NEW DAY COMING
A sermon preached by Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Times are tough on planet earth. Well, maybe not so much for you and me. The sun is shining. We’re well-fed, well-sheltered, well-dressed, even well-loved, aren’t we? I guess if you’re a Stanford football fan you may be feeling the pain of yesterday’s loss to USC. But, by and large, we’ve got it pretty good.
However if you’re standing in the middle of what little is left of Tacloban in the Philippines, looking for loved ones, your home, something to eat or something to wear, I’ll bet you would say “times are tough on planet earth.” Or if you are a student at Balasore Technical School, looking at the barren flood plain where your home used to be or a family in Haiti still trying to recover from the earthquake or in New Orleans, living all these years later with the devastating effects of Katrina, things look pretty bleak. Or if you’re a Palestinian trying to make a life in occupied territory or Afghanis or Iraqis existing amid the rubble of war or Syrians or Burmese forced into refugee camps or Congolese living in fear of rogue military, you would be hard pressed to know joy and delight. If you’re homeless and hungry and struggling to make ends meet in East Palo Alto or surviving in a cardboard lean-to in a barrio in Rio de Janeiro, you might just feel a little desperate and hopeless. I could go on. Is this enough to convince us that times are tough on planet earth?
The point here is not to be a dark cloud on a beautiful today, to be a joy killer, to be the bearer of bad news or to induce guilt. But I do think it’s important for us to see the big picture if we’re going to talk about a new day coming. These ancient words of the prophet become much more compelling and powerful when seen from a wider perspective.
And frankly that’s the context in which they were first uttered. These prophetic words of hope, joy and delight were first proclaimed in the midst of pretty awful circumstances. Remember that the book we call Isaiah is really a collection of writings of anywhere from three to five different authors or schools over a period of some 200 years. Today’s Call to Worship comes from first Isaiah (12), a hymn of praise and celebration, interpolated into harsh prophecy about the destruction that would come to a people who did not keep their covenant with God.
Later we find that prophetic word to have come true in that the people of the northern kingdom, Israel, were carried off into exile by the Assyrians and the elite of the southern kingdom, Judah, were subsequently hauled away to Babylon. In the process, the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s magnificent temple and lay waste to the city of Jerusalem. It is another hundred years before Cyrus, of Persia allowed the Hebrews to return to their holy city.
There was initial excitement and joy at the prospect of returning home and rebuilding the city, the temple and their lives in the land of God’s promise. But after those first days of happiness, the daunting task before them settled in. The physical rebuilding, along with reclaiming a lost way of life, was overwhelming. Can’t you see the prophet – third or fourth Isaiah – standing in the midst of the rubble, proclaiming that times are tough on planet earth? “Oh we wanted it to be so much easier. We believed that the task of rebuilding would progress much more quickly. Secretly, we even wanted God to help with the restoration in miraculous ways that wouldn’t require so much effort on our part. But, oh! this is so much harder than we ever imagined.” The people affirmed the prophet’s discouraging word.
It’s smack in the middle of this discouragement, hopelessness and despair that fourth or fifth Isaiah brings forth today’s text – “…be glad and rejoice forever,” says the God of hosts, “in what I am creating… For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth… I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight…” Well, now that’s a little loony, isn’t it? Maybe this prophet has been out in the sun too long. Look around, the glory of David’s capital and Solomon’s temple are not going to be seen any time soon. Can’t you hear them pushing back against the improbability of the good news? And, truth be told, don’t we sometimes respond to good news with similar incredulity?
It’s hard to hold good news when we have to hold it in tension with what looks like bad news all around us. These promises make lovely poetry but when and how, O God? Maybe you can make all things new, but it’s just too hard for us. We have to be realists – economically, politically, even morally. You promise too much God and you ask too much of us in the process. It’s too much for us to believe your promises and then it’s definitely too much to think that we ourselves might have the wherewithal to make those promises come true. What’s that you say? How about if we formed a partnership and worked together toward a new day? Well, we never thought of it quite like that. After all you’re God and we’re just human beings. Yes, we know we sometimes like to play God, but we also know how hollow and destructive that can be. In fact, that’s part of why times are tough on planet earth. But maybe we could partner with you to get some of it done. We’ll check our busy schedules and get back to you on that.
A new day coming. Somewhere in the back of my head, I hear Tony and Maria, right in the middle of the gang war that will take Tony’s life, singing softly and passionately as they look into each other’s eyes:
There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us
There’s a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time spare,
Time to learn, time to care,
We’ll find a new way of living,
We’ll find a way of forgiving
Somewhere . . .
It’s not exactly Isaiah, but it’s the same sentiment. Somewhere, some day, some how, we’ll find a new way of living, we’ll find a way of forgiving – the same hope, the same vision of a new day. Young lovers in improbable circumstances believed it could be. Can we? Can we capture some of the vision of God’s new day and make it real? Can we pledge ourselves to that work in honor of and solidarity with all the dreamers and prophets who have held hope for us?
Corinne Carvalho writes of this ancient word that “In texts from Mesopotamia and Canaan, when a deity took up residence in a temple, blessings radiated out from that temple creating an ideal world. Human endeavors were prosperous. Crops were bountiful. Animals were tame, and the world returned to an Eden-like state.” That is very much what is being described here in Isaiah. We know that certain parties in Judaism believed that the temple in Jerusalem was the very place God dwelt on earth; therefore God must be worshiped there. But what if the true temple was in our hearts? What if we allowed God to dwell in us? Might blessings then radiate from us? Might we become agents of healing and wholeness, of abundance and grace, of justice and peace, the living God living in us and through us to bring about a new day?
Carvalho continues, “…too many times when I go to church, I am not expecting the world to change into a paradise.” I wonder how true this is for us. Isaiah’s words invite us to see a new day coming, God’s day. The prophet’s proclamation draws us to commit ourselves to living into just such a day a day born of the One we worship. Carvalho concludes, “We may not feel a great need to domesticate lions, but what would the world look like if children did not die from disease or gun violence, if adults had complete access to the best medical care, and if everyone earned a livable wage so that their work was not in vain. What if everyone could have as many children as they wanted, knowing they could provide for them without anxiety? Isaiah tells us that this is the world that worship should invite us to imagine.”
But you know and I know that imagination, wonderful as it is, is not enough for those who stand in the midst of tough times on planet earth, wailing their despair, aching in their hopelessness, yearning for a new day to come. As children of God and followers of Christ we find ourselves right in the middle, living in holy tension between the new day of God’s promise and the real need of real people. Only in partnership with the living God, following the living Christ, empowered by the living Spirit and in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the family of God will we see that new day come round – on earth as it is heaven. To this the prophet calls us – to the vision and to its realization. In all our living, let us commit ourselves to that new day coming. Amen.