Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Hope for a peaceful kingdom, 3.2.14

Isaiah 11:1-9

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Revelation 22:1-7

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

6And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” 7“See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”

Revelation and Isaiah were written about 800 years apart, but they have a lot in common. Both are prophetic books, which means they were written by someone called by the God to challenge and encourage the people. They both interpret the events of the author’s time in the light of God’s calling. These two passages especially have a lot in common because they lift up a vision of how God will bring the world to its conclusion, and they use that vision to inspire God’s people.

The Prophet Isaiah lived more than 700 years before Jesus in the Kingdom of Judah, which was the southern half of what had been Israel. He wrote to a nation that was doing pretty well on the surface but inside was very sick. On the outside Judah appeared economically strong and religiously active.

Speaking as an insightful observer and as a spokesperson for God, Isaiah sees a very different nation. He sees the powerful oppressing the poor. He sees religious leaders acting as cheerleaders for the nation’s sin by blessing leaders who turned away from the divine call for justice. Isaiah, like other biblical prophets, saw the problems in his society clearly.

He also saw hope for the Lord’s redemption, not only of Israel, but of the whole world. Our passage for today is a vision of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of peace, justice and wholeness where love would guide all relationships and all that was wrong would be made right.

John, the author of Revelation wrote in very different times. He probably wrote between 70 and 90 AD, more than 40 years after Jesus was killed. He wrote to a Christian community that was small and surrounded by threats. Christians were a distrusted minority. Their fellow citizens thought they were unpatriotic, even a threat, because they didn’t worship the Roman gods or the emperor.

While the Roman Empire hadn’t started persecuting the church actively, the Emperor Nero twenty or thirty years earlier had tortured and killed many Christians. John expected the near future to bring more persecution because the Roman Empire claimed divine power. That ultimately put it on a collision course with the church because the church believed only Christ was Lord.

As many of you have seen, Revelation is a collection of strange images through which God and John remind the church that God truly is in charge. No matter how strong the powers of empire appear, God’s kingdom of love will triumph in the end. The passage we read today builds on the last week’s description of God’s heavenly kingdom: a new heaven and new earth with its center in a new Jerusalem that comes down from. In this holy city God will be right in the middle of human life.

A restoring river of life flows from God’s throne through the street. That river brings new life to the world. We see a strong tree of life on both sides of the river and its leaves bring healing not just to Israel, not just to the church, but for all the nations.

There are all kinds of ways Revelation has been misused. The violence of other parts of the book have sometimes fueled an “us versus them” mentality in the church. The image of a new heaven and a new earth has made some Christians careless about the earth with which we have been entrusted. But the book as a whole is a powerful reminder that God is in charge, no matter what it looks like some days.

Both passages give us a vision of hope, and we need that. We need that as individuals and as a congregation. There are times that life feels overwhelming. Whether it’s family struggles, trouble at work, political turmoil or health challenges, there are so many things we feel we can’t control. When we look at the violence in Syria and the instability in Ukraine, the world feels like a threatening place. When we worry about our bills or a loved one’s illness, it can be hard to believe that the story has a happy ending.

Laurelton has been through a lot. The last three years have been better financially, but we’re not out of the woods yet. This year’s budget is challenging. Facing the end of our time together is sad and a little scary. We worry about our future as a community of faith. Many of the people you care about are not here anymore. There are so many things that are unsure about the world we live in.

Isaiah and John’s visions remind us that in the end all will be well. We are part of a bigger story. We’re part of the God’s restoration of creation. Our loving witness in this community for justice is part of the movement that one day will make a place for everyone.

In Isaiah’s vision the lion and the calf, the wolf and the lamb all live together in harmony. Our witness to justice now is part of God’s peaceful kingdom. Community is nurtured through worship and the Saturday Cafe. Laurelton’s welcome for neighbors is part of how God’s welcoming, inclusive kingdom is built up. The teaching ministry of this church whether in Sunday school for a few children or through preaching or through casual conversation over a cup of coffee is part of how the knowledge of God spreads so it can eventually cover the world with grace.

I don’t know what the future holds for Laurelton. I don’t know what the future holds for Calvary or for the Presbyterian Church. A big part of our future will be shaped with other churches, especially through Urban Presbyterians Together. I know that the One who calls us is faithful. I know that God’s grace is eternal and that God cares for each of us deeply.

I trust these visions of a righteous kingdom. I trust that one day God will make everything new, that injustice and oppression will be defeated and all people, in fact, all creation, will have abundant, peaceful, joyful life in a restored universe of harmony. I trust that future, even though I can’t see it clearly.

Because we believe that one day God will make all things right, we are free to work for justice now without worrying about our successes and failures. We can try new ministries in our life together and in our individual lives. Ultimately, it’s not about me and it’s not about us. We are part of a bigger story with a magnificently happy ending.

No matter what happens, Laurelton is part of the amazing tapestry of divine love. When this neighborhood was first being established, Rev. Harrison was visiting new neighbors, welcoming them to something new. Changing times have taken a toll on this congregation, but each chapter has been a new chance to share God’s love. Whether through the Living Nativity, the Get out and Play ministry, Christmas baskets, Cameron or Café, this church finds new ways to remind our neighbors that God loves them. No matter what happens, that legacy of love, creativity and faithfulness will remain.

The last few years have brought some exciting hope. The Café has deepened our engagement with the community. Supper and Scripture has grown. New members have joined the church and our finances are better than they have been. UPT is working together to support congregations and reach out to the city more effectively. God is doing something exciting here

God isn’t finished yet. She’s not finished with Laurelton, not finished with you personally, and not finished with the world. The story ends with wholeness, peace, community, abundance and welcome for all creation. The story ends with creation renewed and restored, free from pollution and oppression and death. The story ends with God’s love powerfully present among us, so obvious that no one can miss it. The story ends like it begins, with creative love weaving a beautiful new world.

The chapters between now and then are not yet written. We don’t know all the twists and turns. We don’t know the victories and setbacks. We don’t know what we will learn about ourselves and our city. We do know that we are part of something bigger, something beautiful and righteous and true. We know that God has called us, that Jesus has gone before us, and that the Holy Spirit is with us, surrounding and filling us.

We know too that our efforts, our love, our welcome are precious to God. The Holy One has been part of our journey from our first steps. God feels our sorrow and our fear. She mourns with us and sympathizes with our worries. No matter what happens, we are not alone; you are not alone. Each moment of your story is part of the Creator’s loving story, a story that is more beautiful because it includes hardship and challenge. The work we have to do together is important, but the weight of creation is not on our shoulders. No matter what happens the good news of divine love will shine through our story as we follow our calling.

Thanks be to God.

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