Sermon,  Sermons

Intentional Abode


sermon video, pt1. Click for part 2


Today, I want to move through the scripture readings, section by section, and I invite you to actively listen, intentional. Hear the passage, notice the word choice, consider what it means that God speaks through Isaiah in this way – and to us, now.

Is 65:17-18

For I am about to create new heavens
   and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
   or come to mind.
18 But 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.

For I am about to… what does that mean for the people of God who, taken from their homes return to find everything pillaged, and the temple hopelessly stripped of God’s presence, glory.

While exiled they worked for their oppressors, contributing to the economy of the Assyrians, and now find themselves back in their land – plundered, unkempt.

They were content to continue on their familiar ways, living lackluster lives in mediocre homes without a visible manifestation of the very presence of their God – represented by the temple in Jerusalem.

Used to doing the hard labor for the oppressors without the privilege of enjoying the fruits of their labor, the people gave in to their weariness. Accustomed to their position as exiled workers exploited by the power that governed their daily lives and livelihood, they lost hope; they lost the creative drive and initiative embedded in their collective created being – too deeply obscured to recognize.

For I am about to… God is about to do a thing. And when God announces that God is going to do something, the people must pay attention. Because even when any of us are in situations in which we might feel oppressed, that something isn’t fair in our world or received the short end of the stick – even if the feeling is well-founded – we are always in a position of playing a role in oppression, the unfair treatment of others. And while I can call attention to the inequalities that affect me, I have within my power to work toward making changes to the system in which I am complicit.

For I am about to make new heavens and a new earth…

When we identify where our privilege intersects with somebody else’s oppression, we’ll find our opportunities to make real change.

– Ijeoma Oluo

God says:

19 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.
20 No more shall there be in it
   an infant that lives but a few days,
   or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
   and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
   they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

I will rejoice in Jerusalem, delight in you. You will no longer be in distress. Things will be made right. But first, understand your role in the making of it.

Kurt Ditzler, Deputy Chief of the Durand Fire Department,  said it was ironic that residents of Rockford have hospitals within minutes of most homes and access to the ambulances kitted out with the latest medical tech, while those in the rural areas farther from emergency services cannot afford the life-saving tech of those ambulances where the need of immediate care is more acute (due to the relative greater distance from appropriate hospitals)

Versus lamenting the unfair circumstances and railing at politicians and tax laws, the Durand Fire Department canvased residents, asking them to vote on a referendum to increase village taxes so that they could afford this life saving resource, as well as, paid EMTs.

“No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime….

The action of the fire department service folk displayed the living out of God’s provision – village voters passed the referendum.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
– James 1:22 (NIV)

Help us, God, to identify the places our privileges allow us to overlook, so that we can be better examples of what it means to be followers of Christ. Amen.” Sojourners, 11/5/2019.

22 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.
23 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.

They shall not build and another inhabit… No longer will they do the labor, exploited, while others enjoy the resources and fruit of their labor. Equity and equality will occur because all will work together for the good of the community – not to exploit the weak or take advantage of the generous.

Build houses and inhabit them. But they will build them. They won’t automatically appear like some cosmic magic trick. Or because someone of their station ought to have others do the work for them.

Plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They will plant. And there is a lot that must happen between planting and eating the fruit! You farmers – and all who intersect your lives – know this acutely, at the moment!

But this also means that everyone knows what is happening in the process. That is, how many in the city and its suburbs know that the cost to finish out the already weakened crop yield is currently 4 times the usual rate? How would I have known that many of our farmers can’t dry their corn at this critical time in the season because of the unseasonable, extreme cold and snow? Unless I listen and ask and am in relationship with people who farm that corn?

Martin Luther King Jr. called for us to be lovestruck with each other, not colorblind toward each other. To be lovestruck is to care, to have deep compassion, and to be concerned for each and every individual, including the poor and vulnerable.

– Cornell West

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
– Philippians 2:1-2 (NIV) (taken from, sojourners, 11/11/19)

God promised to abide with us. God created us for that purpose. We are made to be the dwelling place of God. All creation – the universe, the earth and everything it contains – was made to be the dwelling place for God. But if we are being poor stewards of our relationships with one another and with the earth, it only follows that all of God’s goodness will be diverted from those spaces.

The result is the destruction of our environment – now felt acutely by our farmers, and only worsening. And it is evident in our relationships – the inability (or difficulty in) finding unity, to see the divine in one another.

If we are lovestruck with each other, then we notice first what we love – then any difference is secondary, a point of uniqueness and possibility for growth. It is also how we can continue to be a United Methodist Church – in unity of purpose because we are lovestruck with each other first, and then understand that we witness God’s revelation in different ways.

And if we are lovestruck with our environment – the kind of awe and wonder Lyn Billings shares so often – then it will matter how we use our resources.

It also might move us to be creative in ways helpful to our farmers, or creative even in the ways we cultivate the land.

Sometimes, the only realists are the dreamers. 

– Paul Wellstone (sojourners, 11/12/19)

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth… not just hope for the future. God prompts us to live in it! Not just lament the mess we’ve made of things. Yes, there is a time for mourning, for the lament. Now, behold, a new thing – re-creation of the already created good-ness of the earth.

But are we not a part of this re-creating business? Last week we heard Haggai speak God’s words to the people: get out of your comfortable (while subpar) homes and start building! Get out! Do the work!

6beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ … keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us….

11For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies… 13Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.

To be sure, for many of us, climbing onto church buildings to fix leaky flashing is not advised! But there are so many other things we can do to help make things right, to help in the re-creation project that God will do with or without us. But I, for one, would rather not be caught out for my laziness.

To be very clear: it is not for me to judge what is lazy for another – I cannot know what the spirit of God is prompting you to do, nor you, I.

Still:

Do not be weary in doing what is right.

But here is God’s promise – before you call, God will answer. Before you even know you have a need, God will meet it. And maybe I am the answer to your plea to God, or perhaps you are that answer to your neighbor’s petition.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
   the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
   but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain,

says the Lord.

God’s holy mountain – the new heavens and the new earth – where God’s presence abides. The presence, God’s glory, that is evident in the making-right of all things – this activity, intentional activity to dwell in God’s glory: this universe, this world, an intentional abode.


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