New Heavens And A New Earth
Isaiah 65:17-25;Psalm 118; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13;Luke 21:5-19
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
November 17, 2019 –Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
Why can’t we all just get along? What makes us so quarrelsome? Where will we find peace? How can we get there.
We can just choose to get along. We can choose to not be quarrelsome…to see a person… and not a problem…in every conversation we have. Peace is staring us in the face...but we choose to blink.
We need to look at the same old world with new eyes. All we have to do is to bring our ears to every conversation we have. If we can find a new heaven and a new earth in our hearts, then that kingdom will come…that truth will arise…in our day…our lives.
Isaiah cries out to a nation whose eyes have grown dim…who has lost its ears…who will soon lose its right to exist. And what does he have to say to his loved ones…to his neighbors…to the rulers of his day?
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy.”
Perhaps the Southern Kingdom has had a significant victory in its conflicts with all its neighbors as this great prophet…Isaiah returning from the Exile…speaks, but the distant future looks dark…the long view makes them anxious.
They have triumphed in either event,…for now at least… with a great faith in the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
There was something about the strength of their belief that made them bold, even in the face of danger. As I look at this scripture…and where it arose out of the story of Israel…God’s chosen people…I think of the Greatest Generation and their struggle through the Depression and then right into World War II.
There was a unanimity of purpose that animated the public spirit back then, they say. In these troubled times it is hard for us to imagine such a time.
9/11 is about as close as my generation can get, but we came to that event with a realism that Vietnam had driven into us. We responded in many ways…with faith and with anger…to that fate-filled day. Now we have been involved in the Middle East for 17 years.
It was a time then for us to think about new heavens and a new earth. It is still time for us today…18 years later…to think about new heavens and a new earth. Isaiah was calling the people of his day to look at things in a new way in a new day. We can do no better this new day.
We come in our readings to the end of our long stretch of Ordinary Time. You can see from your bulletins that this is the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost. Next Sunday will be Christ the King Sunday.
Then it will be Advent and a season of Christian Festivals will follow through Pentecost next year…new heavens and a new earth. It is probably no coincidence that our readings this morning focus on the end of one age and the advent…the beginning …of another.
They all speak of judgment, too… taking the right road…being able to see the right road…and the rewards from taking the right road…and the consequences of turning the wrong way.
Jesus tells us to ponder things as much as we can, and this is the season…as darkness surrounds us and subdues us and calls us to think long thoughts…to do it. His words remind me of a tour I took one time. It was a tour that had a sense of humor.
They told you all the tour guides had been to liar’s school so you shouldn’t assume everything they were telling you was true. So when you heard something that didn’t sound quite right, they told us, “chew…before you swallow.”
Jesus’ words to us were…and are… “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
One of the things I came to understand when I was in a more secular public position was that people want to believe what they want to believe. That make sense.
What you have heard the most is what you have sorted out of your experience to believe, and it takes a lot of work to turn a new way. Why would we not believe our eyes and our ears?
And who am I to tell you that I do not do the same thing? I am not saying that at all…in fact, I am sure that I do. There can be a blind spot in my own thinking as quickly or as widely as it is true of anyone.
But I want to see my blind spots before I trip over them and hurt myself. I want a friend to correct me before an enemy takes advantage of my blind spot.
Maybe it’s a little bit like the day the psychiatrist’s assistant came into her office and told her he didn’t think she could do much for the next patient.
“What’s the problem?” the psychiatrist asked. The assistant told her the patient was convinced they were invisible. The psychiatrist thought about it for a little while and told his assistant, “Tell him I can’t see him today.”
When we see problems that aren’t there, we are sometimes doing ourselves as much harm as when we don’t see the problem right there in front of us. So the question is, how do we sort it all out? How do we see what we are missing?
Paul tells us that we do it when we keep working at it. We keep testing our hypotheses in the laboratory of everyday life. Watch with an open mind and see what happens. Listen with an open heart and see what is revealed.
He is writing once again this morning to his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica and it appears that some of them have stopped working. Maybe they thought the end was near, so let’s just sit down and wait for it to get here.
Maybe they thought there wasn’t anything to be done between now and then…it was too late. In Isaiah 22 we read, “But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine! ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!”
Then again, maybe they were making an excuse to sit idly and do nothing…to passively waste their days away…an hour at a time…as if we do not matter to the world we have been born into or the faith we have been called into.
Paul asks them…and us…to know…to see… that there is still work to do and they are the ones who have been called to do it. It is up to them…and us. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
That will test the firmness of your belief your theory for you. What is the work that needs to be done from now until the day Christ comes again? It is the story we read each week, with Hebrew Bible readings giving us the historic context, the Gospel Lesson giving us the narrative of that pivotal era in human history, and the letters of Paul proclaiming how Christ is the Promised One of old.
Jesus is the one who has brought… and will bring…the world into a new age of understanding and hope. He does not bring us the message. He is the message.
And he is telling us this morning to chew before we swallow…to think before we act …to weigh what we hear against our own experience…and to come together with other human beings and compare what we know…so that we can see the same thing from many different points of view…and one day see them clearly and truly.
If we think the world isn’t the way it should be, we should not feel abused. People will persecute you and accuse you of many things… but don’t worry about it. Words will come to you and it will all turn out well if you follow the teaching …the truth…I have given you.
He seems to speak to anyone who has quit working because they think the end is near, too. The end will not come right away, he tells them. In the meantime all that you are and all that you do bears witness to the truth I have given you.
If you do nothing, however…if you simply choose to bask in the memory of things that have already passed into yesterday…you tell the world something about those who followed me…about you…and about me.
We sit in a building that has been dedicated to the telling of his story, in the Bible, in worship and in our community. Always preach the Good News, St. Francis said.When necessary, use words.
This Saturday, we will gather to cast our vision farther into the future. We do it out of gratitude to those who have brought the Word, with hope, this far in time, out of love for the one who gave all that we might have all.
They embodied the idea that people can do good and can be better if we simply love God and love our neighbors. Will we carry this torch forward.
All the effort we spend proving that we are right and everyone else is wrong is about pride…and pride passes.
All the effort we spend sharing the Good News…feeding the hungry… clothing those who are exposed to the elements…offering hospitality to those who are wandering…is about something that will last forever.
We just are what we are, but we are all of that…so we become something more than who we were at every age…and we can inspire others to do good works simply by showing them the fruit of good works.
How we decide to be together in ministry in our community is a matter that we need to talk about and talk through and listen to and hear.
I suspect that we all won’t agree… at first…but I know we can find even better ways to serve God and our neighbor if we bring different ideas to the same conversation and throw them…with lover…into the mix of everyone else’s ideas.
I have no idea what our ministry might one day look like, but I think it can be something no one has ever seen before…done like nothing anyone has ever done before. Something big…really big…will happen here one day. We can be a part of it…we can provoke it…or deny it. That is our choice…given to us by God.
It is our conversations together that can produce a result…a new heaven and a new earth where the lamb and the wolf feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox and no harm or destruction will come to anyone – not a hair of our heads will perish.
We speak from open hearts because of our love and gratitude to God, and we listen with open minds because our Lord and savior is counting on us.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do through us…through me…this day? Amen