Rejoice Forever in What I am Creating 11/14/10

Isaiah 65: 17-25, Isaiah 12, Luke 21:5-19

Isaiah 65:17-25

17For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But 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. 19I 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. 20No 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. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They 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. 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The 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.

Isaiah 12

12You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. 2Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 3With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. 5Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. 6Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Rejoice Forever in What I am Creating

The last several weeks have seen us talking a lot about change and upheaval.  We have followed the exiles in their lengthy separation from their homeland, their desire – upon returning – to remake the past, and their attempt to live fully for and with God.  This week, we leave the exiles for a time.  We do not, however, leave the fear and anxiety brought on by change.

 … but the end will not follow immediately

Jesus is warning the disciples of the calamities that may come in the future.  He is trying to prepare them for those difficulties.  And he certainly doesn’t pull any punches. 
 “Nation will rise up against nation … great earthquakes … famines and plagues …”

There is such a thing as sensory overload, and we’ve just about reached it, haven’t we?  Relief workers who come to the aid of those affected by disasters call it “Compassion fatigue.”  It’s not that we don’t care, but we do start to wonder about our physical limits to how much we are able to care.  Just in the last ten years, we have had a major terrorist attack, a hugely devastating Hurricane creating refugees and wastelands, a tsunami that decimated entire villages in one fell swoop, an earthquake that shook an already poor and ill-resourced country.  We have had floods, tornados, a housing market crisis, a wide-reaching recession, health care issues, gulf oil spills, and more.  When we hear the prophet in Isaiah 65 (v 17) say, “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth,” a part of us wants to scream “What’s taking you so long already?!”

Jesus’ attempts to prepare his disciples for things to come are, frankly, less than encouraging.  But in the midst of this, Jesus says, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified … you will be hated by all because of my name.  But not a hair on your head will perish.  By your endurance, you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21: 9a, 17-19)

I’m the sort of person who appreciates supreme honesty, even if sometimes I’d like a little sugar-coating, but I have to respect a savior who tells us (as he’s preparing for his own death, mind you) that this will be no cake-walk.  The Christian life is not the ‘easy road.’  Christ says that by our endurance we will gain our souls, not by our faith or by our actions or by our words, but simply by our willingness to keep trying.  We must be willing to be uncomfortable even while we remain true to our calling in Christ.

 … I am about to create new heavens and a new earth

Isaiah 65 speaks to the hope that Christ anticipates being still a ways off.  We are reminded in this passage that the creative powers of God are immeasurable, that nothing is outside of God’s purview and interest.  In light of the amount of suffering there is in the world, this fits with Jesus’ words in Luke, “This will give you an opportunity to testify.”  What we endure and go through, is often what brings us to a greater understanding of how God was supporting and moving us through those difficult times.

David Lose is quick to note, “let me be most clear: this isn’t to assert that God is causing the calamities we endure, but rather to claim that God is active in them, always working to help, comfort, and save. And when we recognize these things we discover the opportunity not just to see and benefit from God’s act but also to witness to it.”[1]

And so we have an opportunity to witness to the new creation that Christ will bring about in the world; Isaiah 65 gives us a taste of what this new reality looks like: no more weeping, no more infant/child deaths.  Everyone will live long, full lives.  There will be no greed, our work will be self-sustaining, and we will get to see all the benefits of our work and labor.  The wolf and the lamb are friends, the lion is no longer predatory, but eats straw alongside the ox.

This all sounds wonderful.  I wonder what it would sound like if Isaiah were writing today: perhaps there would be no more unemployment, no health care problems, maybe even no major health problems, no housing crises or market woes, all the power differentials would be gone.  That’s quite a world to imagine!

“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.”[2]  We know this because it is rooted in Christ’s messianic presence in the world.  All of Jesus’ life provides us with a framework for understanding Isaiah’s prophecy: Mary Eleanor Johns comments, “the whole of Isaiah rests on the messianic activity of God.  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.”[3]  She continues with a well-placed question, “How do we understand our call to respond and participate in the new creation that Isaiah prophesies?”[4]

Perhaps it is one small act, one drink of water for someone, or an extra meal for another, one act of mercy, or one charitable thought towards another who is used to being judged.

However we answer this question of how we respond to the prophecy of a new creation, we must partner our answer with one very basic act of faith: we must trust and believe that God is active in the world, working for our benefit.

 … make known his deeds among the nations

This is where Isaiah 12 comes into the picture.  It follows five chapters of doom and gloom, prophecies of nations upending, and it ends in this chapter of praise.  The entire chapter (six verses) is written in the future tense … it is not just a hymn of praise, it is a poem of hope and trust.  “You will say in that day …”

“I will trust, and will not be afraid” (Isa 12:2) For our God is a God of salvation, and we can trust in that gracious gift of God’s, knowing that it is always available and present.  From that concept of salvation, we are given a lovely image, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa 12:3) Drawing water was not the easy task that it is today, remember the hand pumps we often find in campsites and on hiking trails.  Susan K. Olson does and she notes the work of pumping water from these wells would be similar to the ancient action of drawing water.  She states, “We shall draw deeply from the ‘wells of salvation’ with joy, but not without some effort.  It will tire us, tax us, spill all over our dry clothes, and muddy our feet.  What does it mean to do all this with joy?”[5]  Do we come to our faith lives and our churches like we would go to those wells, ready to work at getting the water to pour out?  Are we prepared for the gushing power of the saving water when it rushes out of the well into the waiting receptacles?  Are we those receptacles and do we allow God’s salvation to fill us up and overflow?

This coming Friday, the presbytery is holding an event in which we will tell the Future Story of our churches.  In the spirit of the prophet Isaiah in chapter 12, we will sing God’s praises for what God is about to do in our midst.  We will participate in visioning the future of our churches and what God has in store for us.  This is an act of prayer, an act of worship, of hope and of faith.  We believe in the beauty of the new creation to which God is calling us to participate in the making.

Twice, the prophet says, “You will say in that day.”  The first time the you is singular.  The second time it is plural.  There is a move from an individual who will speak God’s praise to a community that will shout and sing God’s praises.  “The praise that is described here – proclamation, singing, shouting – is robust and exuberant.  The individual holds hope for a future that is not merely better, it shines.”[6]

This is news that bubbles up, too big to contain within one person … too big to keep confined within one group.  This news of God’s salvation and God’s work of a new creation is news that belongs to everyone – throughout the world.

“Rejoice forever in what God is making … make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted … great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

  


[1] David Lose, WorkingPreacher.com

[2] Mary Eleanor Johns in Feasting on the Word, Isaiah 65:17-25.

[3] Mary Eleanor Johns in Feasting on the Word, Isaiah 65:17-25.

[4] Mary Eleanor Johns in Feasting on the Word, Isaiah 65:17-25.

[5] Susan K. Olson in Feasting on the Word, Isaiah 12.

[6] Susan K. Olson in Feasting on the Word, Isaiah 12.

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