The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost (November 17, 2019)
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 that 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.
The prophet draws his people into a vision of the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth. What does he see? What does he invite his hearers to imagine?
- Heaven and earth no longer estranged from one another, but reconciled.
- The new Jerusalem: rejoicing, long life, honored labor, stability…
- What we call “the peaceable kingdom,” livestock and wild animals in harmony.
- A world teeming with joy, peace, prosperity, human flourishing.
- This is bold considering Isaiah’s people were in exile and Jerusalem decimated.
- Restoration, renewal, redemption, repair, right relationships… transformation
- It’s the bedrock promise that God won’t leave things as they are.
- Later in Scripture, the writer of Revelation, John of Patmos, riffs on Isaiah’s vision of the new creation when he proclaims in Revelation 21:
- Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
- When you were a child, when you read books, did you sometimes skip to the last chapter to see how the story ends? This is how the story ends. This is the vision to which the whole arc of Scripture points. This is the completion of the new creation to which God has been working. This is the telos, the end or purpose or goal of what God is doing: doing a new thing out of the old.
- The vision of what God intends for creation isn’t to negate it, but to restore it. This is what God has done in Christ: redeemed, transformed creation from the inside out.
- The problem is that there is a sharp disconnect between these visions and our reality.
- Woody Allen: “And the lion will lie down with the lamb, but the lamb won’t get much sleep…”
- We know all too well by reading the headlines that the “old creation” of Isaiah’s day is still with us.
- We know all too well from our personal experience that John’s dream can often feel less true than the nightmares we live— the nightmares of the absence of God’s presence, tears shed over pain that’s just too much, death that separates us from what was, from who we love.
- Yet this is still the vision. Better yet this is the promised future of God’s own re-creating. And as with Jesus’ teaching about the reign of God, it comes to us in small packages and fleeting moments, bit by bit. Tiny things like mustard seeds, pearls, and coins. In moments like a parent welcoming a child home.
- Some members of the Administration Committee are probably sitting here thinking, “I thought Bart said he was going to preach a stewardship sermon today!” That is what we do here at St. Mark’s and in any community of God’s people: participate in and practice for the new creation.
- Example in the life of St. Mark’s…
- We give to the new creation—not to a building, budget, or to our own projects.
- We offer our resources for God to work through for God’s own purposes.
- We participate in what God is doing, not relying on our own efforts alone.
- We practice for what is to come, instead of resigning ourselves to what is.
- We’re not in the last chapter of God’s grand narrative. Not yet. Who knows what chapter we are in this unfolding story? Yet if we pay close attention, if we’re reading the signs of the new thing God is always doing in our midst, we catch glimpses of a city of peace and flourishing. We see a new heaven. We see a new earth. And we press on, playing our part, because we know how the story ends.