel relate at some level:

“We’re the one actually coming back after the pandemic exile… we’re the ones leading and doing committee work, and we’re the ones carrying the load.

“Come all those who are weary and burdened” feels like it might be the promised invitation many would like to hear today.
And in their case, God declares that something is notably off:

“You serve your own interests and oppress your own workers.”“Actively working…blind, even harmful, to your neighbor.”

God goes on to say:

“Is not this the fast I choose: To loose the bonds of injustice…
To let the oppressed go free…To share your bread with hungry…And bring the homeless into your house…
And when you see the naked; to cover them…
And not to hide yourself from your kin?”

God is hardly negating prayer or spiritual discipline of fasting where one refrains from food or drink for a period of time. But absolutely God is providing the full definition of a true fasting.

Three brief observations about that litany:

  1. We don’t get any particulars (loose, share, bring/host, cover, show up) – about how precisely to live into these verbs or where to do this or about what people are more or less deserving, as if any of us really are. No particulars.
  2. We are not instructed to solve all of the world’s problems – or any of them. That’s God’s work.
  3. All of these actions cannot be done unless you are near to another: loose chains,
    share bread, bring into your house, cover the naked, not hide from your kin (which is to say, “be present.”).

The same point is implied by Jesus when he says, “You are the salt of the world.” Salt is no good as a preservative or a flavor enhancer unless it is on and in the food, unless it is “right there.”

The worthy work, the fasting that God desires…it is proximate work. Close up work. Names and faces.

One of the most remarkable refrains I have heard said aloud in our office MondayFriday nearly every single day since we re-opened the offices in 2021 is this: (just five words)

“So, tell me about yourself.”

Often it is from Christina Bondesen, our Office Manager, but also it is from other staff members, from office volunteers, congregants coming in and out.

Always it is directed to any number of the people who come by our office in need of something – sometimes food or other assistance, sometimes looking for rental space or help figuring out where to get a social security card.

“So, tell me about yourself.” And immediately a name. A story. So often the people who come through are children of Georgetown – born and raised. And by way of five simple words, a bridge is built from “those people” and “that person” to “our people.” “we” “us”

Because the truth is we don’t know what particular expression of love might be most needed without the relationship. And there really is no meaningful, sustainable loosing, sharing, bringing, covering, showing up for…unless ‘they’ have become ‘us.’ Names and faces.

Isn’t that precisely how God has loved us? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Drew near to us. And called us by name.

Where might God be calling forth those five words from our lips? And along the way, if ‘they’ become ‘we’ – how will we not be able to loose and share, welcome and feed, cloth and show up?

And…what if leaning into, not away from, but into this very kind of work is paradoxically where the promise of deep rest is found? For neighbor and for us?

Hear the promise God gives as we go about this work: “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…your gloom will be like the noonday your healing shall spring up quickly…The Lord will satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong and you shall be like a watered garden; like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

That promise is far more than a mere nap. That promise is a down-to-the-bones vitalizing rest. “The Lord will satisfy your needs in parched places.”

And so each time we play the notes of God’s anthem of love… each time the Holy Spirit works through us to…loose chains or share bread or welcome one or cloth the naked or take time to be present with kin…

…each time we step more fully into a tell-me-about-yourself-friendship… there is both an active fullness and a great rest.

A Grand Pause fullness – that’s the promise. Which maybe is not a surprise because it really is what Jesus promised: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’

How often it’s in the ones we serve and show up for that we see Jesus. Somehow, it’s in them, with them, through the ones to whom God calls us…that the promised rest of Jesus arrive. The healing waters of Jesus – arrive.

May God place on the tips of our hearts those five words: “So, tell me about yourself” that we might truly…serve our neighbor and see Jesus and receive again the grace that flows from the One who promises rest. Amen

About Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert