‘Waiter, I’ll have what he’s having’

Preacher: Isaiah’s transformation is evidence that we too can claim God’s anointing

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Alexandra Zareth, recently hired to work on leadership development for leaders of color in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), spoke Wednesday during the chapel service at the Presbyterian Center in Louisville. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — The spirit of the Lord is upon me, Isaiah confidently tells readers in the 61st chapter of the book that bears his name, because God has anointed the prophet to bring good news to the oppressed, release of the prisoners and comfort to all who mourn.

Is this the same guy, wondered the Rev. Alexandra Zareth, who just a few chapters before had offered up unclean lips as an excuse and had timidly but hopefully voiced what would become the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”?

“This is a different kind of person. What happened?” she said Wednesday during the weekly chapel service at the Presbyterian Center. Then she quoted, with a different pronoun, the most famous line from the 1989 film “When Harry Met Sally”: “Waiter, I’ll have what he’s having.”

“What’s in his coffee?” she said. “I want that.”

A former hospital chaplain, Zareth recently joined the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries staff working on leadership development for leaders of color.

“I’ve seen brokenness, and I understand it,” she said of her hospital work, “and so I can claim this anointing, this drenching that covers you completely.

“I’ve heard ‘cancer’ and ‘you have’ in the same sentence. I’ve been there in moments I’ve been terrified,” she said. When she — and Isaiah before her — wonder “Who’s with me,” God answers that not only are we not forgotten — we’re God’s focus.

God comes “not around you, but to you,” she said.

Maybe Presbyterians working to build a Matthew 25 church can take their cue from Christians in the Global South, where the church is growing fast in part because of adherents’ certainty that “when I was down and out, God came through,” Zareth said.

While we feel the need to take on deep societal problems we find vexing, including mass incarceration, poverty and all manner of “isms” including racism, sexism and ageism, “that’s a tall order — if you do it alone,” she said.

Our own healing “requires a safe space to heal our issues, and that safe ground is what God provides,” she said. It is God who is in on the exchanges we seek to make every day, she said: trading sadness for gladness, swapping ashes for beauty.

Her invitation: “As we think about rebuilding what’s been devastated for generations, let’s start with ourselves.”


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