With the new year upon us, we are once again in that place of wondering who we are and what is important to us. This morning’s passage, Isaiah 61:10-62:3, reminds us of the importance of not being silent and not resting until vindication comes.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Please pray with me: Lord God, our creator, sustainer, rock of the ages. May all of our words and meditations be acceptable to you this morning and as we move into the new year. Amen.
What should a new year’s sermon be about? The year past? A year when many of us struggled? Conflicted? Anxious?
Or is it about the year to come and the promise of a blank slate?
Before I delve into this, I’d like to offer thanks for my liturgist and other helpers this morning. Rachel is present, truly present and I’m grateful to her for her faith, love, support and for being the person she is. It is because of her, Matt and John Mrlik (John stepping in for an ailing mother) that the future I’d like to speak about this morning might be closer at hand than you might think.
The truths about the year past and the year to come are of course more compacted than we’d like to think and 2017 for many was a year of vindication and 2018 is still an empty notebook to be filled. But we have had other years that haven’t been all that different and here we are.
If you remember your Isaiah, Chapter 61 truly proclaims the good news: good news to the oppressed, liberty to the captives, comfort to all who mourn. This is more than a promise of redemption, this is a promise of a nation and a people restored. To put this into modern terms, this is an infrastructure program that puts anything we might imagine into shame. And immigration reform is there too with strangers feeding the flocks and foreigners work the land. Sound familiar yet?
In today’s reading, the people respond in gratitude and gladness, rejoicing in the Lord. It almost puts you at ease, doesn’t it? The nation restored, people working together gratefully and giving thanks to the One who caused it all to come about? But them we remember the promise of God and isn’t it natural to think how then do we express our thanks? What is our role in the promise of God? What might we do to be the people worthy of this great promise? Talk about anxious making.
One of the wonders of youth fellowship of confirmation class or any of the other times I find myself in a group of under 20’s is the way that these constantly in motion kids can get really quiet when I venture into conversations that either bore them or they don’t understand and that creates the moment. Uncomfortable silence. It is often the same with adults. We veer into conversations that bind us to words and thoughts that we can’t or don’t understand or just don’t want to understand. At the risk of saying the wrong thing, no matter how well intentioned we might be, we say nothing. After a conversation with someone with a very different point of view: politics, religion, 49ers and Raiders we find ourselves silent. This is where our Lord begs to differ and Isaiah does not mince words:
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
This then is the sharp bit as my grandfather used to say. If the voice of God is to not keep silent then how do we, his people also stay silent? There are injustices in the world that we have only now begun to contemplate let alone resolve. Much like the days of Isaiah all that long ago but I guess not long enough to pass from memory, refugees, orphans, women and children go without while others accumulate money and power. People of color continue a fight that seems to have no end in sight. Men build silos for the harvest to come without ever wondering what happens if it doesn’t? We are scarcely able to have conversations with some people we have known for decades because we are so immersed in our own heads or trying to change into the person that others would have us be.
I sometimes ask why I chose youth ministry and to be honest, I really didn’t. God through the persona of Dorothy Pett, one of God’s finest local angels was how I found my call. All I wanted to do was to help young people understand that yes, there is a God and yes, God has a plan for each of you. They would wonder what they needed to do to be worthy of that love and I would tell them, you’re fine just the way that you are. As a matter of fact, you are amazing! One of my favorite spiritual guides is a Buddhist monk named Pema Chodron who says, “the practice of maitri or loving kindness as my fellow meditators know is a practice not one extends to others but also to ourselves much as God would do so. Loving kindness means we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry, timid, jealous or unworthy without having to change ourselves.”
What we can no longer be is silent. We have an obligation to each other and to God and to the world to reconcile ourselves with the sharp bits. If we are to see the promise of God to us, to Zion, too all God’s scattered and disparate people, we must seek to find a way to create a way when our lives are not defined by what we are uncomfortable talking about or feeling but by what we are willing to do to make God’s promise a reality. Food for the hungry, homes for those without shelter, clean water and a voice when things are going sideways. There is a crown for us to wear and it might not be golden. I think mine was knit for me by my friend Charlene Thai and I’ll gladly wear that as my crown.
We must also do a better job in trusting: trusting our neighbors, friends, family and even those who we might not know as well as others. It is through that trust in God’s people that we show trust in God because all people are God’s. People come into your lives for a reason and it is up to you to discover what that reason is.
Another thing we might try to do is spend more time out of our comfort zone and for that I’m going to invite Matt and Rachel up here to join me and we are going to play a song by Matt Redmond untitled “10,000 Reasons”. It’s a song that focuses on God’s grace and our thanks for that grace. None of us are in the choir but we love singing about God so here’s hoping you enjoy listening as much as we love singing.