Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | December 14, 2014

2014.12.14 “The Dream of God” – Isaiah 61: 1 – 4

Central United Methodist Church
The Dream of God
Pastor David L. Haley
December 14th, 2014
The 3rd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61: 1 – 4

Advent - 3

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, and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

– Isaiah 61: 1 – 4, The New Revised Standard Version

How are we doing? With 10 days to go, is it shaping up to be a Charlie Brown Christmas this year.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Charles Schulz, is a holiday special that has been around since 1965, a Christmas classic in every respect. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it this Tuesday, at 7 pm, on ABC. Or you can always ask your 4-year-old grandson to help you watch it on Hulu, anytime you want.

A Charlie Brown Christmas begins with Charlie Brown depressed at Christmastime, dismayed with the over-commercialization of Christmas. (And in Charlie’s day it didn’t even begun the day after Halloween!) Charlie’s psychiatrist, Lucy, decides he needs more involvement and asks him to direct a Christmas play. Thinking the play needs the “proper mood,” Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree. Despite the fact that Lucy had asked him to get a “big shiny, aluminum tree,” Charlie Brown picks out a small, puny, sapling, the only real tree on the lot, even though Linus warns him it doesn’t meet the standard of the “modern spirit.” Of course, when they get back, Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree is indeed pathetic, and everybody ridicules and laughs at him before they walk away.

For some of us, Charlie Brown is our kinda guy. Because like Charlie Brown, we too never seem to get Christmas quite right. I like to say we are “seasonally impaired.” While “out there” the parking lots are full and the season is slipping into high gear, we may us feel overwhelmed and stressed out, maybe even depressed. Instead of Christmas being the most wonderful time of the year, for many it is the most stressful time of the year, when obligations exceed time and energy, as those January credit cards bills will make clear.

Because of this, as the years pass, some of us find we are modifying longstanding Christmas traditions. Maybe not sending cards this year. Maybe not decorating the house such that it looks like Runway 28R at O’Hare. Maybe not buying expensive gifts for the extended family. Maybe not shopping in stores at all, but letting Amazon and FedEx and UPS do the work for us. Maybe not make it to all the various job and family gatherings this year. All this in the interest of the Advent and Christmas season not having the exact opposite effect upon us that it was meant to have.

This year, when we have been distracted with more serious things, has made it even more difficult to get into a Christmas mood.

First this week, there were the revelations of what we already knew, that, the agencies of the United States of America did use torture in alleged enemy interrogation. Sen. John McCain, the only member of the U.S. Senate who personally knows what it means to be tortured, on Tuesday defended the Democratic-led Senate investigation into the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program, saying the agency’s activities “stained our national honor, did much harm, and little practical good.”

Meanwhile, inside the capital, the House and Senate struggled to pass another $1.1 trillion governmental funding bill – which I understand they finally did late last night – known as the Cromnibus Bill, to avoid another government shutdown. Conservatives objected to funding the President’s initiatives on immigration, and progressives objected to legislation included in the package that would roll back part of the Dodd-Frank Act passed after the crash of 2007-2008, so that Wall Street could never do to us again what they did then. Did I mention that part of the legislation was written by no less than Citigroup lobbyists, and that the Democrats who voted for it, received, on average, twice the campaign contributions from the finance/insurance/real estate industry as their colleagues who voted against it? In other words, business as usual.

And then, as we discussed last Sunday, across the entire county country all kinds of people have been upset to find out that 50 years past legal segregation, even with a black President in the White House, our society is not yet what we thought it to be, what we desire it to be, in providing justice for ALL people. Yesterday, crowds of people marched in cities across the country, protesting police brutality, and especially the recent spate of shootings of unarmed black men and boys in particular. The march in Washington was led by the family members of those killed most recently by police — Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Tamar Rice and Amadou Diallo.

And so we might ask: How did we get here, and what do we do about it? What will it take, and what can we do to create a society that is more just not just for some, but for all. After all this time, while we have made progress, where we are still sometimes looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, pretty pathetic. And so here we are in church in Advent, longing for that which is not yet, but which we hope and pray someday will be.

Our Scriptures today – specifically the Prophet Isaiah – gives us hope for just such a time such as this. In fact, this word of the Lord spoken in Isaiah 61 – known as third Isaiah – is one of the most pivotal Scriptures in the whole Bible, expressing no less than the Dream of God.

What had happened was this: In 722 BCE, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. During those years, the first part of Isaiah – chapters 1 through 39 were written, warning of impending judgment. That was not to be averted, and in 587, Judah was conquered and Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians, with the people taken into exile to Babylon. In 539, Cyrus the Great, King of the Persians, conquered Babylon, and one of the first things he did was to allow the Jews to return to their own land. During this time, 2nd Isaiah wrote the great passage we heard last week:

“Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.”
(Isaiah 40: 1 – 2)

But once they arrived home, what they found was discouraging. Even though most had never seen Solomon’s temple, the temple built to replace it seemed pathetic. They were discouraged with the temple, the city of Jerusalem, and their nation, and they asked themselves: “Is this as good as it is going to get?”  “Is this the best we can do?”

And then comes along the prophet known as 3rd Isaiah, in Isaiah 61. What he has to say begins like a prayer, a soloist singing a song, articulating a dream:

“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,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—“

No one knows who this powerful prophet was, whose words are still compelling today. Five centuries later, when Christians came along, they heard it as the words of the Messiah Jesus, forgetting that the Scripture was spoken five centuries before Jesus, to the situation people found themselves in then. Who was this one or ones on whom the Spirit of the Lord rested? Was it God’s Anointed One, the Messiah, who would come? Was it the nation of Israel, chosen by God to have such a purpose in the world? In time, according to the prophet’s word and doubtlessly through his work, better days did come, but almost never without occasional defeats and constant struggle.

But now, enshrined in Scripture, the song, the dream was out there, let loose in the world. Until the day would come when a poor, untrained rabbi named Jesus – some might even say deluded – would stand in the pulpit of what might have been his pathetic hometown synagogue to sing the song, to articulate this ancient dream, and claim it as his own.

“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.”
And then he added: “This day,” he said, “is this Scripture fulfilled in your hearing.”
(Luke 4: 16 – 19)

Surprisingly, it didn’t get a good reaction then, and it usually doesn’t today. Because when they found out that the oppressed and brokenhearted might include their enemies or people they might not like, like the gay uncle or the unwed mother, the woman who chose to abort her pregnancy, or non-Christian, tortured enemy combatants, illegal immigrants or the hapless in hospital waiting rooms, it didn’t sit right with them. As the writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote: “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” (Cynthia Jarvis, Feasting On The Word, Year B, Volume 1, p. 54)

Today, we may be disappointed with how far we have come, and at times, how little we sometimes seem to have achieved. Sometimes – like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree – it may look pathetic. But still, amidst our discouragement and discontent, can we hear the song? Can we dream the dream, God’s dream, of bringing good news to the oppressed, binding up the broken-hearted, proclaiming liberty to captives, releasing to the prisoners; and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.”

To sing this song that Jesus sang – to claim this dream that Jesus claimed – is not only the job of Jesus’ people, the Church – it is also the job of every one of us who wants to follow Jesus, on whom the Spirit now also rests. In our season of discontent, let us remember, not to expect it to happen overnight.

It’s like this: there was a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart, but she was very frustrated. The world seemed to be falling apart.  She would read the papers and get depressed.  One day she decided to go shopping, and she went into a mall and picked a store at random.  She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and devotional pictures. She finally got up her nerve and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?”

“I am.”

“Do you work here?”

“No, I own the store.”

“Oh, what do you sell here?”

“Just about everything,” Jesus said.  “Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is you want and then come back and see what we can do for you.”

“She did just that, walked up and down the aisles. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air, careful use of resources.  She wrote furiously.  By the time she got back to the counter, she had a long list. Jesus took the list, skimmed through it, looked up and her and smiled. “No problem.” And then he bent down behind the counter and picked out all sorts of things, stood up and laid out the packets.  She asked, “What are these?”

“Seed packets,” Jesus said. This is a catalog store.”

She said, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?”

“No, this is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.”

“Oh,” she said. And she left the store without buying anything. (Megan McKenna in Parables: The Arrows of God, cited in Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spiritual Literacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, p. 359)

This too is a place of dreams, no less than the dream of God.  Go, and plant those seeds.  Amen.

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