Isaiah 65

The following sermon was given at St. Paul’s UCC in Eureka on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013. This is the script that was followed, but not exactly what was said. I am having a hard time staying on script there, imagine that. I look at the congregation and just want to have a conversation with them.

Scripture used was Isaiah 65:17-25, II Thessalonians 3: 6-13 and Luke 21: 5-19 with the title of “A New World Order.”

Way back in the mid-1980’s James and I lived and taught in Eagle Butte, SD. I remember one of the other high school English teachers there was having a real hard time with the thought of a nuclear bomb dropping and ending the world. The more I think about her worries, the more I realize it was almost an obsession. I finally suggested to her that there wasn’t much we could do about it from where we were, and that if a bomb did drop and end the world as we knew it, it would be ok because there would be a better place for all of us to go. In looking back, I sometimes wonder if I was more confident about my feelings or just young and naïve.

Not so very long ago, I was involved in a conversation with someone who was expressing concern over political world leaders meeting to form a new world order. This person was specifically concerned over certain elected officials of our own country and was trying to convince several of us that we needed to be more careful about how we voted or we were likely to be taken over by this new order.

I really don’t like to take up those kinds of disagreements, but after several encounters of the same type, I finally suggested that the New World Order that we need to focus on is not the political one that gives us fear and mistrust, but instead, we should focus on the Religious one that we should welcome with open arms.

Today as some of us might be starting to think about Thanksgiving (point about a musical selection from our church) and as we are only one more Sunday away from the beginning of Advent, I believe we should be thankful that the early Christians were willing to accept the changes in religious beliefs that brought in the “new order” of Christianity. Though it came at a huge price with Jesus’ death, his resurrection gave the people of the world a very new hope. It was a new order, one we almost take for granted today, but one which as we see in the writings of Paul was not exactly an easy transition for those living in the early years of Christianity.

Let’s look at the problem that Paul was addressing in the third chapter of his second letter to the Thessalonians. Paul advises the believers there to stay away from those who aren’t doing their part. His letter suggests that some of the believers have stopped working. They are idle and are spending their time as “busy bodies,” which to me suggests they are stirring up trouble among the membership.

Paul’s suggestion to the leaders is that those who don’t work don’t eat. I think I can remember something like that slipping out a time or two with my children, I didn’t know at the time that I was quoting Paul. If you keep reading to the end of that section, you find that the final verse, #15 says, “Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.”

Although Paul had said they should have nothing to do with those who are stirring up trouble, it was not with the intent of dismissing them from the church, but it was advice for the leaders to help bring an order and a purpose back to those who had lost sight of what they were doing. Paul was trying to help them keep their focus on the fact that they were Christians, and to keep at the work put before them.

The passage we read from Luke is a story of Jesus in the temple. He has just watched a poor woman throw her last few coins into the offering while listening to those around him marvel at the ornate and expensive beauty of the temple building. Jesus responds with a remark that the temple will be destroyed. Those around him ask for specifics about when it would happen, a question he doesn’t totally answer. I did some digging (pun/pun) and the temple actually was destroyed when the Romans invaded Jerusalem, but, I sort of wonder if there is another meaning for temple.

In some passages the “body” is referred to as a temple of God. Jesus in other places talks of himself as the temple when he says “it will be destroyed and in three days raised again.” Those around Jesus keep asking for signs, and he responds by telling them there will be wars as well as natural disasters, but he assures them it is not the end no matter how many come in his name and tell them it is the end. See, somehow the disciples all felt that the end of time would come very shortly after Christ’s life on earth, but he tells them that is not how it will be.

Instead he warns his disciples that many of them will face persecution, punishment and even death because of following him and because of testifying and preaching to others about him as Christ, the Messiah. To this statement, Jesus adds the assurance that even if they are put to death, they will not be harmed. That statement seems a little contrary, but he isn’t talking about a human safety, he is talking about the resurrection they will have because of him. In verse 19 he says: “By your endurance you will gain your soul.” This verse reminds us of the passage in Luke from last week’s scriptures with the Sadducees where Jesus told them indeed there is a resurrection.

Fortunately in our area in this time, we do not have to worry about being persecuted for being followers of Christ. We live in a time and place where the non-Christian if any even exists, is the minority. Our disagreements are more about how we recite certain creeds or prayers or at what age we participate in certain sacraments and how we serve them. We have all been fortunate enough to have been born in a time when being a Christian is not the issue. Following Christ is not something that causes us to be taunted or persecuted or even jailed. What then do we have to fear?

When we turn to the scripture lesson from Isaiah today, we see the last half of chapter 65 devoted to the idea of “A New World Order.” And I will confess that I really struggled with this one. I so badly wanted to go from my introduction about that disagreement about the New World Order thing straight to this passage, but it just wouldn’t work, something kept moving it back, and when I finally gave in, I understood why.

If you take the time to read the opening of chapter 65, you see that the people have not been faithful. They have broken many of the Jewish laws including the rules about eating and sacrificing and burning of incense. God is angry with them, and wants to destroy everyone. God wants to repay them for the sins they have committed.

If we were to be picky and want to take that passage in the beginning of Isaiah apart, we might say that what you eat or the way you offer gifts to God, shouldn’t really be considered as sins. None of them are listed in the 10 Commandments, so what was the big deal. The issue was not with the specific sin, but in the fact that the people had not been Faithful to God. They had turned their back on what they were asked to do. Sound a little like some of those early Christians in Thessalonica?

Today as we read the Confession from the bulletin, we used the word sin rather than sins. As I did some reading, I learned that the issue with the terminology of sins or sin is that the word, “Sins” implies the sins as listed in the 10 commandments. “Sins” becomes all those, “thou shalt nots.” The word, “sin” as we used it today basically includes all the things we might do, but it wraps it all into a ball and ties it up with one little ribbon that gives it all the same meaning – the meaning of being unfaithful or even more simply said, of being apart from God.

See, the specifics of what we do to keep ourselves from experiencing a full relationship with God, seriously doesn’t matter, it is the fact that we are doing something, anything, everything…all wrapped up together, the focus is not on the action, but on the fact that there is an action. We all have them, we all need to get rid of them, and then we need mostly to figure out how to get rid of the rift, the division, the space between ourselves and God, between ourselves and Christ.

It doesn’t matter if it is the issues that the Thessalonians had where some weren’t doing any work and must have been causing some trouble in the ranks, it doesn’t matter if it is that we are guilty of following breaking a specific rule that we know is wrong, the fact is we need to stay the course. We need to realize that any and all sin is sin, there is none better or worse. All sin is alienation from God, and that is the one thing, we as Christians need to be aware of and work against.

When we do that, when we work to fill that space between ourselves and God, God recognizes our return to faithfulness. Just as in Isaiah when God saw that not all had abandoned his rules, not all had turned away from his teaching, he changed his mind and so instead of wiping out everyone, he decided to create a new place for his people. In thinking about how other parts of Isaiah point so clearly to God sending his own son as the Messiah, I wonder if what God was offering in this passage was more a new way to worship than simply a new place. To me, much of what is said here seems to point to the teachings of Jesus, and what better time to look at this new order than we are coming so near to the end of one church year and the restarting of  a new one?

The new world order that we read about in chapter 65 of Isaiah ends with the idea that even natural animal enemies will live together in peace: the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the ox. Reading that passage always puts images of a stable and a star and angels singing to shepherds on a hillside in my mind. Yet we all know that it culminates with a cross and an empty tomb. As we leave here today, to finish out this month that pretty much ends with Thanksgiving, may we all be thankful for the one who went from stable to cross to empty tomb, so that we can be part of that new order. Amen.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 12:07:15

    Do you write sermons just for this blog–or do you share them in a church? Am now wondering if you are a minister too?

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    • lucindalines
      Nov 19, 2013 @ 16:47:13

      I substitute preach, like teaching. I am right now working on a possible real position, but I am not sure that will go through. I have always thought that when I retire from teaching, I would go do my real job, but it is a wait and see for now. This one was preached in Eureka, SD.

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      Reply

  2. forestmtnhike
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 17:09:53

    Amen, Lucinda.:) I really enjoyed reading what you wrote today. Thank you for the supply of grace flowing from your sermon.

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