St Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waco
11/17/2013 – Proper 28 C
For I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth;
When I read today’s lessons, I find myself sighing a little bit. Even thinking: yeah right, Isaiah; sure Jesus. We’ve been around this block before, we’ve heard this before. Right? I mean come on, it has been nearly 2000 years since Jesus predicted all these things, and I don’t even want to count how many years since Isaiah made his promises! There have been wars, and insurrections, and famines, and plagues going on for thousands of years now, how long do we have to wait for God to do something?
We could use some new heavens around here. Our are pretty cluttered with space junk, some bits of old space station, and just plain worn.
We could definitely use a new Earth, freshly restocked with lots of oil, natural gas, and maybe try putting the diamond a little closer to the surface the surface for us. But leave out the mosquitos, those were a mistake. We’ve used this old Earth up, it’s dirty and worn and there are too many hungry mouths to feed and not enough of the right kind of people to get the work done. But we’ve been waiting for millennia so we’re not gonna hold our breathe or anything.
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
Now that’s another hard thing. Are we really ready to forget? You know what forgetting is? Letting go, giving up, setting free.
Are we really ready to let go the disappointment when things don’t turn out as you planned? Are we really ready to give up being right? How about all the ways we’ve been hurt or treated poorly, that we use to define ourselves. Or all the ways we are better than others, richer, or more educated, more disciplined, better Christians, better investors, better parents? Are we ready to forget all the ways we define ourselves that aren’t about being a child of God? Are we really ready to set free everything, and everyone; a whole world free to fly straight into the heart of God, beyond control, or judgement.
And there’s another problem, probably the reason we’re not really ready for the forgetting. Most theologians agree, we modern people have stripped all the mystery from God. We’re really good at taming God, at explaining away miracles, at lowering our expectations, at being utterly reasonable. The bones of Mystery, of God, have been laid bare by logic and cynicism, fossilized into the bedrock of the possible; grown dry and brittle and crumbling between our fingers: turned into dust.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
But we haven’t killed mystery entirely. There are still people who find it. In the most ordinary places even.
I have a priest friend who serves a great little church up North. I remember talking to him once about the way the light came through the stain glass window over their altar. In the winter the window just sort of gently glowed, the light could barely light it up. But as spring advanced and then summer the light changed. It go thick and heavy, it seemed liquid even. It poured in the window and puddled on the altar, and rolled down onto the carpet and lit up the faces of the people in the congregation.
And if you looked, you’d see dust motes swirling and dancing in that heavy sunlight. Totally invisible until that light fell through the window and if you were really looking it was like seeing God dance and laugh in the middle of the service.
And from the church where I was raised. There is a story of the altar guild. Now altar guilds are very embodied, practical ministries. They wash laundry, and do the dishes. They arrange flowers, and polish silver, and dust wood. And we could easily say it is all just linen, and dishes, and the altar is just a table, there is nothing mysterious about any of it. Until the time they were changing the fair linen on the altar and when they touched it… It was humming. The vibration ran right through their fingers, and palms and up their arms and fizzed in their blood! It was like that old altar, that had been standing there for a hundred years absorbing prayers was singing all those prayers back to them. Keeping the praying going even while no one was there.
For I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.
Are we really listening? With our dusty fingertips, and your pounding heart? Listening? Listening for the sound of a world growing, pushing up like a seedling under our feet, slowly replacing the old things while our heads are turned so we look back and aren’t quite sure what’s changed… And I think what’s been happening all these long years, is we keep papering the old, over the new, and waiting for God to do something. Waiting for God to fix this, to make good on the promises that are springing up around our feet like fragrant mushrooms, trampled as we gaze heavenward, waiting for something to happen.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
God is not done with mystery, even if we are. God is capable of so much more, of a new world being born, new heavens, new earth. God dreams pipe dreams, and lives them. When God dreams, impossible becomes a dust, and blows away on the wind. A new world hangs ripening on the vine, free for the taking. To every worker, goes the wage of new life no matter how long we have labored. Pluck the fruit, and we begin to work for what matters, and our work matters, for all of us. Each breath of mystery, each dust mote in our eye offers a choice: to paper the old over the new, stubbornly sighing “this is a pipe dream for idealists, it can never really be.” Or to bite into the fruit of a new garden. No train station needed, no ticket, the garden grows up around our feet waiting, for gardeners.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
If we have heard the LORD’s laughter, if we have heard our name spoken there is nothing left to earn, to mock, to scoff, to fear. Isaiah is calling our tired, weary eyes to lift with our hearts, to believe for one holy moment, to gaze into the vision of what God is making and stop stomping it down as impossible. We are children, born of grace, raised by tenderness, disciplined by mercy, weaned on the impossible. A new world is struggling to be born out of the old, a world where all find healing and wholeness, not in some future utopia but here and now. Where we walk our streets safely, where water flows clean and bright for all those who thirst, and good food, still smelling of the soil fills every plate where a child of God is hungry.
First, we must forget as hard as that is. We must forget everything that matters but this: we are children of God, all of us. We must forget greed, forget fear, forget scarcity, forget privilege, forget class, forget wealth, forget the false binaries of this old world: worthy/unworthy, better/worse, good/bad, deserving/undeserving. We must forget economies that favor the few, we forget greed, we forget distrust, we forget that God was ever dust and remember only dancing sunlight and singing altars. Because this is possible.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
A world lived for others, is possible. A world where we are gentled, our hearts at ease, our eyes on God, our work that of stewards, caretakers for creation and each other. A world where the cry of Cain is reversed, where we cry out together “I am my brother’s keeper, and you mine LORD,” is being born all around us. What do you see? Looking with eyes for God, looking for dust become sunlight dancing; we lift our eyes to the hills and God comes walking in the garden in the cool of the day. We lift our eyes to what might be, what do we see, if we dare to lift our eyes?