November 30, 2007

Sermon, November 18

"Good News!"
Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 21:5-19

How do you get your news: TV, radio, internet, or the old-fashioned way – out of the paper? We are awash in news—or what passes for it – these days. And our news is a depressing mixture of the truly tragic and terribly trivial. But God’s news is different, and ironically, there is nothing new about it.

God says: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” That seems like enormously comforting news to me. When you look around at our world, all you see is a mess, isn’t it? The mess covers our earth and extends to the heavens. We have poked holes in the ozone, we have polluted the air and the water, we have dug up the deposits of the ages and used them the fuel our fancies – big cars, big houses, big appetites for entertainment.

And it seems that Jesus must have been looking far into the future when he spoke to his disciples, when he said: “You will hear of wars and insurrections. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plague.” That sounds like our earth and heavens, doesn’t it? And worst of all, most of the mess is of our own making. And so it is to our time, as well as to an ancient time, that God speaks: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.”

Imagine these new heavens and new earth, this new creation, for a moment. There will be no weeping or distress. There will be no infant mortality, no lives cut short. There will be no working poor. Those who build the houses will be able to afford to live in them. No one will be homeless. Those who pick the fruit and harvest the vegetables will not go hungry. People will have good and productive work, enough to be satisfying but not so much as to be exhausting and overwhelming. Those who do good will not feel that their work is in vain. No child anywhere will grow up in the shadow of calamity and terror. There will be peace. The wolf and the lion and the lamb will dwell together in harmony. And so will humankind. That is God’s new creation.

But it isn’t really new at all. This is, in truth, God’s old creation. It is the vision that God had for the world at the beginning of time, when the whole earth was like a green garden, when plants and animals and woman and man lived together, and the earth and the sky formed a great and beautiful dwelling where everything that was needed was available in overflowing abundance.

We have forgotten that vision of God’s good creation. It has been eclipsed by what we see day in and day out. But in the midst of our mess, the word of God still comes: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth like the heavens and earth at the beginning of time.” This is God’s news, this is good news. And it is not some abstract hope for a return to the good old days. It is a present reality, a reminder that the God who made the universe is still at work in our world. And it is a call to us to join God in that work, to be co-creators with God.

So against this backdrop, let me read you some of the news, our news, from the Hartford Courant, this week, on Thursday (November 15, 2007).

More than 35.5 million people in this country went hungry in 2006 as they struggled to find jobs that can support them, the Agriculture Department said Wednesday. Single mothers and their children were among the most likely to suffer, according to the study. Of the 35.5 million, 11.1 million reported that they had “very low food security,” meaning that they had a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat. For example, among families, a third of those facing disruption in the food they typically eat said that an adult in their family did not eat for a whole day because they could not afford it. (Section A)

And God says: “They shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not plant and another eat. They shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain.”

And God says: “What will you do about it? How will you testify to my good news; how will you demonstrate my new creation in the world?”

A man charged with killing a two-year-old in Groton told police he held her face against jets in bathtub then left her there and went to watch football, according to a search warrant unsealed this week. …. He told police he got angry when the baby threw up and then cried while he bathed her. Police said: “He stated that he knew what he did was wrong but that he did not care.” (Section B)

And God says: “No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days. No one shall bear children for calamity.”

And God says: “What will you do about this? How will you testify to my good news; how will you demonstrate my new creation in the world?”

Nearly a third of Americans have at one point worried about becoming homeless and many more are taking in friends and relatives needing a home, a survey found. The homelessness issue has touched more than those who are living on the streets, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday. “When people read the news and read about bankruptcies, home foreclosures and auto plants being closed, they worry that they may be next. (Section A)

And God says: “They shall build houses and inhabit them. They shall not build and another inhabit.”

And God says: What will you do about this? How will you testify to my good news; how will you demonstrate my new creation in the world?

The military is making backup plans in case the unrest in Pakistan begins to affect the flow of supplies to American troops fighting in Afghanistan, the Defense Department said Wednesday. Said Lt General Carter Ham: Certainly, any time there is a nation that has nuclear weapons that is experiencing a situation such as Pakistan is at present, that is of primary concern. (Section A)

And God says: “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.”

And God says: “What will you do about this? How will you testify to my good news; how will you demonstrate my new creation in the world?”

That’s the news – just part of it and just one day. And I’ve got news for you. Changing things will not be easy. Some of the powerful institutions that we have built and invested so much energy and effort in maintaining may need to go. When Jesus spoke of Herod’s mighty temple being tumbled, that might have been a prophecy for his time and a parable for ours. What we have made for ourselves, done for ourselves, constructed for ourselves will not matter – unless it gives us an opportunity to testify, to show with our very lives that we believe and trust that it is God’s way, not ours, that will prevail in the end.

Jesus told his disciples that the words and the wisdom they needed to do this would be given to them, and that is both a promise and a challenge, for us, too. It requires that we engage in radical trust, trust of the other, trust of God, not only of ourselves. As the old saying goes: It requires that we pray as though everything depended on God and work as though everything depends on us.

And I see that happening here. You feed the hungry; you support social service agencies that help the poor; you give money here that is used to promote economic and social justice in New Haven; you work for change in laws and policies; you speak up for what is right even if doing so is uncomfortable. You are at work with God.

And let me suggest a way to do this even more intentionally. However you get your news -- TV, radio, internet, newspaper -- use it as an occasion for prayer. Pray for the people and the tragic situations that are daily before you. Pray for our wounded world. Pay attention to what is happening around you. And then try reading the paper as you would read the Bible, as though it is God calling you to be at work in the world. Because it is.

God is still at work, with us, with creation. And what God’s creation is all about is shalom. We often translate that word as peace, but it has a more expansive meaning than that. It means wholeness, completeness, the full realization of God’s intention for the world. It means new heavens and a new earth. It means creation as God intended it to be all along. God is doing that, even here, even now. God is restoring shalom. And we are called to be part of that work.

God says: “I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.” And that, dear friends, is really good news. May it be so. Amen.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

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