A place of restful trust…
It’s Thursday morning, and I’m sitting at McDonalds while my van is being worked on next door. The scene around me is feel good Americana. The regular crowd is gathering to read the paper, drink coffee and trade stories. The conversation flows easily. There is talk of the start of the football season, the Eagles game that night, the good meal you can get at the Elks lodge on Friday night and an upcoming trip to New York.
On the other side of the dining area another group works on Sudoko as FOX news streams from the television on the wall. A veteran has lost his leg in service of country. There is a golf tournament in Dallas on this day to raise money for the families of veterans.
Close by, a middle-aged man in camouflage shorts and a t-shirt sits down with his breakfast and strikes up a conversation with the man an adjacent booth.
Did you serve overseas? I saw your tattoo. Usually when I see a guy your age with a tat, I assume he has served in the military overseas.
Where did you serve?
He talks about the war movies he watches. He laments that conventional warfare is a thing of the past. Today it’s all about dropping bombs…guys sitting at computers.
He talks about growing up blue collar…about not being religious…about going to church every now and then…about Religion is a manmade thing…about having faith, but not being catholic. He thinks they are too into Mary.
This is the scene where sermon work became grounded this week.
The context of Isaiah 32 is Israel working on a nation project. We see signs of excess and assimilation into the ways of the world when it comes to worship and politics. The big news is that Assyria—the neighboring military power—is on the doorstep of Judah. King Hezekiah and his diplomats are working on alliances with Egypt to help shore up their military strength. In God we trust has become more about strategic alliances and re-inforcing the borders. The dream of security and prosperity is tenuous.
So what is the message of the prophet?
28:1 “Destruction is certain for the city of Samaria…”
29:1 “Destruction is certain for Ariel, the City of David (Jerusalem).
30:1 “Destruction is certain for my rebellious children. You make plans that are contrary to my will. You weave a web of plans that are not from my Spirit…”
31:1 “Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One or consult the LORD!
Chapter 32 interrupts this doomsday proclamation, offering both a summons to grief and an alternative vision for the way Yahweh wills things to be.
The first word that comes to us from the text is this. See…
The prophet recognizes that the unraveling situation is Israel has everything to do with a way of seeing and interpreting current events in light of God’s purposes. Hope that comes from God sees beyond doomsday forecasts and wall-sized charts.
The human condition always offers plenty of reasons to lose hope. Isaiah does not skirt around naming truth. He looks around and notices that things are falling apart on many fronts.
He sees corrupt leaders (v.5). He sees foolishness…ungodliness.
He sees the concerns of Yahweh being ignored. In fact, it seems that the central theme that grieves Yahweh’s heart is the way the poor are treated (v. 7). The response of those in power is to lie to the poor. And so the poor are ruined. This is evil in the sight of Yahweh.
For those who see the hope that comes from God, the second word that comes through the prophet is to grieve and lament the way things are. This work of grief and lament moves us from just seeing ourselves as victims or oppressors. We are called to transformation.
Verses 9-14 remind us that the newness God is bringing disrupts the old patterns of comfort and complacency. The vision of shalom in this chapter makes no room for the old ways which bring humanity to the brink of destruction. The old ways must be deeply grieved and finally relinquished.
Our reason for hope is not found in the broken economic and political systems of the world. Transformation requires deep grief work which has the courage to look at the patterns of living in our world in light of God’s coming kingdom of peace.
How do we do this work of grief and relinquishing the old?
Our Simply in Season worship series this summer (July and August) has been one way of doing this kind of work. We have listened to stories about wasting nothing, about using what you have, about thinking twice before throwing something away. We have heard stories of businesses that are thinking locally and working at sustainability. We have been challenged to think about, grieve and leave behind patterns of mindless consumption. We have done this work because of the hope we have that God is wanting to bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Because we have this hope we listen to the stories. We listen when we are at McDonalds, in our homes, at school, wherever we are present. We pay attention and notice where there is peace and where there is an absence of peace.
The text calls us to see beyond things as they are, to grieve the old patterns—the ways we trust in the wrong things to bring security and well-being.
The third word that comes from our text this morning is Until. It is as if the prophet is saying here is the way things are. Things are not good, but we cannot see the new thing God is doing, we will not grieve the old ways until a spirit from on high is poured on us (v. 15).
The spirit from on high anoints us to seek justice in the wilderness, so that they will become fruitful gardens. Moving into a place of restful trust has to do with receiving the work of the spirit in the places that are not at peace within and around us.
What do you notice as you think back on your week? Where were you aware of places of peace, quietness and trust? Where were you or others not at peace?
Perhaps we are aware of a lack of peace in our first days back to school. The teachers expectations make us worry that we will not be able to keep up? We may wonder about our place with friends. Will we be liked and accepted for who we are? Perhaps you are aware of a lack of peace in a certain relationship…in your work…finances.
The spirit helps us pay attention to the voices around us that are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Voices like the van full of Mennonites (white and non-white, citizens and undocumented) who drove from Philadelphia to Harrisburg this week to oppose attempts of some State Representatives to enforce laws related to undocumented immigration. We pay attention to whether laws and policies are being shaped by fear or a vision of shalom.
As we enter a week in which we will mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the message of Isaiah 32 and the story Jesus told about the good Samaritan call us to reflect on the ways we are being called to allow the spirit from on high to renew the way we understand our neighbors.
How are we being called to grieve and lament the cost of 9/11 on our world? The cost as measured in terms of lives lost on that day and in the two wars that followed that day in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cost as measured in the trillions and trillions of dollars in an attempt to defeat terror. The cost as measured in terms of a shaky economy and a hopelessly divided political system.
As we enter this week, Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City, offers two important reminders as we seek to cooperate with the Spirit: “We live in a world profoundly broken by violence” and “God loves this world and desires that suffering be met by hope, love and grace.”
The word that comes among us this morning through the prophet Isaiah calls us beyond the old patterns. It is a call to see, to grieve, and to receive the gift of the spirit.
See…my people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest. Even though the forest will be destroyed and the city torn down, God will greatly bless his people. Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up. Their flocks and herds will graze in green pastures.
May it be so.