Isaiah 12:2-6 (Canticle 9)
Today is a day of great anxiety for so many people, for here in the US it is Election Day. Although it feels like this election season has gone on forever, by this evening, we will have a host of issues decided in this country, from local elections for mayor in some places, to members of Congress, and, of course, the presidency.
Anxiety is absolutely a reasonable thing to feel with so much on the line. However, our anxiety is magnified by the way that political conversations are now played out, with an unending news cycle, with too many ads that prey upon our fears and worries. The negative way is the preferred way when it comes to campaigns attempting to wheedle our votes out of us.
What greater tonic could there be, then, to choose this day to sit with our first two readings from the lectionary for this coming Sunday, both from the book attributed to the prophet Isaiah. Both speak of hope, and even more importantly, of community, and of kinship. Both speak of being saved from the brink of disaster. Both call us to testify to the promise we have not in our own power, but in the power of unity, compassion, and cooperation which lead to real peace and ledership. Both call us to remember the power of God as revealed to us in service, that calls us to allow ourselves to be remade as well, remade by hope and faith in both God and each other. That’s a message that we often do NOT hear over the drumbeat of division and suspicion which has been playing in an infinite loop for the last 18 months or so.
While political opponents all too often make arguments from the negative, Isaiah’s songs in chapters 12 and 65 attempt to lead us by the hand, loving us into remembering that we are all children of God through hope and faith, and the hope of new creation also seeks to take root within us. Too many people are hurting in our world, hungry, outcast, shamed, marginalized, denied justice or mercy. In a world oriented to justice and peace, such as that described here at the end of Isaiah, these kinds of tragedies are unimaginable, if we allow God’s love to work a new creation within our hearts, and determine to come together, person by person.
In the first reading, from Isaiah 65, God reminds us that God is continually creating “a new heavens and a new earth.” This new heaven and earth will be so radiant that it will wipe away all of the sorrows and fears we have been bearing like a rusted suit of armor. Oh, that creation could be remade anew! What glories would our eyes behold if we were to wipe away all the imperfections that have developed in creation—often at the hand of mankind— and see again with new eyes the marvelous works of God. There is a reason why have heard this passage already once this year: on Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day—a day when all things are also made new, when destruction and division itself is destroyed.
Now, ideas about a “new Jerusalem” have been very influential in American history—and by “American,” I mean the history of the Americas, not just our own United States. Too often, the image of a “new Jerusalem” has been conflated with the shining “city on a hill” mentioned in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, a place that stands as a beacon to the rest of the world’s darkness. Here in the US, images such as these have been used politically from the time of the Puritans through the Reagan era and beyond to bolster ideas of exceptionalism, into a kind of calculus in which “we” are the winners and “they” are the losers—a complete subversion of the idea of a new creation.
This new creation is not meant to exclude anyone. It is also not meant to be external to us. In Genesis 2, humans were active assistants with God in creation, made servants of the earth, to tend a till the new creation in the garden. Likewise, in Isaiah 65, what if we understood that his new creation is taking place right here, right now, within us? What if we took seriously God’s call to renewal and rededication to a new way of living together as God’s holy people?
And what does this have to do with our anxiety today, with all the stresses and strains of our life? Perhaps God is calling us to open our spirits and minds to release the fear that we have fallen into, and allow that new creation to take root within our own stony hearts. That’s the first place this new creation can start. And that is exactly the message that we, as Christians, believe came into the world through Jesus Christ. Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah more than any other prophetic work from scripture, such as in Luke 4, when Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-2 in the synagogue: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….” We can rejoice in this proclamation of Christ’s ministry, and use it to remind ourselves of this renewal within our own lives, even in times of anxiety on days like these. Christ’s ministry is our own as Christians, as hopeful, joyous members of the Jesus Movement.
This song from Isaiah 65 points the way to what that can be like. Three major shifts will take place: God will take joy in this new work; justice, contentment, and peace will take the place of weeping, vulnerability, and injustice; and relationships and the order of nature will be transformed so that none must suffer or be deprived so that another may prosper. What if we looked at this three moves in Isaiah 65 as God’s call to us, to allow ourselves to be transformed and be partners and fellow-workers in the fields of renewal and justice that scripture describes, again and again?
If we all understood that we are members of one community—the kingdom of God, yes, but more importantly, the kindom of God—we might not just be satisfied with a human calculus that divides our fellow human beings and children of God into circles of ”them” and “us”—which is unfortunately another way to say “losers” and “winners.” As our canticle on Sunday from Isaiah 12 reminds us, since God is our salvation, we WILL “trust and not be afraid.” When we place our trust in the eternal hope that is revealed to us in Christ, we WILL draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation." That's the most important choice facing us today, and every day.
God is eternal. Love is eternal. How can we not have hope if we act in light of this knowledge and come together as kin within the embrace of the Almighty?
(This essay was first published on the Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul on November 8, 2016.)