A Sermon for 17 November 2019 – Commitment Sunday
A reading from Isaiah 65:17-25. Listen for God’s word to us.
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD — and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
I’m sure you are familiar with these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. – That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. – That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing it’s powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness” (a portion of the Declaration of Independence, http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document/). Some would say this is the want, will, and hopes of a people. The very reason many of you and your loved ones have served or now are serving through our nation’s armed forces.
I’m guessing you’ve heard at least portions of these words too – one’s spoken in our nation’s capital nearly sixty years ago: “I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama . . . little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope” (a portion of Dr. M. L. King, Jr.’s 1963 I Have a Dream Speech, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/i-have-a-dream-speech-text_n_809993).
This is our hope. Too why some of you and your loved ones have served or now are serving through our nation’s armed forces. For the dream of the way we envision our life together to be.
The wisdom of Proverbs even reminds that where there is no prophesy – no vision – people perish (paraphrase of Proverbs 29:18).
God has a vision. A way for our life together to be. The hope of us who claim to be about God’s way. It’s what the Christ lived to show us. Died to assure us. Rose again in power to invite us to come follow. It’s a beautiful vision – tucked away in the third part of the prophesy called Isaiah. After all, at that point in the story of our faith ancestors, at least two if not three generations had perished in exile in Babylon. But once the conditions were right – a new empire rising to power in the Persians, the little clan of Judah was allowed to return. Back to the land in which they once toiled. Right back to the gates of Jerusalem, which had all but been destroyed. It was time to start again – for the little remnant that actually returned home. ‘Cuz some stayed in Babylon, you know. Others were buried there, the near-sixty years of exile being all they’d ever known.
If there would be any hope at all, God knew they needed a vision. Hope to hold them back home in a place haunted with their history, but barely recognizable to most. In biblical fashion, the LORD would tell the prophet: “Speak and say! Thus saith the LORD, the God of the heavens and the earth!” I am about to create anew! Can you see how powerful that promise would be? The reminder that, the former things are to be put out of your mind. No longer remembered, so that forward the people would continue to press! Jerusalem would be re-created – a joy! The people God’s delight. No more bitter tears, God declares. No more distress. Though harsh realities filled their days through the destruction of Jerusalem, the exile in Babylon, even in the harsh truth before them daily in their return. Through the prophet, God paints the beautiful picture of a time when infant mortality shall be gone. Life in longevity with centenarians, seniors living full, vivacious decades! Houses built by their very own hands – no one wandering in lands far from home, nowhere to lay their heads. Food shall be plentiful – kinda like those three never-ending pallets of food picked up recently from Trader Joe’s! Nourishment grown and consumed by grateful hands that are open to sharing the bounty of the land they sow and reap. You know how somedays it seems like we toil and trouble with nothing much to show? Well it won’t be like that any longer God says. Purpose for us all shall reign, with children free to grow to be who and what they want. Even predatory opposites shall live in peace, wolf and lamb feeding together. That’s reconciliation! True individual transformation which can lead to true communal restoration! For there will be no more hurt at the hands of one another. No more destruction on all the holy earth!
You know, that vision – God’s hope for how we all might be as we live and move and have our being among one another. God’s vision casts the direction in which we are to work – each day. Every one of us when we are apart and living our lives out in the world. And when we are together as a portion of the body of Christ. We serve God by serving others, according to God’s vision. We renew community with each other through caring relationships – for young and old and every age in between because of God’s vision. We seek to build partnerships in which we work together with others in order for the community of Hillwood-West Meade, West Nashville, and all the world to flourish. We renew community, deep relationship with one another and beyond the walls of this sanctuary so that God’s vision of how we are to be together is realized now – in our midst! In a song called “Lean In Toward the Light,” it’s described as practicing resurrection. A reminder that “every kindness large or slight shifts the balance toward the Light” (Carrie Newcomer, “Lean In Toward the Light” on The Beautiful Not Yet, 2016).
One biblical commentator writes beautiful words to show the practical way God’s vision is to be lived out among us daily. Mary Eleanor Johns writes, “We may not know how God means to transform the universe, but we can confess that we know it is in God’s power to do this. What remains possible for the single believer, the single congregation, is to do the work involved in such transformation by following the patterns of mercy that Christ has laid out for us.” Johns explains, “We are able to give one drink of cold water at a time. We are able to bring comfort to the poor and the wretched, one act of mercy or change at a time. One book given, one friendship claimed, one covenant of love, one can of beans, one moment of condemnation, one confession of God’s presence, . . . one moment in which another person is humanized rather than objectified, one challenge to the set order that maintains injustice, one declaration of the evil that is hiding in plain sight, one declaration that every person is a child of God: these acts accumulate within God’s grace” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4; Mary Eleanor Johns, p. 292). Wow! One act at a time! Johns’ concludes: “The church’s job is not to cloister itself proclaiming the resurrection just in the everlasting. The proclamation is for the resurrection of life in this world as well. . . . Think of the little things that can be done to show signs of God’s new creation” now! (Ibid., pp. 292, 294). Like through the ministry of this church in the past few weeks: one flower delivered for an at-risk teenage male to be able, in pride, to hand that flower to a teacher to express thanks. One conversation with a homebound neighbor who hasn’t talked to anybody else all week. One aspect of the property of this church repaired so that children have a place safely to play. And teens can come to feel what it’s like to be welcomed by adults like they will when that first group of students from Hillwood High School comes here to begin meeting weekly. And women and men seeking to heal from the hurts heaped on in childhood can grow and mourn and begin anew. And those grieving the loss of their loved ones through suicide can get support from each other. And that’s just part of what’s been taking place because of this church. I can’t begin to know what each one of you will do wherever you go this week – the small thing you will accomplish to keep on shifting the balance toward the Light. The one thing you will contribute according to God’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth. What I do know is that we must not give up. We cannot give in. For God has a vision. And it is through us that God’s vision comes to be in the world in which we live each day!
Keep on practicing resurrection, people of God. Live God’s vision today!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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