Thursday, November 17, 2016

Isaiah 65:17-25 - God's New World

Right now might not look to great. It is possible that you may have approached this time of worship, upset, distraught, or even angry. Some of us may have come to church this morning thinking there is too much woe, too much inequity, too many injustices in our world. It seems that hurts and harms surround us from all sectors this morning. We may be sitting here this morning overwhelmed with financial burdens, our own failures, overcome by physical limitations or failings in our body, which simply will not be healed. We have all come to worship this morning broken people, living in a broken world, and all too often, we are overwhelmed by all the brokenness, all the destruction, all the chaos. Despondency threatens to engulf us. Is there no end?
We join the Psalmist and say:
Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. Psalm 130
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? Psalm 13:1-2
The idea of expectation is built into the fabric of the universe. Humans throughout history have known how to wait in hopeful expectation. We wait out the winter months in hopes of the first signs of spring. We all know the joy that the site of a bud on a tree, the pleasure of seeing the first soft green peeking up from the cold ground. When it is the coldest, darkest part of the winter, when we are heavy laden with snow and the cold bites our bones, we know that come April the weather will begin to turn. We know we can make it through. We know that there is a waiting period that comes before the birth of a child. We waited with anticipation before our own children were born, and have waited alongside friends and family, anticipating the joy we know a new child brings. But before that, we wait, but the waiting if full of hope.
The people of Israel at this time in history had forgotten how to hope, they did not know that expectation could be filled with joy. They lived each day in expectation, but it was a hopeless expectation. They had lived their whole lives waiting, but that for which they waited never came. Each spring reminded them that they had spent yet another year in exile. They were tenant farmers the land and the crops they grew did not ultimately belong to them. Each new planting season marked yet another year in which they would plant, tend and grow food from ground that was not their own. They would work to force the ground to give up her bounty and then only but the smallest portion of that bounty would return to them. Their labor was not their own, their work, their toil, their tears and their sweat all went to feed another and any profit made lined the pockets of someone else. Spring and the anticipated harvest did not bring joy, it was all a part of the harsh reminder that they are strangers in a strange land; they did not belong here, that home was far, far away.
Each child born also did not give joy, each one born did nothing more than to remind them that too many among them no longer held memories of their the land they loved, of the city of Jerusalem, of the homes they had left behind. The strange land was becoming home to their children and this hurt their hearts because although they could tell stories of the land they had left behind and to which they planned to return, home was foreign to their children, where they belonged was not was a place to which their children felt no connection. Each birth actually seemed to make home further and further away. If all those who remembered were gone and all their children had were stories of a place they had never been, what why would they ever return?
We currently live in a period of time when we generally take life for granted. When that long anticipated child is born, we expect that that child will live to adulthood. Children live. That is our expectation but this is a very recent expectation, in human history. At the turn of the century, at the time this building was built, this would not have necessarily been the expectation of those who sat in these pews before us.  At that time 1 out of every 5 children, 2 out of every ten failed to live to adulthood. A hundred years before it was half, only half of the children born lived to adulthood. Statistics tell us that for a city to remain stable in the year Christ was born, each woman would have needed to give birth to 10 children. We take the life throughout childhood as a given.
At the same time, we also live in a time period when we also expect to live a good long while. It is not rare or unheard of for a person to live to be 90 and beyond. All of us can hope to live to be a 100, and it is not a completely unreasonable expectation. Scientists tell us the person will live to be 150 years old has probably already been born. It was not that many generations ago that, if you made it past childhood, you could expect to live to be 50 or 55. Sure a few people lived longer than that, but most did not. At the time, this passage was written, most people lived to their mid-thirties. I would have been considered an old lady at that time. If a person lived to be 55 they were considered extra ordinarily lucky. It was not completely unheard of, but at the same time, not at all expected.
Our world is so different from the world, to which the prophet of Isaiah spoke that morning, that we must imagine the world into which the words of this passage were spoken. Children did not live. Only one out of every 5 made it to the age of 15. The expectation was that a child born would die. Even if it did live, it served as a physical reminder of how long they had been in exile. Each spring was not a time to celebrate that another year had passed, that they had made it through another dark, long, cold winter and could look forward to the warmth and productivity of the growing seasons. It only served as a reminder that the land in which they lived was not their own and further reminded that their work and their labor belonged to the people of the land in which they now lived. Children died, their harvests were taken away, home was far, far away and each year marked yet another year in which they lived in a broken world. In the past they might have lived in expectation. In a time before that they had lived in hopeful expectation. They had long ago forgotten how to hope. Even now, they had given up on expectation. They just lived. The world passed by, people died and life was just a thing to be endured. That was their reality and they could not see life any other way.
It is into a world that bleak, to a people completely devoid of all hope that the prophet speaks these words. He tells them that the world will be new! The dull dark grey bleakness in which they were now living would be replaced with a vibrant world FILLED with color, FILLED with life. THIS was not the way they were meant to live; God had something better for them, sometime unimaginable, something completely beyond fathoming.
In God’s world children lived, not just some of the children, not just most of the children, ALL of the children would live. No longer would a mother weep on her birthing bed knowing that this precious child would die, no she would weep from joy knowing that the child will live! Not only would ALL the children live, and not die before reaching adulthood, but adulthood would be redefined. People would live so long, that 100, twice the age to which a few blessed one lived, would be the years prior to full maturity, anyone who did not live at least that long would be considered accursed.
Not only would living and long life be an expectation, but how they lived would be radically different as well. The homes they built would be theirs and the land, which they work, would belong to them.  They shall live in houses that are their own, not lent or borrowed. No longer would they labor and toil for another. They shall plan fields and vineyards and all the bounty, which will come up out of the land, would be theirs.
The new world, which God was giving them, was a world of peace and stability. It would be a world without fear and without calamity. God gives them their greatest fears, the lion and the snake and renders them benign. The Lion shall be so gentle that it will live alongside, eating beside, sleeping next to the lamb. And the snake, which could strike, and kill not only you, but also your livestock, would eat nothing but dust. The prophet is presenting them with a world of peace, of prosperity, of hearth and home, where labor is not in vain, where children, as well as the elderly lived.
God was promising a world, which seemed impossible to them. What God was promising was so beyond what could be imagined, so unexpected that it could not be imagined, much less something for which even one among might dare to hope. They wanted to go home. They wanted to live in Jerusalem as it was. They might have dared dream of living in a peace-filled version of the land, as it was when David was king, but that might have been the most any of them dared dream, on their most optimistic day. But God was promising them their homes, their land filled with the bounty of the harvest, a land for all intents and purposes without out death, a world where neither the children or the very old do not die, where old age it but youth and to die before twice the expected age is calamity.
But, that’s not all! They would live in peace, not strife or conflict. There will be no threat from the lion or the snake, the world around them would live in harmony.
We live in world of chaos, a broken world, a world, which seems to continually be dark and bleak. Perhaps you came here this morning filled with despondency. Perhaps hope is beyond even the possibility of imagining. It would be a good day, if you could find yourself in a place where you might dare to hope. But God speaks into the chaos; God speaks into our despondency, in to our hopelessness. There is more, our God says. This is not how it will be forever. One day, one day soon you will live. Our God believes in hope, our God believe in expectations. Our God calls us to live lives that are grounded in hope and in the expectation that there is more than the darkness. But not only does God hoped but God wants us to live into those expectations. We should not live expecting to die; we should not plant expecting to be robbed of our harvest. We are not to enter each winter without expectation that the spring will come.
But we are not to wait, to expect, and to hope, while cowering in fear, in a locked room waiting for the world to magically become the world God tells us it can be. God calls us to hope, so that we can live into the hope. God calls us to live lives of expectation preparing and making ourselves, and our world ready. We are to live as if our hopes our expectations have come to be. We are to usher in the kingdom of God by living as if God is king and as if God’s kingdom has already come.
Living lives of expectation means that we live as if the world God promises is. We are the people of God and live our lives knowing that the bright and beautiful world God promises will one day come to be AND we live today, now, here in the midst of the brokenness, as if all is made whole, we lives which work to bring about wholeness and healing. We live into our expectations. We desire peace, we want peace, and we work to be agents of peace in our own lives, in the small worlds in which each of us live. We desire justice, we know that God promises justice, so we work to bring justice to our world, righting the wrong, which we have the power to right, working against systems which enslave and disempower people, and committing to not be complicit in participating in ways which perpetuate these wrongs. As the people of God, we live out God’s vision for this this world in our own lives, loving all those whom God loves, empowering the powerless, raising up those who are crushed beneath the heels of the systems in our world. When others call out, “fear, fear”, we say, “be not afraid.” When others see hopelessness, we work to bring hope. We are agents of change in our world, remaking this world in God’s image. God calls for us to envision a world where all is made right, where there is peace and life, and then we are to live this out in our daily lives. We bring the righteousness, justice and the love of God into our world by being the very image of God, each and every day, being righteous, living out God’s justice, and loving our world with the very righteousness, justice and love, which God instills within each of us. We dream of a better world and then live that dream so that all the can know the dream we dream and then and then only then will God’s reality become the very reality in which we all live.