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Isaiah 65:17-25 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 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. 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. No more shall there be in it an infant who 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. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 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. 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. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 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.
Luke 21:5-19 – New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”
They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray, for many will come in my name
and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.
“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes and in various places famines and plagues, and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and siblings, by relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
Isaiah brings the people, past and present, and future, the Word from God. A word of hope.
And as is often the case in scripture – for me anyway – the Word is a bit confusing.
Why would God create a new heaven and a new earth? God had already created; and it was good. But life, however good when it was created, had taken a turn for the worse. Jealousy, hatred, greed – all things that separate us from God – and from one another – were painfully present in the days of Isaiah – and are painfully present in our lives today
Through Isaiah, God tells us to forget the former things. Forget them. Let them cease. Look forward. Become a new people of God. A renewed people of God. What God is offering is another chance. It was offered then. It is offered now.
What is so hard about accepting this gift? Is it because we have to let go of our contrived power structures? Is it because we have to let go of wanting more than we need. Is it because we have to let go of our desire to judge those different than ourselves. We do have to let go… of whatever it is that is separating us from God – and from one another. And this is hard. But not impossible. All things are possible with God. But we are not there yet. It is painfully apparent that we are not there yet. Painful for those without enough to eat. Painful for those unhoused. Painful for those unemployed. Painful for those whose lives are disrupted – or cut short – by war. Painful for those who do not have agency over their own bodies. Painful for those who are discriminated against because of who they love or how they express their gender. Painful for those differently-abled in mind or body. Life is painful for too many people all of the time.
We the people are the new heaven and the new earth that God promised through Isaiah. Or at least we have the potential to be… God kept Their promise. People are being created anew all the time. The promise is that we shall reap what we sow, in the best sense. The promise is that there shall be fairness and equanimity among all people. The promise not only of long lives but lives of joyful existence, of abundance from the earth, of justice raining down like waters. Why aren’t we living into the promise?
Isaiah wrote, “No more shall there be in it an infant who 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. They shall build houses and inhabit them;they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 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. 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.”
A phrase that I wish to highlight is, “for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be...” When we think of the life of a tree we think of longevity in decades and in centuries. But there is another way to consider the life of a tree. Not only in years lived, but in the annual cycle of birth, death, renewal. Might that be what God was promising through Isaiah?
As the land, the sun, the rain will provide all that a tree needs from year to year so will God provide for all of humankind from generation to generation, for eternity.
In our passage from the Gospel of Luke, we read that, a new heaven and a new earth must be created and it will not come without a fight. Luke’s Jesus begins by emphasizing that physical, worldly things, even the beautiful and opulent Temple of God, are subject to impermanence and destruction. His followers asked, “When?” and “What will be the sign?” but they didn’t ask, “Why”? because they knew the times they were living in were vitriolic. His response? It will be difficult to know. Many will try to influence you. Do not be fooled or led astray.
Our times are still difficult. We have not yet lived into our new heaven and new earth about which God spoke to Isaiah. Why? Because we haven’t done the work. Worldwide, nationally, locally, we haven’t done the work. Women do not have equal rights. Black and Indigenous People of Color and LGBTQ+ individuals are overtly and covertly discriminated against every day.
Jesus warned of allegiances that will need to be broken. Earthly allegiances must give way to allegiances to God. There will be much upheaval of the way things are in order to attain the way God intends things be. We must care equally for the least of us as we care for ourselves. Luke tells us that following Jesus will be about as bad as one can imagine and that aligning with Jesus will be painful in the short run but that God will be with us. It will be unpopular with the government and with those privileged few upholding their status quo. It may even be unpopular with your closest family and friends; but one must seize every opportunity to change hearts and minds by speaking the wisdom of the way of Jesus. Luke encourages us to trust in God to put the knowledge in your mind, the hope in your heart, and the words in your mouth. Persevere says Luke; we are playing the long game. It may not come today or tomorrow or even in our lifetimes, but we must do what we can to ensure a just world for all.
In the vision shared by Isaiah of a new heaven and a new earth it is the people that need to be renewed. What God created is intended for good. Ourselves and our children and our children’s children are meant for good, not for evil. We are all meant to thrive – together – not one at the expense of the other.
The promise is that all of God’s creatures will get along; as unlikely as that may seem. And that those that do evil will not be fed or nourished; their efforts will not be rewarded.
How do we live into this promise? We must make all of this world as sacred as the holy mountain of which Isaiah speaks. We must make all of the places that we live God’s holy places.
May this promise become reality, not by our hopes but by our prayers and our actions.
Rev. TJ Mack – November 13, 2022