Bruce Springsteen & the Gospel of Love
For centuries before Jesus, prophets in the Holy Land shouted from the hills and in the city streets. Isaiah epitomized these hard-truth tellers. Amid the ruins of his day and city, Isaiah preached truth to power. His words from Isaiah 58 still ring true:
Remove the yoke of oppression from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
Offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.
If you do, then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your needs in parched places…
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
No one listened, at least not for long. Hard times and hardened hearts got in the way of hard commands. The journey to the promised land remained rocky or worse.
Amid times and spaces of rocky ground, people yearn for the promised nourishment to come and they ask who will lead us there?
More than a prophet was needed. As great as Isaiah and the other prophets were, not just another prophet would do.
Prophet, yes, but prophet, shepherd, poet, mystic, and sage all rolled into one servant leader infused with divinity was needed. A new paradigm infused in a person, that is what the times required.
The time had come.
Jesus, the mystic-sage, the parable-poet, the shepherd-preacher, one anointed with divinity, appeared.
The good shepherd, as the sun through the clouds, appeared and peered into every eye and reached the universe’s soul.
That good shepherd, like in the parable-poem he once preached, came to find all frayed and strayed-ones, even that lost one among the hundred, that lost one who cannot find his way home alone.
Jesus takes doubt and instill trust. He fills the silence of unanswered prayer with his presence. He, through himself, turns the loneliness of no one’s there into divine companionship in God. He leads us from rocky ground to still waters and green pastures, restoring our souls.
A new day has come. A new paradigm has come. Jesus has come.
Mary and Jesus shared a special bond. Mother Mary – it’s clear she was the one most responsible for Jesus’ edgy, iconoclastic streak. Mary was Jesus’ guru, his rabbi. Luke 1 says it all. Mary sang,
“God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
God has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
God has helped servant Israel,
in remembrance of God’s mercy…”
The world rewards the strongman. The one with simple answers, obvious power, and ready armies. The one worshipping strength, their own strength, and using and abusing it to weaken and keep weak. The one who ruthlessly takes hold of thrones and squashes any questioning of authority or threats to power.
In this paradigm of the powerful, only the strongest deserve to survive, the less strong lose and deserve to.
Weakness? The weak? In the paradigm of the powerful, it’s best to ignore these things. If ignoring is not possible, control and condemn them, these things.
Jesus – he brought a new paradigm, the paradigm of love. It’s the paradigm his mother taught him. He embodied that new paradigm all the way to a Roman cross whose violence would not win. This new paradigm embodied in Jesus would rise victorious and change the world.
It is sorrow that transforms us.
It is the soul of Love that willed the universe into being.
It is vulnerability and selflessness that saves the universe.
To those who worship power, and worship what or who is strong, we preach the good news, the gospel story of freedom and liberation for the vulnerable ones.
It is in weakness that we are strong.
It is in grief that we are most human and humane.
It is in losing our pride and privilege that we win our souls.
It is in meeting people where they are that changes hearts and changes the world.
It is in a love that fully sacrifices self to protect and heal that we find the greatest strength.
This paradigm of love, let’s find it again and let it re-create the universe.
Have you ever faced the reality of ruins? I think of Israel and Palestine this morning. The reality of ruins is inescapable. Maybe your ruins was or remains a little closer to home.
In the wake of the Crucifixion, the community that surrounded Jesus was certainly facing the reality of ruins. The one they placed so much hope in, so much faith in, so much of their lives in, was gone. He left in such a violent fashion, its own kind of loss. Dreams died with Jesus. Yes, the curtain of the temple was torn open, as scripture says, but the disciples had all scattered. They were scattered leaves indeed..
They saw and sensed despair etched on Jerusalem’s empty streets. Grief overwhelmed.
Those familiar heart-rending questions appeared: how can I go on, how do I begin again, what happens now, now that the one who changed my life forever is gone?
A community was in ruins.
All hope was not lost, though.
The mercy and grace of resurrection, that promise of new life despite death, that was not lost.
Mercy and love, they still drifted through the trees even that night of Jesus’ death and the night after.
The unanswerable questions of why, where were you, they invoke a prayer of hope, a plea for renewal, a pleading of the spirit:
Come on, rise up!
The unanswerable questions give way to hands and hearts working to remove the rubble of loss and let the resurrection of life happen.
one, rise up!
"Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying… The angels said to her, “Dear Woman, why are you weeping?”… At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there." - John 20:11-14
If the mention of sinners, whores and gamblers alongside saints and kings bothers you, then I offer this friendly reminder. The gospels and Jesus include them. Jesus said it is the suffering and lost who need a physician most. And he said to the religious elitists among him this: "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God – the train to God - ahead of you."
This out of the way, let’s talk about this train and this land of hope and dreams.
What seems clear is the land of hope and dreams is a sacred place. Is it heaven? Some kind of spiritual paradise? Is it the realm of pure consciousness at one with God? Maybe.
I’d say the land of hope and dreams is the Kingdom of God. It is the Promised Land where all in the end will be reconciled to God who is love.
And what is the train, this train that leads to the promised land of hope and dreams?
The song gives hints. The train includes a community of diverse people, from the honored and respected to the dishonored and discarded. The train encourages and supports the beauty of our deepest longings. The train reward faith. The train rings in and bring us to divine freedom.
So, again, what does this train symbolize?
Well, where are you right now? Who are you right now?
This is the train! You and me, the church, are this train leading to the Promised Land of God’s Kingdom.
And all are free to board.
Even if you’re brokenhearted,.
Even if you’re grieving deeply, get on board.
Even if you deem yourself a fool,
Even if you’ve lost your faith, get on board.
Get on board and you’ll gain insight into wisdom and find your faith.
Are you ready?
Once you hop on board with all your soul, there’s no going back. This community of God’s love will seep into your spirit, transforming you from the inside out.
Yes, some releasing of our baggage and possessions will be required.
But you’ll find shoulders to rest and cry upon. You’ll find friends who’ll walk alongside you, accompanying you amid those difficult parts of the journey. You’ll experience a light in the coalmines of life. You just might find some healing, some help, some truth about your own heart.
And maybe, just maybe, this will be the last day of utter loneliness and never-ending despair
This train, this church, this faith – all, all aboard!