Focus Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10

In many of our urban environments, we inhabit a wilderness or an inhospitable region. And if we don’t live in the wilderness now, some of our ancestors had to pass through it on their way from then to now. Some urban regions can be characterized as wastelands where the social and economic soil has become barren for certain groups of people. And the soil’s potential to nurture hope has been choked by an overgrowth of political corruption and apathy. Other urban settings contain quicksand that sucks the life out of aspiration. Then there are the sharp rocks along the way that cut down the cultural and intellectual potential of our youth. But Chapter 35 tells us that a change is going to come.

You have to keep the faith in the wilderness. That’s the message we need to convey to our sisters and brothers who are going through the wilderness. Because in the wilderness there is unspeakable hatred. The present day’s wilderness will want to make you run and hide sometimes.

I’m thinking about the sentencing hearings for Dylan Roof, who, on June 17, 2015, killed nine people in the act of violence at the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He opened fire during a prayer service that police now describe as a “hate crime.”

I’m thinking about the recent mistrial of the police officer who killed Walter Scott – again in South Carolina. They tell me Walter Scott was a devout Christian who sang in his church choir. He was stopped for driving with a broken taillight. He ran away from the officer, who shot him in the back. Even though the whole incident was captured on video, justice did not prevail. Walter Scott’s life was cheapened, and racism was working overtime that day.

Hold onto hope in times of sorrow. Make no mistake about it; there is unspeakable sorrow in the wilderness. I’m thinking about the many parents who have lost their children to violence on our journey from here to there. And don’t let the enemy fool you. Not all of them lost their lives to gun violence. Many of them were victims of the overall climate of violence and disrespect for life that plagues our communities, in general, these days. The list of names of our dead children goes on and on. Say their names. We must not forget their names if we are to persevere in the wilderness and remember from whence we came.

What does it feel like for a parent to lose a child? I’ve read several accounts. The pain, sadness, loss, and despair never go away, but it eases as the years go by. In the beginning, parents cry for days on end. They love never dies, but neither does the grief. And they have a deep yearning to see once again that son or daughter, that husband or wife, that sister or brother, that friend or neighbor.

Scripture tells me that there is unspeakable sorrow in the wilderness – but there is also hope. We have to wait patiently on the Lord. And while we are waiting, we have to stand beside each other. God is preparing us for unspeakable joy. It may not feel like it right now, but in spite of everything, you will have unspeakable joy. Things may get worse before they get better. The sky may be darkest before the dawn. You may have to hit bottom before you can look up. But wait for it! A change is going to come!

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