Following the Tracks of the Divine (or How to Find God. . . )

From Malachi 2:17-3:4 and Jeremiah 22:1-5, 13-16
December 2015—Justice Sunday

One of Clivie’s favorite Sesame Street specials is about the cowmonster pair—Elmo and 
Telly—who help Little Bo Peep find her . . . cow. They set off following tracks. They see 
tracks of a bird, a raccoon, a bear, and a moose—before they find the cow tracks—and the 
cow. It’s a process of deduction and elimination—looking at the size and the shape and the 
location of the tracks. . . . 

It’s not unlike what we must consider as we prepare our hearts during the Advent 
Season. As we eagerly anticipate the inbreaking of God’s goodness and mercy in the world
—as we hope for the miraculous birth of peace and justice in our lives and all around us—
as we seek to find and follow after the tracks of the Divine. . . . 

What size and shape does God take in the world? In what specific situations and 
circumstances might we find God? How might we put ourselves on the right track of 
following after this God of goodness and mercy, peace and justice?

And even more—once we find or experience that stronghold of God’s presence—is there 
a way we might we tether ourselves to it, so that even as we move and change and wonder 
off in various directions, we might be able to find our way back to that stronghold of God’s 
presence—especially when times get tough and when our world seems hostile at best?

Some of you may be familiar with the old practice used by farmers on the Great Plains 
who—at the first sign of a blizzard—would run a rope from their back door out to the barn. 
They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and frozen to death—having lost 
sight of home in a whiteout—while still in their own backyards. Their rope to the barn kept 
them connected to their stronghold—come what may. 

The Quaker teacher and writer Parker Palmer talks about the blizzards that swirl around 
us in these days. They all have the capacity to disorient us and send us wondering away on 
a false trail—far from our spiritual stronghold—lost and bewildered. These blizzards 
confront us in the form of economic injustice, ecological devastation, physical and spiritual 
violence, and the belief that war is the justifiable answer to all that ails us. They swirl 
within us as fear and frenzy, greed and deceit, and indifference to the suffering of others. 

How do we find God—and source our lives from God’s presence—in the midst of all 
this? How do we maintain our moral bearing while facing the constant barrage of 
violence and news of violence; displacement, disinterest, and disorientation? Has our 
human hunger for peace and justice, truth and love and grace been eclipsed and lost its 
power to guide our lives?

I have to believe this is not the case—even when blizzards come more often than we’d 
like. God seeks us, just as we seek God. And Jeremiah tells us that finding God might be as
simple as eating and drinking and doing justice.

To deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. To act justly and 
to do no violence toward the alien, the orphan, and the widow. To shed no innocent blood
in this place. To be present with the poor and needy. 

Is not this to know me? Is this not to see me? Is this not to be mine? 

This is the God of Justice—who is coming—who is with us now—and who always has 
been. Malachi announces the coming of God’s messenger to prepare the way for this God 
of Justice. And those first hearers were delighted. And so are we. We all have a deep 
longing for God’s justice—right?! But this justice will require something of us. It won’t 
be all warm fuzzies and hot chocolate. Malachi tells us that God’s messenger will come 
“like a refiner’s fire” to purify us. . . .

Will we be able to stand it? Are we willing to do the work?

I mean the work of justice can be hard. Mountains must be laid low. Rough places must
be made passable. Kind of leveling ground for a peace garden?! Putting together a Fair 
Trade Holiday Faire? We have to set ourselves to the task of following God’s tracks into a 
world utterly rearranged by the necessities of just, sustainable, and compassionate living…. 
Before we blindly give ourselves over to the wild acquisitions and social obligations of 
Christmas, we must think about how we are willing to give ourselves over to God’s 
demands for justice. How are we going to repent and repair our world so that justice can 
make room for joy? More about that next week! That place where justice thrives is God’s 
plumb line, true north, and deep anchor. That is where we need to tie our rope.

Do our lives and the excesses of the holidays honor our relationship with God and all of
God’s creation? Who made the shoes we bought on Black Friday? Was it a child? Who is 
enriched by our consumption? Who is made poor? Are we ready to answer for the ways in 
which our purchases and daily choices disrupt and damage our relationships with people 
around the world?

And just how are we treating people these days? How are we valuing human life and 
human beings—the far flung children of God—even the least among us who are members 
of God’s family? 

Just a couple of weeks ago, leadership of the Christian Church (DOC) and the United 
Church of Christ—including Sharon Watkins, GMP; the UCC GMP; and representatives of 
Home Missions and Global Ministries—issued a joint statement deploring and mourning 
“the senselessness that leads people to believe that violence will bring peace and justice, 
much less honor or blessing.” They called upon churches, people of faith, and political 
leaders in this country and all over the world to treat the millions of refugees from the 
Syrian war humanely and justly—and to welcome them—citing faith commitments to 
“love the sojourner” (Deuteronomy 10:19); to treat “the foreigner residing among you… as 
your native-born” (Leviticus 19:34)—and I would add, as Jeremiah says, to treat the alien, 
orphan, and widow with justice—and to consider the fact that Jesus was a refugee in Egypt 
as a child. 

Acknowledging our country’s history of institutionalized discrimination and the 
systematic dehumanization of whole communities, our church leaders’ statement calls us to 
something greater. They call us to be a merciful and caring community—seeking justice and
honoring every person—and standing up and shouting out when such a vision is challenged 
or violated. All of these are tracks of the Divine.

And as we consider ways we do and do not value human life, we are met with the gun 
violence that once again rattles our hearts. How many of you want to yell out with me, 
“Where is the justice, God?!” There’s innocent blood everywhere! But the thing of it is, I 
believe God asks us the same question. . . .

I thought it was quite powerful that for the first time in 95 years, the New York Times 
ran an editorial on its front page yesterday. The headline read “End the Gun Epidemic in 

Here is part of that article:

“All decent people feel sorrow and righteous fury about the latest slaughter of 
innocents, in California. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are searching for 
motivations, including the vital question of how the murderers might have been connected 
to international terrorism. That is right and proper.

“But motives do not matter to the dead in California, nor did they in Colorado, Oregon, 
South Carolina, Virginia, Connecticut and far too many other places. The attention and 
anger of Americans should also be directed at the elected leaders whose job is to keep us 
safe but who place a higher premium on the money and political power of an industry 
dedicated to profiting from the unfettered spread of ever more powerful firearms.

“It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase 
weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are 
weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism 
and even insurrection. America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, 
callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of 
mass killing, as they did on Thursday. They distract us with arguments about the word 
terrorism. Let’s be clear: These spree killings are all, in their own ways, acts of 

In this time—as much or more than any other—we need Emmanuel, God with us, the 
incarnation of justice in our world. We need justice to be born and to grow and to live 
among us. To teach us and challenge us and help us to see beyond ourselves to others in 
deep and desperate need.

Our prayers may not stop the killing or bring back the innocent or quell the hatred and 
greed that swirl into blizzards all around us. But our prayers and our solidarity can break 
the silence of heartbreak and despair. They can shed light and create powerful bonds. They
can empower us to act with justice and to encourage others to do the same. They can point 
us in direction of offering healing in a wounded world. Our prayers can help us secure a 
rope to the stronghold of God’s presence and God’s justice so that we can survive blizzards 
without losing our hope or our way. 

And with justice, peace becomes a real possibility. And joy starts to peek around the 


Creating a Covenant of Peace

From Ezekiel 34:1-16, 25-31

There is something magical about finding a nest—about being that close to that sacred place of new beginnings.  And about seeing the deliberate industry that so obviously goes into creating a nest.  One piece at a time.  Thorough.  Deliberate.  It takes 2 things primarily:  1. A vision and 2. The willingness to work through adversity.

The work is slow.  Piece by piece.  Building.  Creating something out of nothing.  Balancing it.  Molding it. . . .  We’re clear about its purpose.  And its need.  To hold and nurture and sustain the tenderness of life. . . .

When we imagine creating a covenant of peace, we, too, are engaging in the work of nest-building.  We are building a nest for peace to be born and live and thrive.  And it requires 2 things primarily:  1. A vision and 2. The willingness to work through adversity. 

The work is slow.  But it is important to remember that we do not engage in this work alone.  It is a covenant we are creating.  Peace is not an idea we come up with on our own and then just run with it.  We have a partner in the peace-making, nest-building, covenant-creating. . . .  A covenant moves 2 ways.  We are not the only players in this scenario.  God is forever with us, forever for us, and never against us.  God gives us the tools we need.  But like Mary Oliver reminds us, we must remember our tools:  What are our tools?  “Flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.”  Sticks and straw, mud. . . .

Some of you may have seen the interview of the little French boy—maybe 3 or 4—with his father following the terror attacks in Paris.  The reporter asks this young boy if he understands why terrorists attacked Paris, killing and injuring so many.   The little boy says, “Yes, because they’re very very very mean.  The bad guys aren’t very nice.” And he insists that they all have to be careful and move to get away from the bad guys with guns. 

His father tries to reassure him, “No, don’t worry.  We are not going to have to leave.  France is our home.” 

“But there are bad guys, Daddy!”

“Yes, but there are bad guys everywhere.”

“They have guns, they can shoot at us because they have guns and are bad.” 

“Well, they have guns, but we have flowers.”

“But flowers don’t do anything.”

“See all the flowers?  They’re to fight against the guns.”

“Are they there to protect? . . .  The candles too?”

“It’s to not forget those who left us yesterday.”

“The flowers and the candles . . . they’re there to protect us. . . ?”  Lights churning in his head. . . .

The reporter jumps back in and asks the boy,  “So are you feeling better?”

“Yep. I’m feeling better.”

There are always those who will take advantage—who will work to harm rather than heal.  We know that, don’t we?!  And Ezekiel knew that:  Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool; but you don’t feed the sheep—even though that is your job! .  You have not strengthened the weak; you have not healed the sick; you have not bound up the injured; you have not brought back the strayed; you have not sought the lost….  But with force and harshness you have ruled them. You have scattered them, and they have become food for wild animals.
But that, of course, is not the end of the story. . . .  Remember, we are nest-building.  We must set a vision—what we want.  And we must be willing to work through the adversity to get there.  No one said it would be easy.  Some might even say it’s nonsense, craziness to fight guns with flowers. 
But would they also say it’s craziness to build a home, one piece of straw at a time, strong enough to hold delicate eggs at the top of a tall tree?!
We are creating a covenant of peace.  And the words of God, spoken through Ezekiel, echo into our hearts—and into our sanctuary this morning:  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.  I myself will search for my sheep.  I will seek out the lost.  I will bring back the strayed.  I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered.  I will bind up the injured.  I will strengthen the weak.  And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, with good, rich pasture.  I will feed them with justice.
Here is a blueprint for a covenant of peace:  Seeking, rescuing, binding up, strengthening, feeding.  And do you notice what God is feeding them?  Justice.  Yes.  Without justice, there can be no peace. . . .  and we’ll talk more about that next week.  Here are some more of our tools. . . .
Even when it is hard, we must set our vision and work toward it.  If we say we long for peace, we must be about peace.  In our daily lives—in our homes and relationships, driving home after a long day and in line at the grocery store.  As well as in our political views, spending habits, what we talk about, believe in, and fight for.
God desires to create a covenant of peace with us.  God desires to nurture us and our world into a people and place of blessing.  Let this guide our vision.  And as we lean into peace, I want to leave you with these beautiful words from Maya Angelou:

“Snow in Bethlehem” by Maya Angelou:

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.

Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and grey and threatening.
We question ourselves.

What have we done to so affront nature?

We worry God.

Are you there? 
Are you there really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.
It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.

Flood waters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.
Hope is born again in the faces of children

It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth. 
Brightening all things,

Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.

At first it is too soft. 
Then only half heard.

We listen carefully as it gathers strength.

We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.

Louder than the explosion of bombs.
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.

It is what we have hungered for.

Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.

A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.

Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.

Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

implore you to stay awhile with us

so we may learn by your shimmering light

how to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language

to translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.

We jubilate the precious advent of trust.

We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.

All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,

Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.

We look at our world and speak the word aloud.

We look at each other, then into ourselves,

And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:
Peace, My Brother.

Peace, My Sister.

Peace, My Soul