The sermon for week November 14, 2016
So BrightSermon “” November 13, 2016
17For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But 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. 19I 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. 20No 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. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They 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. 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD— and their descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The 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.
Today marks Stewardship Sunday here at Sylvania UCC. A day when the pastor is challenged to say something to those in the pews and to do so in such a way that their hearts and minds are opened, and dare I say their pocketbooks, to the potential of what can be accomplished when we respond to God’s call on our lives. But today also marks the first Sunday following an election in the United States like I have never before witnessed since I became aware of presidential politics. Most presidential elections Never have I heard such despair and pain expressed by so many. I cannot remember a time when on the day following the election that there were protests that included such things as flag burnings by those who felt so disenfranchised by the loss they felt.
As a result I am challenged not only to say a word about what it means to be a Steward but also to speak a word of hope to those who only see darkness.
For that reason I chose to read from the prophet Isaiah. The writings we read today from Isaiah 65 were written to a people living in a time much the same as ours. Things were not going well. Things were not as they should be. In the case of the people of Isaiah’s time, they had high hopes for the future as they were returning home from a time of exile. They had sung songs of hope and they had dreamed of a bright future. No more would they be struggling to make a living and at the mercy of foreign nations, but they would make their nation great again once they were back home and out from under those who kept them from living the life they dreamed of living. But once they returned home, reality set in. Even though they had returned home, they found out that home was not what they envisioned. Destruction was all around. There was no easy fix. Everything was in ruins. Then the songs left them. Hope left them and they began to weep and cry out in distress. It seemed that the light of the world was gone and darkness surrounded them, utter darkness. Into this darkness stepped the prophet Isaiah to speak a word of hope to those who had no hope. His proclamation was that, God is about to create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. As a result of this act of creation, the voice of those who cry out in despair will turn to cries of joy. Darkness will be overcome.
William Sloane Coffin, the great preacher of Riverside Church in New York City in the 1980’s in a sermon on hope reminded his listeners to something that we also need to be reminded when we are living in dark times. He said, “Let us remember that…the present is dark only because, as prophets always saw, the future is so bright.1 The prophets time and again break into the darkness with words of hope, words that allow the light of hope to break the chains of darkness so that the people are freed to live the life intended for them by their Creator.
The prophets and also the poets of the world have something to offer to us that we need to hear. Whether it is the election that has brought you to your knees, or it is a recent death, or health scare, and you feel like you are barely surviving, it is good to be reminded of the words of Maya Angelou, “To survive is important, but to thrive is elegant.”2 God wants us to not just survive, but God’s dream for us is to thrive.
I believe that for us to thrive as God intended, we must not be limited to the visions set before us by human leaders. Their visions are always limited and limiting. We must open our eyes to see the potential of what God is doing as this new creation begins to become a reality. I must admit, that I was tired by the evening following the day of the election. Never before had I had a day like this following an election. I was emotionally drained because throughout the day, I was called upon time and time again to offer words of hope to many who could see no hope. One person I spoke to was even concerned that several friends might even be suicidal for these friends, some gay and some Muslim felt no longer welcome in the country to which they were born. How sad it is that the limited vision by some could create so much fear in others.
As Christians, as stewards of this new creation that God is ushering in, a creation that is in some is present but yet not fully here, we are called to follow in the way of our savior and to stand firmly with the hope of the world. As followers of Christ, it is imperative that we offer hope to those without hope. It is imperative that we not allow the events of our time to distract us from the great work that we are called to be about doing. William Sloan Coffin has something to say to us about the time in which we live. He said, “I think that the challenge for Christians today is to learn, as did Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Nazi prisons, “to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled-in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.””3
So let us take time now to gain a new perspective. Let us walk in another’s shoes. Let us walk along side and by so doing to usher in this new creation that God has instore for not only us, but for all of God’s children, black and white, male and female, young and old, democrat and republican, Christian and Muslim, gay and straight.
A number of days before the election, I drove to my parent’s home to help them fill out their absentee ballots. As my father got to the bottom of the ballot and to the issues related to increased taxes, he started a conversation with me about the issues. His first thought was to vote no since he did not want to pay more in taxes. My response to him was, “Dad, you have plenty of money to pay the increase in taxes. Money is not the issue for you. Your issue is whether or not you want to make improvements in your community.” As I thought later about our conversation, I dawned on me that I was only half right. The issue was not only whether or not he wanted to make improvements in his community. The issue was really was he going to vote for what he wanted as an 89 nine year who may not live to see 90 or would he consider voting for the needs of his grandchildren who will likely live in that community for decades to come. I hope if and when reach 89 nine years of age, that I am willing to gain the perspective of my grandchildren (and there will be grandchildren – no pressure Stephen (mom made me say this)) and vote for their future.
As we make this journey into the new creation that is unfolding, it will require that we are willing to be all in. This new creation, if it is going to happen, will require that we give it our all, not just a token of our time, or a token of our talents or our treasure.
At the recent Chidester Lecture on White Priviledge, Rev. John Dorhauer offered the following quote by Howard Thurman, “The slaves redeemed the Christianity that the slaveholders had profaned.” That quote resonated with many that heard it that day. Howard Thurman is also quoted as saying, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Come alive today. The world needs you. Dedicate your life, your treasure, your time and your talents (and heaven knows there are a great many talented people in this congregation) dedicate your life to what this world desperately needs. Let us come alive today, dispel the darkness that is around us and proclaim to the world that God is creating something new in our time.
1From a sermon, “Let Us Press On to Know God,” July 1, 1984 published in Present Day Reformation – November 6, 1983 – by William Sloane Coffin. Recorded in The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin: The Riverside Years, Volume 2. Page 165.
2Ibid. From a sermon, “Temptations,” March 11, 1984, Page. 139
3Ibid. From a sermon, “A Present Day Reformation,” November 6, 1983, Page 83.