Wow… What a week…Whether you have a renewed sense of hope this morning (this evening) OR you’re lamenting the outcome of the election, one thing that none of us can deny is that things are about to change. And the one constants about change is that it produces fear. Even if you think the coming change is for the better, it can still propagate fear. That’s just the nature of change.
And fear, real, paralyzing, deep down, tie-your-stomach-in-knots fear gripped the people of Judah. A this text that we have before us takes place during a time of great change. Judah’s oppressors, the Babylonian Empire, the ones who seventy years earlier had sent them into exile, was now falling apart. The Empire, embroiled in greed and refusing to care of the most vulnerable among them, had become weak, so it was self-destructing. One can make an argument, as Jesus demonstrates over and over again in the gospels, that a society who neglects the poor, the outcast, refuses hospitality to the alien, is a society that will ultimately fail. And many, many years before Jesus, Isaiah speaks directly to this point and about Babylon when he says, “the former things have passed away and they shall not be remembered or come to mind.” And the real world result of all this is that Judah suddenly found itself free from oppression and free to return to their homeland. So, all should be “just ducky” right? Well not exactly. You see, after the liberation, after the celebration, after the dancing in the streets, they had one of those “Oh My God” moments. You know what I’m talking about? OMG. We wanted change, we got change, but now we have to actually live with or into that change. The very change they longed for was the very thing that scared them to death.
Now, if you’ve ever been hiking, especially in the mountains, you can relate to this. You see that ridge or that hilltop up ahead and say, “If I can just get to the top of that, I’ll have a spectacular view of all that lies before me.” So you haul yourself up, and what do you see? A beautiful view. Yes. But beyond that… more trail, another hill, a long way to go.
But it’s from that hilltop that Isaiah pointed out to his people that their journey was just beginning. They cringed with fear at the prospect of actually starting over again in their homeland. But Isaiah, in true prophetic fashion, helped them to see the larger picture. A picture that lies beyond politics or even history itself. He offered them a vision of a peaceful future, a hopeful future, hope-filled future. And he does this using a beautiful image. The image of the wolf and the lamb feeding out of the same trough, as if to say to his people and to all nations: you don’t have to crush your enemies to get to the new Jerusalem. Annihilation need not precede redemption. Winning does not constitute the sign of God’s favor, but rather reconciliation does. If anyone is in Christ, that is the new creation: the old has passed away; and behold, the new is come.
And this new creation that Isaiah talks about isn’t some flowery prognostication of some future reality. Prophets weren’t fortunetellers as their often mischaracterized. Isaiah, and all the Biblical prophets for that matter, were speaking to their people in a particular place and during a particular period of history. It just so happens however, that those prophetic words still have power and meaning for us in this place and time. Isaiah wanted his people to know, he wanted them to feel, the hope that comes with having a faith in God. And Christ brings this same faithful hope into our world as well. What does this hope look like? It’s a hope that reconciliation might take place. It’s a hope that Peace will finally prevail. It’s a hope that this image of a “new creation” that Isaiah uses will become a reality of Justice and Equality for all people.
And maybe that’s finally our take-away from the circumstance we find ourselves in today. Hope. Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” At this moment in time, it may seem like hope is molting. But make no mistake, those feathers will grow back and they will grow back stronger, more colorful, more vibrant than ever before. Hope gives us infinite possibilities. Infinite possibilities if we are willing to come together, work together, for the greater good. Yes, there is much that divides us as a country and a people. But there are so many more things that unite us. All of us: all races, all colors, all lifestyles, all political perspectives. And as we face this new reality, this change that happening in our nation, we have the opportunity to face it together. Will we disagree on somethings? Of course we will. But, my friends, that’s our strength. Our strength is in our diversity. Our strength is in hearing other voices, considering their perspective, and coming to compromise. But, most of all, our strength is in our faith in the Living God. The ever-present God. The God whose Still-Speaking in the world today.
There’s one final thing I’d like to share with you this morning (this evening) And it’s the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. In his famous “I’ve been the mountaintop sermon” They are so relevant once again this week. King said: “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land![i]
May it be so.
Christopher R. Seitz. Isaiah 40-66. The New Interpreter’s Bible Old Testament Survey. Abington Press. 2005.
Richard Lischer. Your Future Is Too Small. Reflection on Isaiah 64-65. faithandleadership.com 2010.
New Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible (NRSV)
[i] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech full version. Huffingtonpost.com