The People of the Quilts
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
Comfort That Quilts Bring
These quilts are not only amazing pieces of artwork and incredible labors of love but also great bringers of comfort.
The first thing that comes to my mind when you think of quilts is the warmth and comfort they will bring to someone in need.
I think of all the people who will be comforted by being wrapped in one of these quilts, made by hands and hearts of faith and love. They are made out of personal histories of deprivation, knowing first hand what it means to lose all and have little in terms of the creature comforts of home.
We all need a blanket, don’t we? A comforter to keep us warm, to reassure us and to provide a measure of protection. Many of us have favorite blankets. May not be the newest one, may not be the fanciest one, but in many ways there is no replacing a favorite comforter.
“A security blanket is something which dispels a sense of anxiety. The term is often used literally, to refer to the blankets and other objects carried by young children. Security blankets are closely related to comfort objects, objects that provide comfort and relief from stress.”
Each of our kids got a blanket when they were born, and I tell you that each wore it well and wore it out.
One of my daughters wore hers down to just a little corner of stitching but there was no way that you could separate the “eckie of the deckie” from her (wouldn’t be surprised if she still has it hidden away somewhere).
Another daughter had blankie-anxiety the night we arrived at our little cottage having forgotten it back home. We could not settle her that night not even with trying to fool her in the dark with a fake one. Dad had to drive all the way back home to pick up the blankie so that she could settle. Yup, these are the stories of our quilts.
So when I see these quilts – these labors of love, these pieces of art – I think of the comfort these will bring to people in crisis all over the world.
Comfort Received, Comfort Given
So what is it about the Mennonites and their quilts? Surely, it is more then just a quaint little tradition that harkens back to the days when there was not much more for people to do during those long cold winters but to sew and stitch by candlelight.
I suspect that it comes out of the sense of suffering and loss so many of the Mennonites have experienced at the hands of evildoers.
This expression of comfort takes on a whole new meaning when it comes from those who themselves have suffered greatly and have known first hand what it means to receive the comfort of God.
In many ways these quilts were stitched by hands that not only knew suffering but, more importantly, knew the comfort of God.
Look at your history. Look at where many of you have come from. What you have had to endure and what you have lost. The stories of loss and suffering are heart wrenching and have defined who you are today.
When you had nothing, God was your comfort. Others such as the beautiful people of MCC may have reached out to you but at the end, God was your comfort!
I trust that the defining aspect of your life, your signature, is not your suffering but how you have experienced the comfort of God in the midst of your suffering.
These quilts are an expression of extending comfort from the very hands that received the comfort of God in the midst of some of life’s cruelest moments.
It is as Paul wrote in II Cor. 3:
“3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
People of the Comfort Church
We are among the most comfort-giving people on the planet – at least we should be. We ought to be the most welcoming, embracing and giving people in our city. This church ought to be a place where the stranger, newcomer, refuge and immigrant are welcomed with open arms.
These quilts of ours are symbolic of the kind of people that we are. We are a generous people who reach out to all those who need comfort and support.
We are a people that look for reasons to say yes and not no. We err on the side of generosity instead of the side of caution. We are a people whose default answer is always yes and never no.
We are a people who share willingly and gladly and at our table is always room for one more. We are a people who have enough borscht to feed one more hungry soul. We are a people whose cup of borscht runneth over, but is never empty.
We are the people who, like the widow in Elijah’s day, saw that “the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry”.
You know the story, don’t you?
“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.” I Kings 17:7-17
This widow is us! We are the people of the bread and the quilt. We are the people of the Comfort Church because we ourselves have known what it means not only to have nothing but, more importantly, to have received the comfort of God.
No doubt some of you have experienced some of the same hardships that Paul described in his comfort chapter:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.”
II Cor. 3:8-9
Yet this is not about the sentence of death, that’s not the theme of the chapter; but instead it’s about his deliverance:
“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” II Cor. 3:9-10
The chapter is not even about deliverance but instead about his desire to show comfort to others in need, even as he received comfort at the hands of God and others:
“The God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” II Cor. 3:4
This is at the heart of our quilting ministry. These quilts will absolutely bring comfort to others. These quilts are the symbols of this, the Comfort Church, whose tag line is Comfort Ye My People!
That is what these quilts speak of. They are an expression of our desire to bring comfort to the comfortless and, in doing so, these quilts clothe the Lord Jesus Christ himself!
“’For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Imagine your quilt clothing the Lord Jesus Christ! I want to be on the side of the quilters!
I always want to err on the side of the givers, the feeders and the clothers; the ones of whom the King himself says: “Come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
And why extend that invitation, except that our quilts clothed the Lord Jesus Christ himself: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Comfort for the 39ers
We are the people of the Comfort Church; whose table is always set for one more, who share their oil to bake just one more cake, who make up just one more bed and stitch just one more quilt.
We are the people of the Comfort Church; whose tag line is Comfort Ye My People, taken from Isaiah 40, where it says:
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Isa. 40:1, 2
The book of Isaiah is a fascinating book in that it mirrors much of the reality of life in this broken world.
If you have ever read the book, you will notice that there is a definite break two-thirds through the book at Chapter 40.
The first 39 chapters are full of gloom, despair and judgment with suffering as the norm; while chapters 40-66 have a distinctly different tone, one of deliverance, hope and a new life.
The beginning of Chapter 40 finds people in the wretchedness of captivity, the place where hopelessness prevails.
In that place and of those people, God says to the rest of us: “Comfort my people”. In fact, God has been saying “Comfort Ye My People” throughout history.
The first 39 chapters have been with us since the dawn of the ages, ever since Adam & Eve’s sins caused this world to slide into the first 39 chapters.
Much of our world still lives in the reality of the first 39 chapters, with only a few having pushed beyond into the place of comfort, deliverance and hope.
But even there, the shadows of the first 39 chapters still hang around as Paul testified:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” II Cor. 4:8-9
The first 39 chapters are the result of sin in this world, which is at the root of what Robert Burns, has phrased, ‘man’s inhumanity toward man’.
Most of the misery in our world is man-made, humanity perpetrating inhumane acts upon itself.
Even natural disasters are because this is a fallen world with original sin not only having a devastating effect on humanity, but also on the natural world including the physical environment.
The point is that Isaiah’s first 39 chapters capture life in a cruel world. It is as though, collectively, we are holding our breath.
Then things change at Chapter 40. The tone changes, the mood lifts and the sun appears and all of it starts with the phrase “Comfort Ye My People”!
If the first 30 chapters were a holding of our breath, then chapters 40 onward is like letting out a collective breath or sigh of relief.
That analogy is actually closer to the truth than you might think, since the word ‘comfort’ in the original language is ‘naham’ which means to breathe out deeply.
“The word is nâham, and its root has the idea of breathing deeply. It can therefore mean to breathe deeply as you comfort and console someone.” Rodney Buchanan
If the first 39 chapters was a breathing in of the misery and wretchedness of sin, then the chapters from 40 onward is the great breathing out; the great exhale, as comfort comes to those in captivity and misery.
God’s Everlasting Comfort
So what does God’s comfort look like? Are we talking about the warm ‘fuzzies’ of being snuggled safe and secure in a soft quilt?
The quilts we throw to those in need are meant to point them to a higher comfort that only God provides.
So what does God’s comfort look like? Will He hold them snuggly in his arms and wrap his quilt around them?
It might surprise you what God’s comfort actually provides.
God’s comfort actually provides resilience and toughness not realized before. You see, the word ‘comfort’ carries with it the idea of strength to endure.
“But the idea of comfort comes from the two Latin words: com fortis – literally translated it means “with strength.” God’s way of giving comfort is to give us the strength to do what needs to be done. As his strength comes, grief and sorrow go. The situation may not have changed, but we have a new ability to face it and deal with it.” Buchanan
There is something about a new found strength which is found only as comfort comes your way. You clothe the naked, feed the hungry, still the thirst of the thirsty, and then they will rise up with new found strength to rebuild and carry on.
It is resilience that they would need to return from exile and rebuild out of ashes. This is what they would eventually do. The rest of the story is how they returned from exile and rebuilt the holy city and the temple.
God’s comfort gives you strength to rise up. I love the way the chapter ends:
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Is. 40:29-31
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. That’s what God’s comfort does. He makes you rise up again. The ultimate survivor!
Many of you had to start out over again, in some cases more than once. The strength and resilience to do that, comes from the comfort you received from God.
God gives us the toughness to survive and thrive.
The other way God brings comfort is by taking care of our enemies:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded? He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.” Is. 40:21-24
Babylon may have looked formidable but no more formidable than Nazi German or Communist Russia, and all three are no more.
Quilts are tough and durable; they last and last. I bet some of the quilts you ladies made 50 years ago are still hanging around somewhere today.
They speak of the durability of ‘the people of the quilt’, who themselves have received the comfort of God.
As Rodney Buchanan wrote,
“We can be living examples of hope. Living sources of comfort. Living proof of the reliability of God’s Word. Living examples of a strength that comes from God. We can mount up with wings like eagles.”
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