United Church of Christ, Webster NY | PAST SERMONS


“It’s Gonna Be All Right”

Texts: Isaiah 43:1-4a and Philippians 4:3

Rev. Sara D. Smith, Esq.

February 8, 2009


[As the preface to my sermon, the following song was played with the words projected on screen.)

“Times Is Hard” by Loudon Wainwright III – as heard on NPR

Times is hard. Times is tough.
Nothin's easy. It's all rough.
There's not much right; so much gone wrong.
All I can do is play this song.

You're watchin' the news. It all looks bad.
The worst half-hour you ever had.
What in God's name is goin' on?
All I can do is play this song.

You're losin' your job, your house and your car.
Hittin' rock bottom don't feel that far.
Nothin' good is gonna come along.
All I can do is play this song.

Folks are scared watchin' that news.
Folks feel bad. They're gettin' the blues.
My poor stomach, it ain't that strong.
All I can do is play this song.

Times is rough. Times is hard.
Take a pair of scissors to your credit card.
Circuit City just said, 'So long.'
All I can do is play this song.

Who's at fault? Who gets the blame?
Let's string up Bernie what's-his-name.
And ask Alan Greenspan to come along.
All I can do is play this song.

They want your gold, and they'll pay cash.
The only silver lining is the price of gas.
Money's short and the odds are long.
All I can do is play this song.

The factory's closed. The bank is bust.
On the money it says, 'In God We Trust.'
So pray for all your stocks and bonds.
All I can do is play this song.

Outta luck. Outta hope.
I'm wonderin' why I even cast that vote.
I took that sign offa my front lawn.
All I can do is play this song.

There's a new man down there in D.C.
They say he's gonna help you and me.
They sure know how to bang the gong.
All I can do is play this song.

Last man in D.C., he had eight years.
Now the whole damn country is in arrears.
We got two, three, four wars goin' on.
All I can do is play this song.

Times is hard. Times is rough.
I guess you folks need some cheerin' up.
Well it ain't me babe. You got that wrong.
All I can do is play this song.

You heard it here. I sang it first.
Don't feel so bad; things are gonna get worse.
Consider yourselves all strung along.
All I can do is play this song.

All I can do is ...

Well – that song just about sums it up. Or does it? As persons who profess faith in God and a willingness to follow Jesus, we must not let that be our defining attitude.

Perhaps you have been laid off from our job; or dependent on someone who has been; or love grown children who are; or you are past our careers but the pension you worked so hard for is going down the tubes. Maybe you are so behind in your bills you cannot see a way to catch up; or maybe you are doing ok, but scared when the next shoe will drop next – right on you; or you are working as hard as you can and you do not know how to provide all you dream for your little children.

Maybe you are heart broken, wounded beyond what you feel you can endure, having trouble just putting one emotional foot in front of the other.

Maybe you are sick, and are scared of what you may have to live through; or perhaps someone you love is sick, and you cannot fix it.

Maybe we are just plain worried about everyone, worried about how our family, our church, our state, our country, our world is going to make it:

-especially the 600,000 laid off last month

-those who are losing their homes

-the ones fighting our wars

-the friend who struggles just to crawl out of bed

-our elderly parents who need more than we can give

-our children who do not understand why we are so stressed.

Whatever is most on your mind, we have a lot on our minds.

I asked someone I respect a great deal, what this community needed to hear from me this week. After all, we are all together in worship before our annual meeting, entering our second year of interim time. “What do I need to tell them,” I asked?

And she replied: “You know how when we were little and scared and we just needed our Mama to tell us everything is going to be all right. Well, people are worried, scared, uncertain, not only because of everything that is happening in our economy and world, but also what will be happening at our church. They know you will leave eventually and as excited as they are to get a new permanent pastor, they’re sad. You’re the Mama, Sara, – tell them it’s gonna be all right.”

Well, my dear people of Webster UCC, I can assure you - It’s gonna be all right. I don’t know the how’s or the when’s. I just know the one thing we can depend on: God will not abandon us. In fact, the truth about God is just the opposite. No matter what you are going through, you are not alone – God is with you.

It is fitting on our Church World Service Blanket Sunday, we who feel danger all around can clutch our spiritual blanket called God - the thing we need to wrap around us, hold onto us, comfort us, even as we provide material blankets for those who need one – who need something to wrap around them, something to hold onto, comfort them. How true, both spiritual and material blankets are necessary to get through this life.

Now before you cynics out there stop listening, please notice I did not say: God will fix everything. Just as I did not put the blame on God for our troubles. God is not the trouble or the solution – but God IS the source of strength when we are in trouble or in need of a solution. God is the place we can find our solace, adjust our vision, redeem our situation. If the children were still here in the sanctuary with us, I would tell them, God is your nightlight.

Did you hear those powerful words from Isaiah 43:

“But now thus says the Lord, the One who created you,

the One who formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God . . .

because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.”

The Chinese language is more than a way to communicate - it is an ancient art form. It is a system of characters – each holding its own meaning. By putting various characters together, other meanings are communicated. Such is the case for our English word – “Crisis.” In Chinese, it is comprised of two characters: “Danger” and “Opportunity.”

So much of what God can do for us in Crisis is helping us live from the right perspective. Do we emphasis the “Danger”? Or the “Opportunity”? Do we see whatever we are going through as an opportunity to grow, to learn about ourselves, our priorities, our understanding of God? Or do we allow ourselves to get overwhelmed by the danger?

On the radio last week, they were interviewing local people laid off in the last round of cuts at Kodak. For the first person, it was the end of the world. For the other, it was hard, but also an opportunity to try something else.

I remember those feelings. Being unemployed and financially strapped is indeed a crisis. When I moved to Rochester the first time many years ago, I did not have two dimes to rub together. I lived over off Dewey Avenue, off Ridgeway, in the same neighborhood with the pimps and drug dealers. I did not know that, of course. My mailman clued me in to my environment when he came to the door delivering a package of food my mother had shipped from Kentucky. After I unbolted the four locks on the door (which should have clued me in), he asked, “What is a reverend doing living in a neighborhood like this?”

I also remember it was people and their generosity that got me through this hard time. I was doing pulpit supply for a little church in Niagara Falls. It was a historical church – with a grand pulpit. I loved that pulpit – you could really hang on to it and preach your heart out. Every Sunday, one of the women of that church tucked a twenty dollar bill for my gas money into the velvet of that pulpit with a note that read: “So you can come back next week.”

Crisis – it is indeed a mix of both danger and opportunity. This is where God comes in: God helps us live in the hopeful side of that equation. Paul put it this way in his letter to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Please notice how Paul did not say God will do everything for us, but that we can do all things because of the strength we find in Christ.

Our first hymn today, “In the Midst of New Dimensions,” its last verse sings:

Should the threats of dire predictions
cause us to withdraw in pain,
May your blazing phoenix spirit
resurrect the church again.

Within those powerful words of assurance, lies an ancient mythological figure: The Phoenix Rising. The phoenix has been popularized in the Harry Potter series through Dumbledore's beloved bird Fawkes, becoming a familiar reference for healing and rebirth. The phoenix is a legendary bird mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Romanmythology. The bird also appears as a sacred figure in Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Native Americanculture. Hence, Phoenix Arizona.

The Phoenix had brilliant golden and scarlet feathers and grew to the size of an eagle. It was noted for its beautiful song, for having the ability to heal mortal wounds with its tears, and for having the ability to heal itself. According to ancient writers, the phoenix lived for 500 years. As its end approached, it fashioned a nest of fragrant herbs and spices, including cinnamon and myrrh. Then it set it on fire, and was consumed itself in the flames. Out of the ashes of the pyre miraculously sprang a new phoenix.

The Phoenix Rising - symbolizing immortality and eternal rebirth, or as early Christians embraced it – resurrection: new life coming out of death. God’s blazing phoenix spirit bringing new life, new hope, new opportunity. Here and Now – within you and me.

We are not alone. Thanks Be to God. Amen.