“If you are attentive to the conversations and begin to consider the evidence, you will see that the Beloved Community is frayed. It is sick and tired of being sick and tired, sick and tired, sick and tired,” the Rev. Teresa L. Fry Brown said at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service.
Her sermon title was “Overcoming Justice Fatigue,” and the Scripture reading was Isaiah 40:3-5 and 25-31.
She quoted poet Maya Angelou, who wrote: “The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees … The caged bird sings/ with a fearful trill/ of things unknown … for the caged bird/ sings of freedom.”
The definition of freedom, Fry Brown said, depends on which side of the cage you are. Justice fatigue is palpable.
“People have run out of words, they are afraid to speak, they modify their God-given physicality to try to fit in,” she said. “They have spiritual PTSD from the stress of living in an unjust society.”
The prophet Isaiah offers a blueprint for recovery. Isaiah had warned the people of Israel that war with the Assyrians would be the retribution for turning their backs on God. So the Israelites were in exile in a strange land, in an uncomfortable spot, not knowing who to trust and feeling like a motherless child a long way from home.
Fry Brown said the Israelites began to worship the idols of the land, to look up to the privileged potentates, to walk and talk like the Babylonians because they wanted to be accepted by people who did not want to know them.
“Yet something was missing,” Fry Brown said. “They wanted to be under their own vine and fig tree. They played the blame game of looking at what used to be, instead of what could be.”
The Israelites were coming to their senses and knew they had done wrong, but they wanted a word from the Lord, right now. Fry Brown imagined a heavenly council, gathered to tell God what to do, and they said, “This nation deserves everything it is going through.”
But the grace of God was moving and God said no more separation; enough is enough.
“God said, ‘I am going to do a new thing, shake things up, revive them. I have a restoration plan.’ God forgives us even when we don’t deserve it,” she said. “God’s compassion is not given by human standards. If they are faithful to the covenant, God will give them pardon.”
God called the Israelites to return to their spiritual center and prepare the way for God’s arrival. Isaiah called for a straight highway, for the valleys to be lifted up and the mountains brought low, “so nothing blocks the hearts of the people, so everyone can see God’s glory and say, ‘God did that for me,’ ” she said.
Isaiah was tired of teaching the people; he felt they were fickle and deserved what happened to them. God spoke to Isaiah and said, “I know they are fickle — I created them — but I did not ask you to be judge, jury and executioner. Simply teach them what I want them to hear.”
“It was a refresher course even for the preacher. ‘Teach them my commandments and be a bearer of good news,’ God said. ‘I have already done what they are praying for,’ ” Fry Brown said. “Nobody compares to God. He is the God of restoration, who ends ecclesiastical separation and preempts prejudice. God makes a way out of no way. Who can hold a candle to God?”
Since the people of Israel know who God is, know that he is limitless, everlasting and that everything belongs to God, how would they survive?
“God gives power to those who faint and strengthens the powerless,” she said. “God renews their strength and they will soar like eagles.”
Fry Brown described the extended molting period that eagles go through, how weak they become and how it applies to people who are justice fatigued. These people are helpless, brain-fogged by bigotry, child trafficking, melanin privilege, drained from global stereotyping and cyber- lynching trolls.
Eagles lose all their feathers and start to walk like turkeys, she said. They have no ability to fly, cannot feed themselves and just lay out on the rocks. But other, older eagles who know the trauma of that time come and drop off food for them.
“When the weight of the world weighs you down, when you have protested, been on five missions trips, done nonviolent training, sent water to Flint and say ‘I speak justice,’ when you are exhausted and one election makes you weep, and you can’t hold on and can’t pray or sing, then wait,” she said.
Wait and breathe, think and remember that God is not through with us yet.
“Our God did not vacate the world,” she said. “God can rescue us if we are not so involved in looking at the ground that we do not look up.”
Souls will not be saved, the blind will not see, the enslaved will not go free, the unemployed will not get jobs, minds will not expand, peace will not be attained, if we do not look up, she said.
“There are older eagles around,” Fry Brown said. “Consult with those who have been in the trenches. Let God do what God does and find a rock while others work. Breathe, hope. And then go back into the fray.”
God owns the world and the rough places will be smoothed out.
“God will renew our strength, revive and resuscitate us, so we can soar, ascend and sail,” she said.
She ended by quoting the Rev. James Cleveland: “I don’t feel no ways tired/ I’ve come too far from where I started from/ Nobody told me that the road would be easy/ I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.”
The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. presided. The Rev. Ed McCarthy read the Scripture. McCarthy is a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church and is an associate in the Department of Religion at Chautauqua working with the Blessing and Healing Ministry and hosting the weekly lunch for denominational house chaplains. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in the anthem “The Call,” by Z. Randall Stroope. The Jackson-Carnahan Memorial Chaplaincy and the Harold F. Reed Sr. Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services.