Convention Sermon 11/16/14
“Hope is the hardest love we carry.” That’s what the poet says—
And it’s been true since the beginning of time.
It’s true for us and it was true for Isaiah.
Today we hear the prophet Isaiah speaking at one of the great turning points of history
The Israelites have been in captivity in Babylon for seventy years.
Two generations have never seen Jerusalem.
They have no idea what the Temple looked like.
They have a confused sense of home.
The Israelites have been in exile so long, it no longer feels like exile.
Yet part of them knows that Babylon is a way station—
It’s like being in an airport for half your life.
Yes, you make it work
You find a place to sleep and a way to keep your body and mind strong
But it’s hard to find rest—it’s hard to find joy—and it’s hard to feel at home.
You find ways to distract the deep loneliness inside.
As humans, we are amazingly adaptive—which is a good thing.
When we are displaced, we make do.
We accommodate—we make our lives work.
But at some point, we are no longer tourists—we have gone native.
Our heads stop thinking about home and we adapt, but our hearts are always restless
And in our dreams we confront our loneliness.
But Isaiah is still a tourist. He has never stopped thinking of home.
He is calling for the Israelites to remember where they belong.
He is calling for them to prepare for their return.
He is jostling their memories.
He is trying to rewire their brains.
He is awakening their dreams of what it means to be where you belong.
Most of all, he is getting them to hope.
“Remember,” he says, “the Lord’s ways are not your ways
And the Lord’s thoughts are not your thoughts.”
Because the Israelites have gotten used to a slave economy where
You get what you pay for.
You don’t work, you don’t eat.
There’s never enough for everyone.
It’s an economy run by fear and scarcity.
It’s a world mapped by division—the Babylonians are the haves
And the Israelites are the have nots.
It’s a world afraid of newness and grace.
Some years ago I pulled my back.
I couldn’t stand up straight and I could not turn my shoulders.
I could be comfortable standing stooped over as if I were a downhill skier.
Instead of dealing with the pain—I tried to accommodate it.
This is fate of the Israelites in Babylon—they are living a half life
because they think that’s all they can do since God has abandoned them to exile.
Too often, it is the fate of our world as well.
Our world is changing so fast—our lives are so hectic—everything is so complex.
And the currencies of this contemporary exile are fear and despair.
If you are not home—it’s hard to relax and trust.
Instead of stretching out our hands—we clutch.
And instead of admitting our loss and pain, we stay distracted with our endless screens.
That is what Babylon feels like.
Today we are being commissioned as God’s prophets just as Isaiah was commissioned
to bring the Good News to a world gripped in fear and trapped in exile.
No doubt we are as afraid as the Israelites.
We too could say—“We are lost.”
“We are men and women of unclean lips and we live among people of unclean lips.”
But the Lord commissions us just as God commissioned Isaiah
to proclaim Good News to the captives:
Come home to God—
Come home to God’s mercy—
Come home to a vision of God’s world for all God’s children.
Come home to trust that the world can change
and all God’s children can have what they need.
Come home to God’s economy.
If you are thirsty, there is water.
If you are hungry, there is food for your body, soul and mind.
And it’s not the economy of the empire—
This is not a world where you get what you pay for.
Because it’s not about what you have—it’s about who God is.
It’s a world where you get what you need simply by opening your hands.
It’s about trust; it’s about living with open hearts.
The truth is we learn how to make this journey out of exile over and over again.
When I was twelve years old, my family took a vacation to a ranch in Florida
About forty minutes from Gainesville.
It was a long drive from Asheville, and in 1962 it was mainly two lane roads.
My brother and sister and I were excited for one reason: the ranch had horses.
We got there in the middle of the day,
and we three kids threw our stuff on our bedroom floor and ran to the stable.
In short order, the farmhand had us on three horses riding in the hot Florida sun.
As we were walking back to the house, my Dad came out on the porch to wave at us.
Suddenly I could see him slap his neck.
Then he fell down. My mother came out and screamed for us to help.
My dad was highly allergic to bee stings.
He had been stung by a bee on the vein running down his neck
and had gone into shock.
My brother and I carried him to our station wagon and laid him in the back.
We sat beside him while my mother drove to the University of Florida hospital.
When we got there, my mother realized she didn’t have her wallet.
She had no identification.
She had no money, and no checks, and in 1962 we didn’t have credit cards.
My sister didn’t have any shoes on.
My brother and I were wearing David Millard Junior High football jerseys.
We three children kept asking our mother, “Is it going to be okay?”
She would say “yes, it will all be fine,” but then she’d start to cry,
and we knew that she didn’t know any more than we did.
In the hospital waiting room, we were in exile.
But what we discovered is the goodness of the Lord.
The nurse got us rooms at the Howard Johnson.
Our cousins brought us clothes.
After a very scary eight hours, the doctors said my dad would be okay.
As we waited for our father to recover, we three kids called room service and ordered all
of Howard Johnson’s twenty-eight flavors.
We sat on our beds and put quarters in to have Magic Fingers jiggle us
while we watched Jeopardy and The Price is Right.
At twelve I didn’t think about grace, but I do now.
Because I know we all lose our way.
We all end up in Babylon.
Sooner or later we are all in exile.
But those are the times we are called to discover the goodness of the Lord.
Those are the times when we must remember our calling
to proclaim to the world the great reversal and act upon it:
Instead of the thorn shall come the cypress
Instead of the brier shall come the myrtle
Instead of a slave economy—
you can buy wine and milk without money because your need is enough.
Instead of being stranded in a strange city,
you get all you need from people you don’t know.
Strangers turn out to be angels.
Because it’s not about our ways—it’s about God’s ways.
Like Isaiah we are called to pronounce the Great Reversal,
That means we must remember God’s vision for God’s children and proclaim it.
Instead of a Congress that will not even talk to each other—
We will have leaders who seek to legislate for the common good.
Instead of a worldwide system of human trafficking—
girls can go to school everywhere without fear.
Instead of whole countries like Mexico and Honduras that have been overtaken by the
there will be safe streets to walk in for the young and the elderly.
We don’t have to understand it.
We don’t have to have a flow chart to see how it will work.
We just have to embrace it with our whole hearts.
We have to believe it and then proclaim it and then move our feet towards it.
Our task—our calling is to say to this world, trapped in exile, what Isaiah said to his,
If you are thirsty—if you are hungry—If you are lost,
Remember God’s promises and come home.