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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
June 25, 2023
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard readings from Isaiah that give us glimpses into parts of Israel’s history and God’s relationship with the people.
We started with God’s call to Isaiah to go and prophesy even though the people weren’t going to listen. And Isaiah answered and went, because he knew that God still loved the people and hadn’t abandoned them. And that was the message God called and prepared Isaiah to give.
We then read about the hope that comes to us in our times of deepest darkness or despair. Hope that has bearing on our lives here and now, not just in the future. Hope that can only come from God.
And last week, we were reminded that in the work God calls us to do, God renews us along the way and raises us up to continue the task set before us.
In today’s reading, Isaiah prophesies to the Israelites after they’ve returned from exile and discovered that, even though they’ve started to rebuild things in Jerusalem, it isn’t as glorious as it was before the exile. Yeah, there were buildings, but they weren’t as nice as they were before.
Jobs were being created and Yahweh was being worshiped and there was a governing structure in place. But there was still economic inequality, and religious and political factions within the city.
The progress didn’t look anything like what they’d envisioned or hoped for when they began rebuilding. So, the people were frustrated and feeling humiliated, and starting to mourn all over again.
And so this part of Isaiah comforts the people in a way that will help them change how they see themselves, the way they act and treat one another, and the way they’re thought of by other nations.
He begins by describing the people who will be lifted up – the ones who are typically pushed to the side. He talks about how they will be treated and the things they will accomplish, and how that will shape life for everyone.
And because of that, as a nation, they will take pride in God and not themselves. They will recognize God’s acts and God’s presence in their lives as a people.
Isaiah tells them all of this is so that they can envision becoming – and then actually become – something other than who they were in the years leading up to the exile. With this change in perspective, they will accomplish the task of rebuilding Jerusalem as a city where God’s righteousness and justice will not only flourish, they’ll be the foundation.
The people’s priorities will change. Human power dynamics will be upended. And as the physical buildings and the society itself continue to be rebuilt, the injustices of the past won’t be repeated. And it will be a society that lifts up and values those who are marginalized now, and become a society that doesn’t marginalize anyone.
Instead, it will be one that calls people into relationship with one another, regardless of who they are, because it will be built on God’s justice, grace, and mercy.
And with those qualities as the people’s foundation, things won’t be the same as they were before. And that’s good. The news of how they live as God’s people will spread to other nations and that is what the Israelites will become known for. Who God is and the ways God has acted in their lives is the good news they will share with the world so that all people might proclaim this good news.
As Christians, we most frequently hear the first part of this reading. And we hear it in Luke’s gospel when Jesus reads it in the temple at the beginning of his public ministry. And after he reads it, he declares to the people listening that this “scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And they were amazed and excited for about a minute, and then they ran him out of town.
Because hundreds of years later, in Jesus’ time, things hadn’t changed. The city of Jerusalem and its surrounding areas had been rebuilt after the exile, but society was the same as it had always been. There were still people on the margins, and people who were benefitting from them being there.
And the ones on the margins are the ones that Jesus reached out to and spent time with and lifted up and called into relationship with the community. He recognized their value to humanity and the way they helped shape society.
Two thousand years later, things still haven’t changed. There are still people on the margins in our world today. They are the ones that we are called to reach out to and spend time with and lift up and be in relationship with. They’re the ones whose value and impact we’re called to recognize.
Show of hands, how many of you heard the news last week about Titan submersible that was lost in a catastrophic implosion?
, The week before, a ship carrying approximately 750 migrants went down near Greece. There are 78 people confirmed to have died, and more than 100 people were rescued. But more than 500 are still missing, including 100 children. Show of hands, how many of you heard about that?
I don’t ask that question to shame anyone. I heard this much about it when it first happened, and I had to dig for information on updates.
The loss of life in both incidents is tragic. But the attention given to the ship that was carrying migrants is far less, and that’s disappointing and disheartening because the stories of the people on that ship have been experienced too many times in our world’s history. The people who were on that ship are on the fringes of the margins.
And when we take that together with the people who are marginalized because of the work they do, or their sexual orientation or gender identity, or for whatever reason, we begin to understand why it’s vital that we work toward creating a world that doesn’t marginalize anyone.
That work, and their status as human beings created in God’s image, shape who we are and who we become as God’s people. It’s what Isaiah was getting at in this prophecy.
When Isaiah first spoke the words we read today, God’s expectation wasn’t that the people would passively receive this good news and just go about their lives, because this is more than just words on a page.
God’s expectation was that they’d do something with it. That they would embody it and build a society that’s based on God’s justice, grace, and mercy. A society that calls people into relationship with one another, regardless of who they are, and teaches others how to do the same in order to create a world based on God’s qualities.
Jesus carried this good news forward when he read these words in the temple. He took it on for himself and shared it throughout his life and ministry.
As Christians, this good news is carried forward again to us in our baptism. When we take this good news to heart, when we make it our own, it becomes part of us and it ultimately shapes the world. Because we don’t hold onto it for ourselves.
God sends us to bring good news to those who are being oppressed by anti-gay and anti-trans legislation; to bind up those who are being harmed by violence; to proclaim liberty to those who are being trafficked or enslaved; and release to those who are being imprisoned in mind, body, or spirit.
This is good news that we embody, and teach to others. So that, together, we create a world that’s based on God’s justice, grace, and mercy – that everyone might proclaim the good news of who God is and what God has done in our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.