I have a very clear but totally incomplete memory of being lost while I was driving. It wasn’t that long ago. I didn’t have internet on my phone, I think. Because it was still a while ago. It was summer, it was hot, and whatever car I drive consistently has problems with the air conditioning so let’s assume I didn’t have any at the time. I was trying to get back to a highway I couldn’t find and I stopped at the local Starbucks and asked for… just some clarification on where I was supposed to be to get to where I needed to be… or directions. And they were not busy and they were very helpful and I have been well trained that when you go into a place you buy something. And I probably looked panicked in the eyes and flushed in the face from the heat and windblown from driving with the windows down, and they said, no, but would you like a cup of water. So, for no charge, I got directions and water so I could continue on my way in the car the temperature of hell.
Some days, Kelly and I realize that if we don’t leave the house at the exact minute we are mostly ready, we will never leave. Some days we leave thinking we’ll just be out for a short trip and hours have passed of stopping at different stores and errands from Brown Deer to Oak Creek to West Allis then Greenfield–sometimes we don’t plan our trips well. And we realize that the thing we need RIGHT NOW are fries and a water; and every time we go through the drive-through and ask for a cup of water–we get a bottle of water for $2. And I think about how water is something we all need. I might say I need coffee, but I don’t really, I guess. But water, that’s not the same. And I think of those days when I could get a cup of water for free and I think about how we have commodified water–something that we need, we all need to survive, and we need to be clean to prevent illness, and we need it to sustain the rest of creation that sustains us.
And it not just bottles of water. There was a time someone proposed that the next great wars would be over water. We talk about ancient Israel, but much of what modern Israel does, how it has taken land, how it has built walls dividing Palestinians from their farmlands, started with securing water and other resources for themselves. We see it around the world with water, fertile land, natural resources. And it is a system that, more often than not, service some people to great wealth and privilege and others become a commodity that can be used and sold, like bottles of water.
There are fractures in our world.
Our reading today comes at the very end of the Exile in Babylon. As far as I know, no empire falls at all once but that it happens over time. In this case, the Persians had started conquering the Babylonian Empire, chipping away at what Babylon had conquered from the Assyrians and the ground they had added. I imagine that this is both an exciting time for the exiled Judeans because they didn’t know what to expect, their Babylonian neighbors that they had been living with for 50 years were afraid, but, perhaps they had heard something that the Persians weren’t as into the exile and deportation of people. Perhaps they thought they could go home.
But home was nothing like they had left. The city was in ruins, the temple was gone. those who had been in charge of Jerusalem were long dead and honestly, those who had been left behind had learned to live without you.
And, there had been prophets who, for the last well, several hundred years, revealed the fractures in the world. The prophets spoke again and again of the trouble the actions the powerful for participating in and how damaging it truly was. They were exploiting the workforce and the land, until the land was no longer able to sustain growing and they would need to find ways, manipulate, take, more land. They traded away resources to assure their international relationship and acquire more wealth to the detriment of those in their own country and responsibility who did not have enough to eat. Do you remember, even Solomon made slaves of his own people so I have to assume that it happened again?
The people of God were called to care for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant–those in society would be the most vulnerable and for generations what the powerful did was make more vulnerable people.
That is until they were in exile. And they were the vulnerable, the foreigners, the commodified workforce. until they weren’t in positions of power and their basic needs were costly. Until the system of quid pro quo didn’t benefit them. Until the economic systems that they themselves had put in place, had run, had encouraged no longer had them at the top. It wasn’t until then that the fullness of the fractured world was revealed to them, the way the world had been before, the way they had made it by their systems, allowed it by their neglect or passive participation, or their acceptance of “the way it had always been and always would be.”
This poem from the prophets in the line of Isaiah at the end of the exile painted a picture of what the new world might look like. A world in which those who are hungry and thirsty have enough. Where all will participate in a feast of the best foods. “Listen!” the prophet says. “Turn your ear to the word of God and there will be abundance, there will be life, there will be fruits grown on the land and in your lives. And you will be a blessing to all the nations. You will not want to remain in Babylon for the promises God has for you. You will live in unity and peace with all of creation and even the trees will celebrate you as you go on your way to the places where God has called you, to the life God has called you to.”
There are a lot of ways in which our world has recently resembled exile–a shift in the way the world runs, a time of seeming isolation, a complete disturbance. Also, it has revealed the fractures.
It has revealed the fractures of racial inequity: When it comes to police response to people of color when it comes to police interactions. We had time to watch the video or read the stories of George Floyd suffocate, or Clifford Owensby-a paralyzed man dragged from his car for his tinted windows, or Elijah McClain, a 23 year old young man, with autism, who had the police called on him as he walked home from a convenience store because he was bland someone thought that made him suspicious. The police carotid hold — which cuts off blood flow to the brain — and paramedics called to the scene administered ketamine before taking him to the hospital where he went into cardiac arrest and died. His last words were, “I’m just different.”
In Wisconsin, a higher percentage of Wisconsin’s Black population is currently serving time in the state’s correctional system than any other state, 2742 (per 100k) compared to the incarceration of white inmates 230 (per 100k), 15% higher than the next closest state.
The COVID exile revealed the fractures in our employment systems. Many of those who pay the least–grocery stores, honestly any story, restaurants, teachers, some manufacturing, large online stores with large distribution centers; maybe it’s not about pay but about those jobs that we consider menial, entry-level–it turns out, we realized they are essential. Those who had to work through the early and scariest days of quarantines, who didn’t get to take time off when they got sick. We see the fractures in the efforts for unionization and the fighting against it. In restaurants struggling to get employees because no one can live on $2.33 an hour, before taxes, where tips are inconsistent, and healthcare isn’t possible. And healthcare workers still had to put in extra shifts and not see their families. Teachers had to navigate online school, in-person school with masks and without masks, and not to mention the students in cities and rural communities who lost a year of education because internet is expensive or it hasn’t been deemed profitable to expand into those areas. Those meat processing facilities that couldn’t keep their employees safe. Which leads us to the fractures in our systems of food, where shipping food has environmental consequences, where many don’t have access to grocery stores so no fresh fruits and vegetables, and the processed food is cheap. I have a colleague who has a painting by young artist of Cheetos and Starburst, the artist called it dinner because that is what he would eat as a child.
We have seen the fractures that exist between people and creation. With tar sands pipelines through waterways and tribal and native lands–revealing the fracture there, too. And they are wondering if this little Snowy Owl on its 1000 mile migration flight might have gotten caught up in some of the 400 gallons of oil that poured and navigated their way on the Kinnikinic, Menomonee, and Milwaukee Rivers from Komatsu. And while it was a terrible accident, and it’s not like it happens here often, it happens all over and until we are able to stop it from happening, it is a fracture in our world.
We have seen fractures with the distribution of vaccines around the world, with the fires and famines and wars, with school shootings and an increase in domestic violence and decrease of voting rights. with the increased homeless and housing vulnerable population, especially among children.
And I know this starts to be a downer, but this is what the world revealed to us, what had been there and what we (society, people of privilege and means) created, supported, allowed to happen by our participation or neglect.
But if we listen for the word of God who cried out through the prophets, who is revealed in the person and life and ministry of Jesus, who called us to kin-dom living, caring for the vulnerable, and caretakers of all of creation, we have the fractures revealed to us and are reminded of how we respond–that it is through the cracks that the light can shine through and healing can begin. and the Japanese art of Kin-tsu-gi, of healing the fractures to make something different, but still beautiful. If we listen to the word of God we can part of co-creating a world where all have enough. If we listen to the word of God we can be part of the healing of the fractures in our world. If we listen we can be part of what assures that all have enough and that it is good. That can live and function as if everyone is made in God’s image and advocate until all are treated that way. That we can live in connection and united with creation so that we can celebrate creation and it will celebrate us too.
It might mean educating ourselves, hearing and learning stories from those who society has left behind and healing the divide between humanity. Maybe it means buying locally grown, seasonal foods, because the environmental costs of transporting avocados and strawberries to Wisconsin in the winter too great or maybe it means growing food, maybe even right over there, to share or give away to those who have less. Maybe it means advocating for grocery stores in food deserts–places where healthy food is not accessible and healing our systems for food access, or teaching folks how to cook healthy food on a budget.
Maybe it means working with Family Promise to support families in transition or supporting housing first programming or fostering kids.
Maybe it means joining the work of prison reform so we can better understand the system, how we got here, how we can do better for people.
Maybe it means writing a letter to your representative for rural internet access or health care.
Maybe it means having a monthly or weekly vigil in response to gun violence. Author Shane Clairborne along with other, has started a national organization that is literally taking guns and turning them into tools for growing things. I would not say all guns, but we can’t keep going as we have been. They are working to heal violence that we have seen in cities and small town, schools and night clubs. Maybe you hear God calling you to join them.
Maybe it means giving, writing, learning, doing, speaking, marching, making, praying.
It starts listening. Listening to those for whom the fractures divide, sets apart, hurts; hearing the divine image in each person, in all of creation. Turning your ear, focus your attention to the God who gives the word, who is the word, who speaks of a world in which fractured living isn’t the way we have to live, isn’t the way the world has to be. And then, revealed to us through the prophets, through the incarnation, through the life of Jesus what living in a world without fracture might look like: Food and bread that brings goodness and wholeness, water that brings life and abundance, bringing liberation to the captives, and healing to those in pain and sickness, and clothing to those without what they need.
Listen. God is calling you to something. There is something that pulls at your heart, that you have a passion for. And if you don’t hear it right now, listen this week. Share it with someone, anyone. Share it with your church family. Invite someone to come along with you. Let respond together.
Turn your ear to God. God’s word is calling us, inviting us, reminding us of promises and the world as should be, could be, will be. Inviting us to respond, to work in our homes, neighbors, communities. Listen.
“Listen! Turn your ear to the word of God and there will be abundance, there will be life, there will be fruits grown on the land and in your lives. And you will be a blessing to all the nations. You will live in unity and peace with all of creation and even the trees will celebrate you as you go on your way to the places where God has called you, to the life God has called you to.”