Saturday, November 20, 2010

New heavens, new earth, new church

Proper 28 C
Nov. 14, 2010

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

If the people of Haiti read that poem by Robert Frost, they might think, “Fire and ice are the only two signs of the end of the world that we have NOT seen.” Centuries of economic and environmental degradation, poverty, corruption, marauding gangsters, hurricanes, then the devastating earthquake, rains, mudslides and now an epidemic of cholera: the people of Haiti often describe their world like Jesus does in this passage from the Gospel of Luke. Survivors of the earthquake told of huddling with their families in doorways or other small, safe spaces, convinced that they were experiencing the end of the world. The people of Haiti faced, and still face, chaos and horrors nearly unimaginable to us. Yes, for God’s sake, END this world. The signs of the end are simultaneously signs of hope that God is about to do a new thing.

This fall, as we learned that St. Paul’s Church was closing, we read week after week from the prophet Jeremiah, the uncompromising prophet of Israel’s exile in Babylon. Torn from their homes in Jerusalem, from their beloved temple, the people found themselves in what they thought was God-forsaken Babylon – and yet to their surprise, God was there, already, ahead of them. Build and plant in this place, God told them. Seek the welfare of THIS city, this place, this strange land where you have been brought, for in the welfare of this place, this commonwealth, you will find your welfare.

So we thought about exile, we imagined what it would be like to leave home for a new and strange place, and we heard the testimony of people who had been there ahead of us, people in the past who had been exiles, sent away from home against their will: you can do it, they told us. And not only, “You can do it,” but God is there with you, every step of the way.

Today’s passage from Isaiah is about what God is saying to the people of Israel when they come back to Jerusalem – their beloved city which is now a WRECK. Imagine this prophecy in Haiti – or here in Brockton: God says, “I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered … be glad and rejoice!”

Yes, it is hard to get our heads around what this might mean, what it might look like. But wait: this is not a pie-in-the-sky-bye-and-bye kind of God we are talking about here. This God talks about not just that new heavens, up there, but a new earth, down here. God knows the earth is prone to disaster, that human beings make stupid decision, that oil wells spew destruction into clear waters, that builders take short cuts with houses that fall and crumble on to babies’ heads. God created perfection in paradise, then even the very first human beings made big mistakes and God threw them out. You could say it has been downhill ever since.

But in the words of Isaiah, God is now un-doing all those curses, all that anger, all that bleak exile and devastation. God is laying out a new plan for this battered earth and shattered communities, and God is stretching out a hand to us, to be re-builders with God – to work with God to make this holy place shining and blessed once again.

You have seen that work of re-construction begun here. You have fed the hungry with more than food: you have seen how God’s welcome and compassion make even the most discouraged faces shine. You have seen how cracks of hope have broken through lives of despair – how even the most pernicious weeds can be pried up from the broken pavement, and how beautiful flowers can grow. God has been showering blessings on this place, and we have been on the receiving end.

When you leave this place and go to a new church home, THAT is what you will take with you. You will know what people in “prosperous” places don’t know: that these prophecies of devastation and restoration are TRUE. That God does throw you into exile, into a strange place, where, nonetheless you find that God has already gotten there ahead of you – that God knows what it is like to live in a neighborhood like this, because God lives here – and that because God lives here, you know that leaving a place like this neighborhood in this condition is not what God has in mind.

When you join a new church home, you will bring with you blessings that your new congregation can only imagine. You will tell then, Listen: we have seen what God can do with absolutely nothing. We have seen a hint of that new heavens and that new earth; listen, and believe.

1 comment:

Mompriest said...

oh Jackie, what a gift. these words for these people. If they can speak to me, where I am in all this (different though it is from your context)...I trust that they speak well to the people in the pews of St. Paul's. I am holding all of you in prayer for this Sunday.