Readings: Isaiah 65: 17-25, Luke 21:5-19
Let us pray: Holy God, in the midst of all that surrounds us, pierce our hearts and minds with your purpose that we might live in your way and trust in your promise to us. In Jesus name. Amen.
It is so good to be back – we have missed you all so much but equally have had an exciting and fascinating time away. And while we have been away we have had a salutary reminder of the complexities of global living – something we can be a little detached from here in this island nation – as we moved among the fallout of the Brexit decision in Britain and Ireland. New things are happening in our world and they make us nervous.
For many people around the world the reality of God’s world is just so far from the vision of the new heavens and new earth that Isaiah speaks of. Peace, justice, loving relationship – sometimes it seems there is not a lot of it to go around. The promise of what will be seems incredibly distant from the here and now. And this is reflected in our two readings today of vision and reality – with Luke warning of turmoil to come and Isaiah talking of how it will be on God’s holy mountain where peace and contentment are the everyday. In fact the story from the Hebrew Scriptures could have been written for today. It involves a people who called themselves God’s chosen ones that have moved away so far from all that is fair and caring and just – it’s a hard time for them, for sure, lives are difficult, there is a huge resentment of other nations, division within and a cynicism that demands attention be on their needs. They have lost their way.
What does Isaiah say to them? He paints a picture of paradise – a time where the most counter-intuitive relationships will exist: wolf and lamb, lion and ox, where no-one labours in vain and each is housed and fed, where weeping is no more and no child is born for calamity. It would, I suspect, have seemed quite foolish and idealistic for a people determined to sort things themselves?
Conversely the reading from Luke is a text full of bad news, full of reasons for us to feel timid and helpless and hopeless as the world around us totters on the brink of anarchy and all we know is threatened. Luke scares us, let’s face it. It’s frightening stuff and the sheer immensity of what can go wrong threatens to overwhelm. But Jesus has words of hope in the midst of the turmoil – he tells us to stand strong, that this is an opportunity to testify and we don’t have to rely on our own strengths for God is with us!
Funny how chosen bible readings speak into the events of our week and the fears of our hearts isn’t it.
Many of us are still reeling from this week’s political theatre; one that will have serious impact on the world stage let alone for many people within America. We have heard throughout the Presidential campaign a rhetoric that leaves our hearts severely bruised and our minds reeling from the hypocrisy and the hatred and the lack of compassion. While we can object to policies from all sides that are unjust, I don’t think we have ever heard such blatant sexism, racism, economic and environmental blindness as has been present these few months and is now in control. If you read the papers, check the opinion pieces, there is a real fear out there of new and unthinkable global order.
So, how do we respond? We could join the protestors railing over what was in the end a democratic choice, or say it’s not our problem (and welcome a wave of new immigrants here) or sink into despair or hold our breaths and hope against hope that nothing goes wrong. But then again many of us never thought that Donald Trump would be elected in a million years so I don’t think that last one is the path to follow.
I could not begin to offer a balanced assessment of what has gone on – goodness knows there are enough ‘experts’ out there doing this already. But there are some flags that pop up as we explore our readings for today. Putting aside the sheer arrogance of those who add God to their election strategy, the things to think about are why has this happened and how do we respond as Christians into this turmoil.
Why – my simplistic answer is because the people are unhappy, like the people of Isaiah’s time. The signs have been there for a long time as the political ineptitude and arrogance of those in power has left the people on the ground feeling powerless, adrift, not listened to. And so, in fear, they turn to anyone who promises they can make it better. Rabbi Sacks calls it the birth of a new politics of anger that can only be nullified if we create a new politics of hope – putting aside the divisive, disempowering, elitist and self serving mantra of the past decades and finding ways to strengthen families and communities, build a culture of collective responsibility and insist on the economics of the common good.
The trouble is of course so many of the people who embraced these false promises, even the promise maker, call themselves Christian, yet the way of Christ is not the path they choose to take. The cost of their policies to the vulnerable, the future of the planet, the alienating of all who are different are so far from the vision of the Holy Mountain that we are left speechless. For how can we any of us claim a relationship with Jesus Christ when we refuse to save refugees, or deny hope to immigrants, or refuse justice to the oppressed, or not have faith in those different from us, or deny love to our neighbours, strangers or even our enemies. Self-preservation over self-sacrifice – not Christ’s way! But hang on here – is not that same attitude rife here too – and not just in politics but in our everyday as well. As America and Europe struggles with its reality, we too have to look at ourselves and recognise that the same disempowerment and divide exists here and that we cannot sit back without responsibility – for it is through us that change must happen.
Jesus warns us that hard times will be. He cautions us against following false prophets. He reassures us that we are loved and cared for and that we will continue to stand and be heard. Not in our own strength or in the strength of others but in the power of the Word of God living in our lives. We are the word, unshaken, continuing…..
We are to testify to the truth and to live in the patterns of mercy that Christ has laid out for us.
For we are able to give one drink of cold water at a time, we are able to bring comfort to the poor and the wretched, one act of mercy or change at a time. One book given, one friendship claimed, one covenant of love, one can of beans, one moment of commendation, one moment in which another person is humanized rather than objectified, one challenge to the set order that maintains injustice, one declaration of evil that is hiding in plain sight, one declaration that every person is a child of God, these are the patterns of mercy that are God’s grace that will transform the world.
So maybe it is time to reclaim the absurdity of self-sacrificial love – to be absurdly gracious, hospitable, kind, patient, self controlled and giving. But more than that, recognise that this sits in the ‘hard basket’ of living. That humbly serving others, defending the powerless, fighting for the oppressed and radically loving the world around you isn’t for the faint of heart and rarely results in comfort and security – which may explain why so many turn to the false Gods of this world.
I have run out of words – let us hear from someone else - we remain seated as we sing the words of hope for us and for the world from Ruth Duck……
Healing river of the Spirit, bathe the wounds that living brings.
Plunge our pain, our sin, our sadness deep beneath your sacred springs.
Weary from the restless searching that has lured us from your side,
we discover in your presence peace the world cannot provide.
Wellspring of the healing Spirit, stream that flows to bring release,
as we gain our selves, our senses, may our lives reflect your peace.
Grateful for the flood that heals us, may your Church live out your grace.
As we meet both friend and stranger, may we see our Saviour’s face.
Living stream that heals the nations, make us channels of your power.
All the world is torn by conflict; wars are raging at this hour.
Saving Spirit, move among us; guide our winding human course,
till we find our way together, flowing homeward to our Source.
Words Ruth C Duck, Tune Joel CH4 Alt Tune Nettleton
Prayer of Intercession - Abby Smith
Sometimes, Lord, things don’t go the way we want them to. Maybe something we really wanted doesn’t arrive. Maybe something we really dreaded actually happens. Sometimes it rains on our game, or someone else gets the prize, or we’re sick at exactly the wrong time. The world is always reminding us – it is not ours to command.
If we can manage to look up – to forget our fears, our disappointments, our sadness, our losses – then we can see exactly who this world belongs to.
Lord, we can see you in the huge gorgeous globes of rhododendron flowers, exploding in the garden, if we just look. We can hear you in the glad voice of a friend unexpectedly encountered, if we will listen. We can taste and smell your bounty in the wine and the bread, and in the pesto on pasta, and in the roasted nuts, and in the ice cream cone, and in the thousands of tastes and smells. We can touch you in the warmth of wool, the softness of silk, the coolness of cotton, the comfort of a hot bath. All around us the senses -- that you gave us -- allow us to experience the world that proclaims it is your kingdom.
Your kingdom, not ours. Your will, not ours. Your world, not ours.
If we can manage to look up, then we see you. And we turn to you with gratitude and with thanks.
Our stay in the world is short, and not always sweet. We remember today people we know, and those we don’t know, who are sick and battling on for another day, or who have lost loved ones, or who are dying themselves. We think of people we know, and those we don’t know, who are going without – who don’t have clean water, or adequate food, or proper shelter, or any security. We think of people we know, and those we don’t know, who are scared and uncertain and insecure and unwelcome. We think of people we know, and those we don’t know, who are suffering in any way.
We pause now, and because it is your world and not ours, we place them into your care, into your hands, into your endless love.
Your kingdom, not ours. Your will, not ours. Your world, not ours.
If we can manage to look up, then we see what you want from us, and what this, your world really needs. Truth, kindness, humility, justice, generosity, dedication, compassion, openness of spirit, faith, and love. We pray that we will be what you need us to be, here in your world, your will, your kingdom.
We pray and sing together the Lord's prayer