31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 1, 2019
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Advent & Art Worship series
Michelangelo’s Pieta and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper are works of art that were clearly inspired by God’s Word. People of faith have always responded to the Word of God through art, and those works of art have in turn inspired people’s faith.
On her blog, Art & Theology: Revitalizing the Christian imagination through painting, poetry, music, and more, Victoria Emily Jones writes:
Art is a great way to open yourself up to the mysteries of God, to sit in the pocket of them as you gaze and ponder. “Blessed are your eyes because they see,” Jesus said. Theologians in their own right, artists are committed to helping us see what was and what is and what could be. (artandtheology.org, 11/10/16)
Throughout the season of Advent, all sorts of artwork – music, paintings, sculpture, and more will be woven into worship that you may “gaze and ponder”, that you may come to know Jesus Christ in a deeper way through these instruments of God.
There will also be opportunities for you to respond to God’s Word through art. Each week during Fellowship, you are invited to help color some very, very large posters that when finished will be displayed for Christmastide and the season of Epiphany.
And upstairs in the hallway leading to the Barnes Chapel, we are creating our own art installation of Nativity sets over the next three Sundays. They will be there until after the Advent Workshop on Dec 15th, and I hope you will gaze and ponder these scenes of the Christ child’s birth, taking in the hope, peace, love, and joy the Messiah’s birth brings into our lives.
This morning’s passage from Isaiah might invite you to envision artwork like this picture from a children’s Bible or this one entitled “Come Let Us Go Up the Mountain of the Lord” painted by Lesley Pearson for a non-profit that builds bridges between Christians and Jews.
When I read this passage from Isaiah, I immediately think of Sergio Castillo’s Free at Last sculpture, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. and inspired by his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s a sculpture I passed almost daily on my way to worship at Marsh Chapel or to class at Boston University’s School of Theology, where Rev. King got his doctorate.
This flock of fifty metal doves are joined together to look like one dove soaring toward the sky. The doves have always looked to me like they are made out of plowshares. And I think of this passage from Isaiah. I think of God’s dream, of the day when the mountain of God’s house will be the mountain of all mountains, and “all the nations shall stream to it” (Isaiah 2:2). All people shall say to one another – come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord that God may teach us God’s ways, that we may walk in God’s paths. (Isaiah 2:3)
Come, let us go to the house of God, that we might have justice. Come, let us go to the house of God, that we might have peace. Come, let us go to the house of God and hope for the day when all people will transform their weapons into instruments of creation, swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks.
Come, let us hope for the day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
This dream, this vision, this hope, expressed by the prophet Isaiah for a people who lived thousands of years ago is still our hope today.
The word “hope” is used in many ways. It’s sometimes used as a synonym for a desire or a wish; however hope goes beyond wishing. Hope is about trust, trust in God. Hope is the strong feeling that what is wanted can be had.
We are not simply wishing for a day when all nations will come together in unity. We are not simply longing for the day when nations will focus on the care and nurture of all. We are living with the strong feeling, the hope, the trust, that there will come a day when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4)
Words can sometimes just be words. Words can also have the power to create, to make things happen. God spoke the world and all its creatures into being. The gospel of John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word…[and] All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” (John 1:1, 3)
Words are powerful; Words inspire; Words bring hope, and hope makes things happen. Hope creates.
Inspired by the words of Isaiah, the hymn “Down by the Riverside” gave hope to the African-American slaves who first sang it, hope that the day was coming when they would be able to lay everything down at the Ohio River and cross into freedom in the north.
And this hymn also gave hope to those fighting in WWII. At the height of the US’s involvement in WWII, the Armed Forces Radio Service recorded Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Millinder Orchestra singing “Down by the Riverside” as a “Jubilee”, a morale building broadcast for US troops serving abroad.
Sister Rosetta’s jazzy version of “Down by the Riverside” certainly inspires one to get up and dance or at least tap your toes and sway along. It conveys joy, and it inspires hope. In 1944, it inspired people to hope for peace, for a time when weapons of destruction would be laid down in favor of instruments of peace, and in 1944, perhaps it also inspired people to hope for the day when all people would be treated as valued and equal – Jewish and Christian, black, brown, and white.
In all times, these words from Isaiah, whether captured in sculpture or music, inspire us to hope for the day when all people might come together, come together on the mountain of the Lord, and peace and justice shall reign. Inspired by God’s Word, inspired by these artist-theologians, we wait with expectation for this day. We work in hope, and we trust that what God dreams, what God visions, is truly possible.
Library of Congress “Down by the Riverside” Sister Rosetta Tharpe with Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra (1944) Added to the National Registry: 2004 Essay by: Gayle Wald (guest post)