Tearing Open

November 29, 2020

Series: November 2020

Category: Advent - Hope

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Today's Scriptures

Isaiah 64:1-9

1   O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,

          so that the mountains would quake at your presence —

2   as when fire kindles brushwood

          and the fire causes water to boil —

     to make your name known to your adversaries,

          so that the nations might tremble at your presence

3   When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,

          you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

4   From ages past no one has heard,

          no ear has perceived,

     no eye has seen any God besides you,

          who works for those who wait for him.

5   You meet those who gladly do right,

          those who remember you in your ways.

     But you were angry, and we sinned;

          because you hid yourself we transgressed.

6   We have all become like one who is unclean,

          and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth

     We all fade like a leaf,

          and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

7   There is no one who calls on your name,

          or attempts to take hold of you;

     for you have hidden your face from us,

           have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity

8   Yet, O LORD, you are our Father;

          we are the clay, and you are our potter;

          we are all the work of your hand.

9   Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD,

          and do not remember iniquity forever.

          Now consider, we are all your people.


1 Corinthians 1:3-9

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind — 6just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you — 7so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 8He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

 Today's Sermon

Tearing Open

            I do share grace and peace with you.  It is good to see you.  What I most want to say to you is, “How are you?”  And how are you (to camera)?  It’s been a time.  It was March 19 when the county issued the shelter in place order.  Think of what has taken place in that time, what you and others have endured.  We have not gathered for worship in this sanctuary since then, over 8 months.  Most are still gathering safely at home.  Given the rising case numbers, we don’t even know if we’ll be able to gather again in here a week, but tomorrow will have troubles enough.  Let us just be here, now, today, trusting that maybe today can give us what we need to face tomorrow. 

            Back on March 29, the writer and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote, “Do not lose heart.  We were made for these times.”[1] That was ten days in by our calendar.  Do we still feel as though we were made for these times?  Did we ever? 

            There is something powerful about the fact we have returned on the first Sunday of Advent.  For one, it is the beginning of the new year in the Christian calendar, and many of us are ready for a new year.  Even more, as you lit the first candle on our Advent wreath, today is a day we point to hope, the hope we see in Jesus Christ, maybe the hope to which at times such as this we cling.

            There are times when clinging to hope is all you can do.  Moments ago, you heard in Isaiah the prophet cry out, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (Is. 64:1).  Could there be a more relatable prayer?  Have you prayed that prayer in so many words in the past months?  As we have spoken about before, the Celts have this notion of thin places, where the boundary between heaven and earth is thin.  There are times we want it torn down completely.  Tear open the heavens and come down.  Christians confess that’s exactly what God did in Jesus.  Ask and you shall receive.  And yet, what we received isn’t perhaps what we had in mind.  When Jesus comes, he doesn’t eliminate our suffering.  Jesus participates in it and models for us how to move through it.  Jesus gives us hope that there is a way through it and something on the other side.

            The Christian path, in this life, is as much about this enduring as it is about escaping suffering.  Just listen to Paul, Paul who suffered mightily throughout his life.  His prayer is of thanksgiving for the gifts given, recognizing their help in enduring until the revealing of Christ.  Now what that revealing looks like is hard to say definitively.  It seemed to evolve in Paul’s own thinking throughout life.  Suffice it to say, it is some form of tearing down the boundary between heaven and earth.

            What is often missed is this enduring is not to be a passive waiting; it is a participatory one.  If we say in Jesus, God participates in our human endeavors we should also say through Christ we are invited to participate in heavenly ones—healing, uplifting, advocating, restoring, redeeming, resurrecting even.  If you read Isaiah and 1 Corinthians carefully, really if you read any of the Scriptures carefully, you’ll see that it is not an idle waiting or a one-sided action asked of us.  We have a role to play, and what’s more the stories of our ancestors in Scripture are testimonies that the people are given what they need to do their part.  Time and again, people, profoundly imperfect people, are given what they need.  Paul promises that we have the spiritual gifts we need to see this through, along with God and one another.  We are not alone.  We are called into fellowship of the Son, as the apostle puts it. 

            I do not claim that God ordained the pandemic, that it is some sort of test.  God only knows.  I do believe, we have been ordained and equipped by the Spirit to endure, to make it, not as rugged individualists, but as a resilient people in Christ with love and concern for others. 

Estes continues in her writing:

            “I would like to take your hands for a moment and assure you that you are built well for these times.  Despite your stints of doubt, your frustrations arighting all that needs change right now, or even feeling that you have lost the map entirely, you are not without resource.  You are not alone…

            We all have a heritage and history of being gutted, and yet remember this especially:  We have also, of necessity, perfected the knack of resurrection…

            One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul…

The light of the soul throws sparks, sends up flares, builds signal fires…causes proper matters to catch fire.  To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others – both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.  Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it.  If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”[2]

            God has torn open the heavens and shown God’s soul in Christ.  We can do so too because we were made for this.  Amen.


[1] https://www.westword.com/news/clarissa-pinkola-estes-do-not-lose-heart-we-were-made-for-these-times-11677029

[2] Ibid.


Quotes, Questions & Prompts for Reflection, Discussion, and Prayer

Prepare the way, O Zion,

your Christ is drawing near!

Let every hill and valley

a level way appear.

Greet One who comes in glory,

foretold in sacred story.

“Prepare the Way, O Zion”

1. What is Paul talking about when he speaks of “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

2. Why does Advent focus so much on Christ’s return?

3. What are some ways you can ritualize this season aside from the norms of the dominant consumer culture?

4. What are ways you can ritualize hope and your commitment to it?

5. Where do you see signs of hope, of God’s inbreaking?