Sermon  September 23, 2018    “ Vision of God’s Holy Mountain” by Rev. June Fothergill  Scripture:  Isaiah 65: 17-22

I have a Beetle Bailey cartoon on my home office wall.   Two soldiers are lying in their tents looking up at the stars.  One says, “  Someday we’ll be able to fly to all the stars.”  The other replies, “ And we’ll die from the hot gases of nuclear fusion.”   Then the first guy says, “ It should be against the law to destroy dreams with facts.”

If we live long enough we realize that our dreams don’t often turn out as we dreamed them.    A lot of our lives are littered with lost and discarded dreams.  And when we are pushing 60 or 70 or 80 even 90- is there still place for dreams in our lives?  Maybe we need to just settle.  Dreams are for the young who don’t know any better.  And yet!  There is something about our scriptures and our faith that just can’t let go of us. There is a dream of God for the world bigger than our lives and efforts that continues to call to us all our lives.  As the prophet Joel and the book of Acts attest, when the Spirit comes, “ the young will see visions and your old share dream dreams.”

What is this dream of God that compels us and calls to us throughout our whole lives of faith?  Jesus called it the Kingdom of God.  He declared in his life here on earth that people needed to repent and turn to this Kingdom of God coming into their midst.  He told stories about it. He lived it through acts of healing and justice.  He died and rose again to inspire and free us to continue on its journey.

Yet, I remember one time as a teenager wondering what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God.  I read through the New Testament but frankly was just confused by the stories and metaphors and found few concrete examples.  I didn’t realize at the time that to understand what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God I needed to look to what had inspired him- the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the prophets.   Today we heard Jesus once again tell us- “Seek first the kingdom of God”.     I invite us to look at the passage from Isaiah 65, one Jesus surely knew by heart for insight about this  vision, this dream of the kingdom of God.

One of the images for God’s kingdom that is common throughout Isaiah is that of the Holy Mountain or Mount Zion.   Around here many of us have climbed up the hills nearby and seen the vistas they provide.  I remember looking out from Mary’s Peak and thinking we could see the whole valley to the sea.   The mountain is a natural image for having a wider vision, a more expansive dream for our lives and world.  Isaiah agrees, as long as it is God we seek on the mountain.  So what is the vision of God’s kingdom we see from top the Holy Mountain?

In Isaiah 65, we see first that this is God’s vision- God is creating a new heaven and a new earth.   This vision is not just about human imaginings or desires.   It is God creating a new thing in our midst.  So, the kingdom starts with God’s ability and willingness to create.  Isaiah saw that God creates out of joy.  Vs. 19 “ I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people.”  This new creation , this kingdom of God is a reason to rejoice!   Why?

Isaiah goes on to give us several reasons for rejoicing in God’s kingdom which give a more concrete picture of what God wants for us as human beings.

In vs.19-20  the prophet tells us that  no more shall there be weeping, for people will live out their life spans.  God does not want people to die young due to disease, war, accident, etc.  This is the vision that inspires those who seek to fight disease and bring healing from ancient times to today.  It is this vision of God’s kingdom which leads us as a denomination to make Global Health and Fighting Disease one of our main focuses of mission.  It is why we are joining together to do the great work of eliminating malaria from Africa. It is the inspiration for feeding people who are hungry each week and setting up flu shot clinics and referrals to health care.    Jesus lived this vision in his life through his many acts of healing for the people who came to him.    This dream of God’s kingdom invites us to work and pray for the well being of all people.

Then in vs. 21-23 Isaiah goes on to flesh out more about what this Kingdom of God will look like.  He paints word pictures of a world of justice:  people will build houses and live in them; people will plant gardens/ vineyards and eat the fruit; people will enjoy the work of their hands.  Instead of the injustice of one person planting or building and another receiving the rewards- everyone will have opportunity to meet their basic needs of food and shelter!

This vision of what God wants for the world is not about God giving people everything but God’s guidance to create just systems of economy;  economies where people have opportunities to have shelter and food.    Jesus at times pointed out the injustices of the system in which he lived:  widows who were burdened not helped, tax collectors called to change to act more justly, visions of a banquet where all have enough to eat, even the rabble off the streets.  He taught his people ways to peacefully counter oppression and injustice: love your enemy, turn the other cheek, speak the truth, welcome and eat with the sinners.

What does it mean for us today to seek the justice of God’s kingdom in our midst?  How do the biblical ideas of justice inform our own economic choices and critique of our economic system?    These questions are beyond the scope of this sermon and likely my intellectual ability. Yet, I think that Isaiah and Jesus vision of God’s kingdom does invite me to ask questions.   How does this system of economy provide for the needs of those who are the most vulnerable?   Who benefits from our economy and are the outcomes fair?   What would it mean to dream and work for a more just economy in 21st Century USA?

I have an article by the writer Studs Terkel written just before he died in his 90’s.  He lived through the Great Depression in the 1930’s and recorded the stories of many others who did so as well.  He told this story.

“ There was a lawyer Pearl Hart. She was wonderful. One of her clients was this girls picked up on the streets along with her trick. This girl was in court with hands trembling as the judge called all these names. And Pearl, a huge woman put her arm around the girls who instantly straightened up. That’s where hope come from , just standing up. “ He goes on to share what he thinks are the lessons of the Great Depression, “  Don’t blame yourself. Turn to others. Take part in the community. The big boys are not that bright.  And hope dies last “ la esperanza muere ultima.” Without hope you can’t make it. As long as we have that hope we’ll be ok. Once you become active helping others, you feel alive… You become a different person. And others are changed too.”

The final picture Isaiah gives us of God’s kingdom is  about changed persons.  In vs. 25-  The predators will lie down with the vulnerable lambs and oxen.  “ They shall not hurt of destroy on all my holy mountain.”   As I think about this image of the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox, I notice that the wolf and the lion no longer eat their prey.  They are transformed.

I wonder if just perhaps Isaiah is referring to human predators and oppressors.  No longer will there be child abuse, or sexual assault, or unjust imprisonment or crippling taxation or military conquest.  No one will hurt or destroy!  Those who have done so in the past will be changed – they will no longer need to hurt others!  Wow!  This shows us that God trusts that human beings  ( OK and lions and wolves) can change. The forces that lead people to crime and the harming of others are not ultimate.  The force of love and justice will one day prevail, Isaiah proclaims!  Don’t give up.  Don’t let oppression and hurtfulness have the final say in the community, in your life!  God wants all to be safe and well.

That’s the inspiration that leads some folks to work for the 90 by 30 vision. The reduction of child abuse and neglect by 90% by 2030.  That is the hope behind the work of everyone who runs homeless shelters, treatment centers, domestic violence homes, parenting programs.   This vision inspires us to be the very best parents and grandparents we can be and to report abuse when we see it.  This vision invites us to also look at ourselves and our relationships for how we treat others.  It invites us to repent of ways we hurt others and to find ways to live more compassionately.    It is God’s vision that we don’t have to hurt one another. That oppression and abuse are not God’s idea!

Finally, this picture of the kingdom of God in Isaiah 65 helps us to have vision for our lives and world.  We can choose to build God’s Kingdom through our actions, words and commitments.  This means we seek to work for the health, just opportunities and freedom from abuse for all the people in our world.    I remember a snatch of lyric from singer songwriter Jim Stradthee, “What we do while we’re waiting depends upon what we’re waiting for. We’re waiting for the Kingdom of God”     Or as Studs Terkel reminds us-  it is hope which keeps us going when times get rough.

The people who first heard Isaiah’s vision  kept the dream of the Holy  Mountain alive. They passed it down to Jesus and to us.  Why? Surely they didn’t see it fulfilled in their time.  But Isaiah reminds us in vs. 24, that  God says to us- “ Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.”   This is God’s kingdom. This is God’s creative work among us.  When we do our small part, we are involved in something bigger than ourselves or our lifetimes.   Paul Hanson, in a commentary about this passage summed it up. “ Shortfalls do not devastate the Servant for the campaign for justice is not a personal project but a part of God’s eternal purpose.”   (p. 246 Isaiah 20-10 by Paul D. Hanson, Interpretation Bible Commentary, John Knox 1995)

 

 

 

 

 

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