Isaiah 63:8, 9
For He said, “Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely.” So He became their Savior.
In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old.
Dear beloved brothers and sisters in faith,
The lesson I have just read might appear an integral part of a hymn. However, there is no reason for doubt because God always deserves to be praised, first of all by the chosen people as God has never let them down for a moment while the people have reacted with revolt to His mercy. God has paid special attention to its people, whom He has considered His own sons and daughters and He Himself lead this people instead of sending them a mediator. Though He had become the people’s redeemer, they continued to turn away from Him, letting Him down.
Today we can say that He has accepted us, too as His sons and daughters, even more, in the course of the centuries we have become His dear children. So, it is proper from our part and beneficial for our own souls to say this lesson as a prayer.
“Who can understand my suffering if not me?
Who can I count on if not on myself?
on the insecure and restless
my body and my soul, two poor
servants of mine, who are my only power,
army, people and empire?
Has it ever happened to you, my brother, my sister, being addressed, to understand more than you previously hoped for? Has it ever happened to you, while your parents or grandparents expressing their love towards you, that they have made you understand that besides you they have other sons and daughters whom they equally love? And they have done this to you not to make you jealous but to make you feel, and to make other people feel again and again that you and they belong to a family.
This process of catching up happens in two ways: spiritually and physically and as the poet says.
The next quotation I have chosen takes us closer to my intention since it paraphrases the first part of the message in the lesson as follows: “I don’t have to adjust to circumstances – and I mustn’t. I am a writer, a man of spirit. My duty: to safeguard my people’s purest ethical traditions, not to allow the spirit of truth to become obsolete. In the unquietness of the incipient barbarism to keep awake the soring restlessness of the conscience. To protect the despised ideals of the humanity for better times, the respect for the spirit and freedom. These are the real sacraments of our nation.” (Babits Mihaly).
Trying to understand God’s and the poet’s intentions, my thoughts are becoming clearer. He may have thought about the soul while warning about the restlessness of the conscience of his people. He is thinking about the people whose descendant is he himself, the people whose hearts do not always beat as one heart and soul, still it is merituous to preserve the true sacraments of the nation.
Though he speaks about ideal and spirit, I can perceive the eternal Caregiver whom I refer to in this respect as well. It is good to hear that now he calls us too His children, His people.
The passing time is warning us in this moment, too. It is the last Sunday of the year and the last day of the year as well. It might be making-peace-with-oneself time. That is what we are doing when looking back to the past year and putting into words our gratitude and thanks towards God and people and making reproaches and comments regarding ourselves.
The people’s faith is clear in the message of the lesson. More precisely, God’s people’s faith who do not turn to denial or rejection. This problem of faithlessness is too complex to solve it with a promise saying that we used to be unfaithful but not any more in the future. We prove unable to keep our promise not only because we are weak but because in many people’s lives can happen something that deviates them from the promise. The writer and the thinker whom I am quoting here is able to express it in a more pleasant and clearer manner: “Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions; they pass no criticisms.” (George Eliot)
One thought has often come to my mind, especially at the end of the year: how happy we could be if at least half of the year would pass without this kind of thought coming to one’s mind. That is, if we didn’t have any reason to be suspicious of the people we trust. And when we wish ourselves and those around us something, this is the most beautiful thought we can ask God to give us: faithful people. And if the lack of faith hurts us so much, imagine my brothers and sisters how it can hurt God and those people who think that we have harmed them in any way.
The next idea of our sermon is taking us to a twofold sphere, the two aspects having one thing in common, and that is freedom. The basic idea of the first sphere is “love has no boundaries”. But this is not something that we should learn, it is inside us, buried deep in our souls. Learning is nothing but redemption. “Just as a rescue team in a collapsed mine takes people to the surface, the ripening suffering saves our living and beating hearts from underneath the rubble” (Péter Müller).
We might think that in this case we need some external help or divine assistance. Nobody can help from outside. We ourselves have to clear the place and thus the release will be possible. God has always been with His people to safeguard their souls. However, His people kept barricading themselves not to perceive the helping intention.
Another manifestation of the secured freedom is when God himself delivers His people. They cannot see Him in reality, cannot touch Him, still He reveals Himself just for them to give them more strength. I wondered whether some people’s souls can be saved if we could somehow show them the presence of God. I hardly think so. If we cannot convince them of the changes of the visible world, the beauty of the creation, the good will of the people that sometimes is obvious, then there is nothing that can strengthen faith in them. As Van Gogh expressed it: “We cannot always tell what keeps us locked, imprisoned, almost buried, still we can feel some boundaries, some gates. Certain walls. Are all these only imagination, fantasy, I wonder. I don’t think so. Then the question occurs: My God! Will this last for a long time, always, for ever and ever? Do you know what frees you from captivity? The deep, serious love. If you have friends, siblings, lovers, this is what opens up the prison with a supernatural power” (Vincent Van Gogh).
Finally, dear brothers and sisters, let’s keep in mind the most beautiful part of the lesson: God held his people safe in His arms. What can we add to this? “There are no inaccessible islands. And the restless heart sees no boundaries, it is easiest to lose what you hold tight but you never lose what you have already left somewhere” (Erich Maria Remarque).
Now I want to thank all those people who held their fellows in their arms with love. I want to thank those who found time and energy to embrace their fellows.
And last but not least, I would like to express our gratitude, to God in the name of all the members of this congregation, to God, who has been with us all this year and promises to hold us in His arms in the future, too. Amen.
31st December, 2017