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"After Sunday worship I feel refreshed and ready to start a new week. Worship calms me and makes me want to be a more giving and forgiving person."

 

 "I am here to share my soul, body, and mind with our bigger family who shares our worship to God and the entire universe.  This is my worship experience at church."

 

Worship at FCC Essex follows a traditional liturgy, but God still speaks to the world today from these ancient words and rituals as if they were new.  Music and spirit and art and words and silence center us and inform us.  Our style of worship brings comfort, soothes the spirit, challenges the mind, strengthens our love of each other, and empowers us for doing good in the world.

During the pandemic, we worship on-line exclusively. Our service is available on YouTube, Facebook, or here on our website by 9:00 am on Sunday.

Other special services of worship are celebrated throughout the year during Advent (Christmas) and Lent, as well as ecumenical events with other churches in Essex and within the UCC.

 

 

November 29, 2020

First Sunday in Advent

 

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
I Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

Reflection on Isaiah 64:1-9

by Cheryl Lindsay

Has there been a time when it seemed that God was avoiding you? That God has just had enough with your foolishness and has left you to your own devices. When you were certain that, because of your shortcomings, God became angry enough to renege on God’s promise never to leave you nor forsake you? What do you do with that?

During the period captured by the last chapters of Isaiah, the people of God seem to vacillate between hope and despair, certainty and dismay, assurance, and desperation. The Israelites have returned from living in Babylonian exile to be reunited with those who remained in the territory of Judah. Their return and reunion, however, do not signify restoration; they are not yet whole. Jerusalem is broken. Shalom M. Paul writes, “Following its destruction and the first days of the return, Jerusalem in the time of the prophet is described as desolate and unconsoled.  Deutero-Isaiah portrays the city as a bereaved and barren widow.” Rather than celebration, the reunion presents a return to a place that only shadows its former glory and a profound disappointment among the people who have been waiting for this day.

We live in a time when one might be excused for wondering if God has had enough with our foolishness. Fires rage around the globe. We have experienced so many severe tropical storms and hurricanes on record that we’ve exhausted one alphabet and have delved into another with weeks remaining in the season. The rise of white nationalism and in Black Lives Matter activism and allyship highlight the daily news, and a contentious election season further divided a nation already fractured. In the midst of this, the global pandemic found in COVID-19 looms over and magnifies everything else.

Is God hiding when we need God the most? The lectionary texts this week invite a readiness for the move of God in our lives. We are assured of God’s hand and warned not to sleep, but in this passage from the Prophet Isaiah, we find a desperate plea for the Holy One, in the midst of God’s anger, to return to God’s people. There is a sense that God is decidedly not at work, which begs the question: Is God hiding causing our problems to get worse?

As the text opens, the prophet believes God could do more. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” (v. 1a) connotes a plea for presence that the prophet seemingly judges God to willfully withhold. Isaiah does not ask if it is possible but bemoans that the Holy One has not done what is within God’s power to do. Of course, this is exacerbated by what God has done in the past as Isaiah reminds us in the next few verses. In fact, Isaiah magnifies God, who has done what no one has done before or is capable of doing now. In this, the sovereignty of God never comes into question. The text moves us from desperate plea to desperate hope, and it is the process of remembering that takes us on the journey.

At the same time, remembering the glory of God invites a comparison of humanity’s behavior in response. “But you were angry, and we sinned” frames human failing as a consequence of the anger of God and not the cause as might be expected. The text continues to delineate the disastrous results of this separation initiated by God who hides God’s face. Most prophecy admonishes the people for turning from God; here, the prophet holds God to account for the human condition and ultimately for the diminution of the name of God in the world. “There is no one who calls on your name,” the prophet laments as he repeats the linkage of God’s hidden status and human shortcoming in even stronger terms.

If anything, this emphasis conveys the depth of God’s anger. This is not a flickering flame ready to be extinguished or a low smolder destined to fade out. God’s anger is rage that has only been kindled by the ongoing inequity of the people. Like “the fire [that] causes water to boil,” God’s anger burns with destructive consequence.

In this portion of Isaiah, God is depicted as a mighty warrior. God‘s power and might is undeniable and unmistakable. God is the one who has the ability to vanquish enemies, devour nations and crush the unrighteous. God, it appears, likes to fight or at least excels at it. It’s fair to say that we struggle with the image of a warrior God. Our view of God is of the loving, compassionate, and benevolent Sovereign who cares and comfort us. Our Creator does not strike down adversaries, and we wrestle with Old Testament passages that depict the destruction of entire communities, where the innocent as well as the guilty receive God’s righteous anger, judgement, and sentence. In many ways, we reject the view of the Divine Warrior because that God does not seem quite fair. We aren’t comfortable with vengeance when our faith claims grace and mercy as the hallmark of the God we know. This discomfort may explain our struggle with God’s anger…especially when it is directed at us and our actions. God‘s anger at injustice we can accept as we share in that righteous indignation. There is no shortage of legitimate issues that should spark the wrath of God, such as poverty, income inequality, racial oppression, misogyny and sexism, transphobia, human trafficking, and domestic violence. But what do we do with this image of a God who gets so angry that God does not want to deal with us anymore? The Creator hides from creation.

Our unique position in creation is that we bear the image of God. We tend to attribute that to the nicer qualities and characteristics of God that make us comfortable. God is loving and compassionate; therefore, we should be loving and compassionate. The Everlasting God is faithful so we should be faithful. The Holy One is righteous so we are righteous. On the other hand, if God is a warrior, should we then be warriors? If God gets angry so should we get angry? If God can hide God’s face, then what do we get to hide from? What circumstances and situations can we turn from? Having made us not only to be in a relationship with God but having created us in such a way that we long for the presence of God, how can God turn from us? One of my favorite images is God hiding our sin from God’s self. This God is so forgiving that the Holy One deliberately chooses not to remember the things that we have done to displease God. I must confess the image of a God who hides from us while fixating on our failings is not as compelling.

 

Read the scriptures and this entire reflection here.

 

 

First Congregational Church in Essex

United Church of Christ

6 Methodist Hill

Essex, Connecticut 06426

phone:  860-767-8097

office@essexucc.org