I can’t believe I am not going to preach
directly from the story about Jesus
enjoying a hot oil massage.
But as sensually brilliant
as that story is
Isaiah brings us to the edge of another,
even more important pool
from which to drink
and in which to see our own reflections.
This sermon meanders a little bit, just a warning,
but it stays with its theme which is hope.
Let’s talk about hope,
and the opposite phenomenon:
Spelled like disease
but with a hyphon:
We are gripped by dis-ease,
which is a horrible and debilitating disease.
Some of us have only the early onset
with subtle symptoms
while others of us are full blown
with it having metasticized into every nook and cranny
of our body, mind, and spirit.
I seriously doubt that there is a single person
in this sanctuary at this moment –
or reading this sermon online –
that has not yet contracted the dis-ease.
It is a condition without a name, at least that I know of,
but it is easily describable.
It begins with an unprovoked melancholy,
a kind of sadness
whose source you can’t put your finger on.
It can make you grumpy too,
slightly agitated and on edge without definite cause.
When it is early onset
you find that you don’t have as much tolerance
for foolishness from other people as you used to have.
Even worse, I suppose,
you don’t have as much compassion or empathy
as you would like to have.
As the Dis-ease progresses
news stories feel as if they are stacking up:
Children die in a fire.
A little girl is kidnapped by a neighbor and still missing.
Old people are bilked out of investments
by slick fraudsters.
Candidates for office make stone cold racist, mysogenist, homophobic, and ethno-centric statements that are not only wrong-headed but just plain ignorant.
All of this begins to feel so oppressive
that you think if you keep reading or listening
to the news your head is going to explode.
So you tune out.
But tuning out does not help the Dis-ease,
in fact, it can even make it worse.
Eventually, the atrocities in Syria
are on your breakfast plate
or invading your dessert and coffee.
Tragedy after tragedy
and outrage after outrage
for which you have no influence or control
run your thoughts ragged.
are even revealed to be just around the corner
from your own house
and they worm their way inside your brain
and release too much bile inside your stomach.
Where once you were a fairly optimistic person
the Dis-ease has made it a struggle to think positively.
You don’t see how any of this is going to work out:
the so-called war on terror,
politics of self-interest,
an Economy of Greed,
religions of superstition and bigotry.
You can feel that the Dis-ease is now full blown
while Hope is a boat that set sail
with you standing on the dock wishing you were on it.
That is what the Dis-ease does, it disables Hope.
Just like malware disables software on your computer,
Dis-ease disables hope
and that is devestating to us.
When that happens
our once hope-filled vision
becomes overwhelmed by a preponderance of voices
telling us there is no turning this ship around.
I suppose it is possible to live without hope
in the same way it is theoretically possible
that some people could survive a nuclear holocaust,
but what kind of life would it be?
Here is what I know:
Christianity is about Hope.
Whatever else we can say about it,
beneath the heartbeat at its core
Christianity, when we get it right,
feeds hope, and
even helps to fulfill hope.
Evenso, much of Christian theology
has its focus on the After Life –
what will happen when we die
and how can we insure that we will go to heaven?
That is not hope;
in fact, that reveals such an incredible lack of trust in God
we can’t even call it faith.
I realize that millions and millions of Christians
believe that heaven is what Christianity is all about,
and that billions of non-Christians
also think that is what Christianity is all about.
But when we dig down to our roots
that is not what Jesus was all about.
Jesus clearly did not live in fear of death
nor did he clutch his own body
as if it were a life-preserver.
Jesus did not reveal too much concern
about how God was going to make it all work out in the end.
Instead, Jesus trusted God
even though he couldn’t see beyond the cross himself.
Instead, Jesus caused people to have hope
about this life; and fed hope
about this life;
and fulfilled hope
with his own life.
But today, in the readings we heard,
it is Isaiah that shines the brightest light
on the hazard of Dis-ease
and the prospect of hope at the moment
when there appears to be no hope.
Let’s go back to that poem from Isaiah
because it is a perfect example
of the kind hope that Jesus preached and embodied.
We even have examples of Jesus quoting Isaiah
and preaching from Isaiah
because Isaiah is one of the greatest
poets and prophets of hope the world has ever known.
…Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a NEW thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert…
Here is something we need to know
about this prophetic poem.
At what may have been the lowest, darkest moment
in the history of ancient Israel,
Isaiah lights a candle
and refuses to listen
to any more moaning and grief.
In his inimitable poetic style
Isaiah figuratively lifts up his hands
and says to an imagined crowd of grieving voices
“Stop! Just stop!
God is about to do a NEW thing.
No, really, stop and listen – a really NEW thing. “
Now very few people believe God can do a NEW thing?
Heck, if we stop and think about it,
who actually believes that you can do a new thing
or that I can do a new thing?
Who in their right mind, in 2016 really believes,
that The United States of America
can do a new and better thing?
Put in such stark concrete terms in our world
we can see that Isaiah’s poetic prophecy
was an incredibly courageous act of spiritual leadership
at a time of nearly universal Dis-ease
when hope had been disabled among his peers.
Just to put a little flesh on these bones,
let me remind us what those ancients had been through.
As they understood their history,
they had been saved from slavery in Egypt by God.
They had been lost in the wilderness for 40 years
and then saved by God.
They had survived the wilderness
and been given a legal constitution by God,
that showed them precisely how to create
a just and equitable society authorized by God.
They had been given a land flowing with milk and honey
and the opportunity to build that just society.
But their revolution became a dictatorship
and their sovereign nation was torn by civil war
and divided North and South.
Diminished in size and stature
they had been invaded and occupied.
Finally, they were destroyed and taken away in chains
to live in servitude to their captors in Babylon
where they were raped and beaten.
In slavery once again, they lost hope
because God had clearly abandoned them.
They could not be Israel in a foreign country
without their beloved Temple or Holy City,
and the land that was at the heart of
how they perceived God and their own purpose,
was no longer theirs.
In fact, they no longer lived in that land of promise.
Into the dark despair of total Dis-ease
“God is about to do a new thing
and bring us home on the tide of living waters coursing through the desert.”
Now here is a very odd thing.
What Isaiah told them to hope for
actually came to pass.
I am not making any bold claim here,
just observing history.
Persia, modern day Iran,
destroyed the Babylonians.
Then Cyrus, the King of Persia,
actually invited the remnant of Israel
to return home and rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.
which would have seemed ludicrous before,
welled up like water from below.
Suddenly, a poetic vision that sounded utterly naïve
and Pollyannaish was now coming true
like figures coming into focus through the fog.
For the moment let’s just reject
the idea that God manipulates armies
and historical forces
so that some people are winners and some are losers.
Let’s just accept that such an idea
may have seemed a splendid explanation
in the ancient world
but is a bucket with holes in it in our world.
Instead let’s just think about Isaiah
sitting in the bowels of the Babylonian Empire –
one of the more ruthless Empires in human history.
There he was, surrounded
by those who had contracted the Dis-ease
and at risk of it himself
because of all the misery and hopelessness
And yet Isaiah could see hope.
That hope gave him vision
and Isaiah’s hope allowed him to see something
his contemporaries could not see.
So even if we say, from our perch on history,
that it was not God that brought the Persians to power,
and that is was not God
who convinced Cyrus to let the people of Israel
return to their Promised Land,
we can still see something amazing here.
Even if we acknowledge that it wasn’t God,
still Isaiah was able to see historical forces at work
that would create a new opportunity
and bring about a new day.
How did he see the new
that was coming into the world
when everyone else just saw a grim
and growing darkness?
He saw it.
He spoke to it.
He held it up.
He fed it.
It was fulfilled.
God was doing a new thing and a new thing
came to pass.
Christianity is about creating
and fulfilling hope
in a world and among a people
who desperately need it.
Christianity is not about hope in the world to come
but the hope that is to come into this world.
Let me repeat that:
Christianity is not about the hope of a world to come
but the hope that is to come into this world.
WE are Isaiah.
WE are the eyes and the ears
and the open hearts and minds
that are supposed to see what God is doing
even here, even now.
And then WE are the ones
who are supposed to point to it
like a house on fire.
We are the ones who are supposed to have
and the imagination
that show God
doing a new thing even when no one else believes us.
If you asked me what I think we’re supposed
to be doing here at Trinity Church,
I would point at Isaiah and say,
WE are supposed to be the kind of community
with the kind of wisdom
and the kind of insight
that stares tragedy, horror, and evil human enterprises
in the eyes and names their demise.
THEN, still looking into the face of the dark and grim
we are suppose to see and name
the opportunity for something new.
Christianity is about equipping ourselves
with the wisdom
and the imagination
and the faith
to perceive that God can and is
doing a new thing, AND,
that God is trying really hard
to do a new thing through us!
That’s our work: Agents of Hope.