What, then, does it look like to align our story with the Story of a God who habitually brings light out of darkness, life out of death, order out of disaster, freedom out of tyranny?
Isaiah 61:1-4 presents us with a vision for our response, a vision explicitly taken up by Jesus:
‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.’
This, then, is a human response to God’s habitual activity. Moreover, it is a human response that is initiated, and authorised, and empowered by God.
In other words, to align our story to God’s Story is not to live as if everything will be alright, but rather to acknowledge that there are those who are oppressed; those who are broken-hearted; those who are held captive or imprisoned; that there are those who mourn … and to go and stand with them.
Isaiah’s vision recognises a community level of devastation, a devastation that is geographical and demographical and historical. And Isaiah’s vision is not, ‘God has sent me to rebuild the ruins for them,’ but, God has sent me to stand alongside such communities, encouraging, for as long as it takes for that community to grow into something glorious, and to build something beautiful out of the ashes and the rubble.
This is a vision of servanthood, not patronage.
It starts with presence, as a witness to oppression, as a witness to heart-break, as a witness to mourning. It starts with recognition that there are those whose story is not my own; that I need to understand their story; that only they can help me understand their story – and that I might need to earn their trust!
The psalm set for Holy Communion today is Psalm 146:4-10:
‘Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, whose hope is in the Lord their God; who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps his promise for ever; who gives justice to those that suffer wrong; and bread to those who hunger. The Lord looses those that are bound; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous; the Lord watches over the stranger in the land; he upholds the orphan and widow; but the way of the wicked he turns upside down. The Lord shall reign for ever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Alleluia.’
To pray this psalm is to acknowledge that there are those in our own time and place who suffer the real, felt consequences of systemic injustice;
those who are physically, gut-wrenchingly hungry;
those that are bound by fear or bowed-down by anxiety, who live with the constant uncertainty of not knowing whether, when their loved one walks out of the door, they will see them alive again;
that there are those whose eyes are blind to the needs of their neighbours;
and that there are also those who try to do right by their neighbours, however hard you have to look;
that there are in-comers and immigrants and asylum seekers; and there are those who are not only bereaved but left destitute as a consequence;
that what is needed is not simply a shift to the right or to the left, but a more fundamental turning-the-world-on-its-head.
This is the reality for many, and it is in this reality that God seeks to bless lives.
If you live in the north east of England, go watch I, Daniel Blake, and then ask, how might I enter-into this psalm?