Creating Joy – Nov. 17, 2019
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
November 17, 2019
Main Idea: We are called to participate in God’s joy.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today’s Scripture text is beautiful and idyllic. It seems like a fantasy or a nice description of heaven. But this text was written to a community in turmoil and despair, a community in need of hope and guidance. This morning we will explore the community for whom this text was written, the details of its vision, and what it means for us. It is God’s vision of joy.
Today, as you know, is Pledge Sunday, the day on which members and friends are invited to fill out a little card in support of the ministries of First Baptist for the coming year. It is a day of commitment and a day of vision. Today is a day when we take hold of our faith and put that faith into action. God has big plans for us, a joyful vision, and we are called to participate in making God’s vision into our reality.
Chapters 56 – 66 of the book of Isaiah were written by a prophet, scholars call, Third Isaiah. The first 39 chapters of the book are known as First Isaiah and were written in Jerusalem between 742 and 701 BCE (remember the numbers go backwards in BCE). First Isaiah preached about the dangers posed to the nation of Judah from their turning away from God and trusting in other nations and gods. The kings of Judah did not listen to Isaiah. Judah and Jerusalem were overrun and destroyed by the Babylonians with many of their people taken into captivity to Babylon, far from home. Chapters 40-55 are known as the work of Second Isaiah. This prophet preached to the exiles in Babylon and proclaimed a vision of their restoration in Jerusalem (Comfort, O Comfort ye my people, says your God). In the year 539 BCE Babylon fell to the armies of Cyrus of Persia and the following year the exiles were allowed to go home. But life back in Jerusalem was not what the people had expected. There was no new kingdom. There was no restoration of what they had lost. For decades they struggled while the city and the Temple remained in ruins. Generations passed. Finally the Temple was rebuilt but the people remained discouraged, resentful, and divided. Those in charge excluded others and cared more for their rituals than for the care of the vulnerable. The people were disillusioned in their leaders and many turned away from their God whom they felt had let them down. It is to this struggling, dejected community that the prophet known as Third Isaiah speaks.
At the beginning of chapter 65, God says “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am, to a nation that did not call on my name.” (65:1). It was not that God had let the people down but that the people had stopped calling upon and listening to God! Third Isaiah proclaimed that if the people would return to God and care for each other, God would transform the world.
The prophet writes, Thus says the Lord “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (65:17). God, creator of all, chooses to create a new reality. All the bad stuff is to be put aside and no longer held for account. It is a new start, a new chance, the gift of a new beginning; not just for humanity but for God! And this new reality is one of joy and delight. Not just for humanity but also for God. “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.” (65:18).
The prophet then describes what God’s joy looks like. It is not a bigger or fancier Temple, nor the world bowed down in supplication. God’s joy is no more weeping. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” (65:19) God’s joy is in children growing and healthy, and adults living to a ripe old age, young at 100 years!. God’s joy is in people living in their own homes and having enough to eat. God’s joy is in people being treated fairly. “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.”(65:22) God’s joy is in claiming the people as loved and blessed both now and in the future. “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.” (65:23)
The best part of God’s joy is expressed in verse 24. “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” This is quite a change from “I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me.” (65:1a) God’s greatest joy is being in relationship with us, not from afar, but right here as close as our very breath, in every moment, sustaining and guiding us.
The vision closes with images taken from the 11th chapter of Isaiah, reaching back to those days before all of the trouble to reaffirm the future yet to come. Not only all people, but all nature, all of creation will be at peace. This is God’s joy. “They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.” (65:25b)
Now, today, many of us can commiserate with Third Isaiah’s community. We are discouraged and disillusioned with our leaders in the circus that is Washington, DC. Chaos is erupting all over the world; with oppressive autocrats in some places and massive protests in others. Societal norms such as civility and faith in government are breaking down. Violence and hatred are on the rise. Churches are smaller and often seen as either corrupt or irrelevant.
God knows that the world is in trouble. And in these troubled times, God is with us, speaking these words of hope, commitment, and joy.
We are gathered here this morning because God has called us together, not only to contemplate God’s vision of joy but to work together toward its embodiment. God has called us to model God’s community, to advocate for God’s justice in the world, and to teach our children about God’s love and their identity as God’s beloved.
This means that we are called to work with God for economic justice where all can live in their own house and eat plentifully of their own food. This means that we are called to work with God to insure that children do not die from “calamity” and that people are cared for throughout their lives. This means that we are called to work with God toward true peace where no one is afraid because of their identity; where they come from, how they worship, what they look like, or who they love.
On this Pledge Sunday, our pledges of support for 2020 are concrete expressions of our commitment to God’s vision and our joyful opportunity to work with God. Through our pledges of money and time and energy and prayer we manifest God’s joy here among us. What a joyous gift it is to work with God!
Our pledges mean that First Baptist will continue to feed the hungry. We will continue to help the vulnerable in our community and around the world. We will continue our welcome and support of refugees and New Americans.
Our pledges mean that we will continue to gather for worship, fellowship, and prayer. We will continue to offer our building as a place of gathering and safety. We will continue to be a presence in downtown Burlington, just one block from the most walked street in all Vermont.
Our pledges mean that we will follow God’s guidance into new ministries. We will make new partnerships with other downtown faith communities to broaden our fellowship and our service to those in need. In ways large and small we will continue to share the Good News of God’s love.
Today we have the amazing and humbling opportunity to join together in affirming God’s vision and pledging ourselves to tangibly and wholeheartedly participate in living out this vision. Let us make our pledges with joy, in thanksgiving for all that God has done and continues to do.
Let us pray,
God of Joy, give us guidance and vision so that we might know your joy and participate in it. Bless us as we commit ourselves to your service. Amen.