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Keeping the Dream Alive

Isaiah 65:17-25
Isaiah 12

A colleague of mine was recently receiving a healing pathway treatment from me and as she came out of the treatment, took my hand and said, “ Sharon, aren’t we lucky to be scriptural people; It’s like we live in a poem.. all the images and metaphors and symbols that help us heal and have hope” Her face was radiant. Now,it wasn’t the usual reaction to a Healing Pathway treatment but I had to agree.

And I was reminded of that when I read again the passage Richard read from Isaiah, reading it again as if for the very first time, (for that is always how we need to read scripture) .

“I am about to create new heavens and a new earth: the former things, the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; And it goes on to speak about a time of no weeping, a time when a child will not live only for a few days, a time when old people will live to a fullness of age in health, People will be able to build their own houses and live in them, plant vinyards and eat from them, They won’t just have to build for others, or plant food for others as they have done in the exile. They will not toil in meaningless work that does not build a life for them and their families, and God will be so close to them that they will not even have to cry out. Even all creation will be in harmony. Natural enemies like the wolf and the lamb shall lie down together in peace. And no hurt, no harm will be done on my holy mountain, says God.”

Now that’s what I call a promise! a poem, God’s dream of shalom which is a vision of wholeness, harmony, well-being, peace, right relationship, healthy community economically, socially, spiritually.
A bit Pollyanna you say????? cut off from the real world??????

This did not come from some guy sitting on top of a mountain cut off from the stresses and strains and chaos of living. You need to know it was written at the end of a time of great devastation and humiliation for Israel. In 58 ,six centuries before Jesus, Jerusalem had been invaded, captured and destroyed, the temple in ruins, the leaders of the nation force marched by their conquerors across the wilderness into Babylon where many had perished by dehydration, exhaustion, starvation, and wild animals. People who had lived through that kind of dislocation and horror, certainly could be excused for wondering what it meant to be God’s chosen people, or even whether God existed.

I had a funeral this week for a woman who had been a prisoner of war in Indonesia in a Japanese prison camp during world war Some friends came who had gone through the same kind of concentration camp experience. One woman told me…”You know I’ve given up on God. Especially when my daughter died. People said she was in a better place and it was God’s will. But if prison camp, and dying children are God’s will then I want nothing to do with God.” And this funeral was the first time she had been back to church since. Exiles are not just in Babylon 6 centuries before Christ. They are in our midst.

I spoke to a young man this week in his thirties who has been reading a lot about the rising fascism in the USA. When I told him the church was talking about How to live faithfully in the midst of Empire. he started to tear up and said “Thank God someone is finally naming it for what it is” He thought he was all alone. But right now he is living in fear, paralyzed by the evil he sees around him. He is quite brilliant and is highly sensitive; He is saving his money so that he can leave this place which no longer feels safe for him. I have great compassion for him and I’m sure he represents many other young people. He is in “the midst of empire”, well aware of it’s power for violence and control, indeed he is being overwhelmed and paralyzed by the fear it brings. But what he is lacking is the “Living faithfully” side of the equation….The kind of hope and vision of another way that Isaiah offers. He doesn’t live within the power of the poem, the power of the metaphor, the power of the promise that sees through and beyond the evil of the time to a vision of a different way. And this can literally be the difference between despair and hope; between spiritual death if not physical death and living fully in the promise. Exiles are very near us, sometimes in our own families.

The exiles in Babylon, just like the exiles among us today,could have been forgiven for wondering if God is our God, how come all this bad stuff happens to us? About 70 years later, after the people were in Babylon, a new empire emerged, the Persian Emperor Cyrus issued an edict that allowed those who wished to return to Jerusalem. They returned to a city destroyed; to famine, and innumerable hardships. The reading from Isaiah 65 holds out God’s promise and hope in that time of difficult return. So these words of building and planting, and peace speak promise into hopelessness. Note that when the prophet makes a promise of how it will be when God creates a new earth; behind that is the opposite reality…the way things are now…It is the dream of God that sustains the exiles when everything seems to be falling apart; when even this return from exile brought suffering and hardship.

“No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.”

God is speaking to them! God has a dream for them. God cares for them in their suffering; God has not forgotten them; and they are called not to forget God. Not to write off the God who is among them and through them and beyond them. God is creating a new beginning; a promise of wholeness, of peace, and of justice. And this dream, this intention of God is very concrete, It has to do with the health and well-being of God’s people, It has to do with long healthy life, and with teh ability to enjoy the fruits of one’s labour. God’s people will not have to work to make others rich, or to labour in vain. It is a dream of building justice and of wholeness. God calls the exiles to remember God’s dream. That’s what God is about, not the injustice and suffering they see in the world around them. They are to hang in in the waiting time; God’s dream, God’s intention is not their suffering, their early death from famine, but their shalom..their peace..their blessing; justice for those who have lost land; for those who labour.

They, like us, are called to live between times; between what is,and what God is already doing among them. This passage tells us that God is up to something in our world even when we don’t see the signs. God really is about creating this Reign of God we sometmes call the kingdom. We are to live in anticipation of God’s promises.

Sometimes that’s hard to do when we are living through the waiting time, the long night when we cannot see the dawn.

But What IF? Just what if we lived as if we expected the fulfillment of God’s promises. What if that young man I spoke of earlier, was able to capture the vision of a different way, and connected with others who were trying to help to build it, if he could hang on to hope and a dream. What if, just what if, we stopped wondering when the weeping will cease and started doing more to invite such a time? What difference would it make to our world right now if we lived as if God’s dream, this vision of wholeness and of justice and blessing was the only truth that mattered no matter when it would come to pass? How could we keep this dream alive? How would it encourage our steadfastness, our hope, our perseverance?

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