A Sermon preached by The Reverend Christopher L. Webber on the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 28, November 17, 2019
Aren’t you glad it’s Sunday and you don’t have to think about Washington?
And isn’t it wonderful to have Isaiah in today’s Old Testament reading holding up a vision of a different world?
There will be new heavens
and a new earth;
(where) the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
And notice that it’s a free gift with no “quid pro quo;”
a free gift and a new beginning. In Isaiah’s vision, God says:
I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind
. , They shall not labor in vain or bear children for
calamity , . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox…They shall not
hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
That’s the vision.
Hold onto it.
Ask God for grace to hang on to it even while we watch the hearings or try to hear the President above the roar of the waiting helicopter.
Hold onto the vision.
I like to quote Dorothy L Sayers, who said “the best kept inns are on the through roads.”
It’s people who are going somewhere who care about what they find along the way; not going backwards to an imagined past but forward to God’s future.
On the one hand the hearings; on the other hand the democratic debates. And where is the candidate with a vision? A plan is good, a program might help;
but I want to see the vision. I wish I would hear someone talk about real moral values. I wish I would hear someone talk about a really transformed society, about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks;
about learning war no more. I am very tired of hearing politicians avoiding the real issues, offering no real solution to the real needs of the real world,
slandering each other and treating us like self-centered, simple-minded children who can’t be trusted to make intelligent, informed decisions.
This is a democracy. We the people are in charge. But how can we make wise choices unless we are offered wise choices and candidates who appeal
to the best that is in us, not the worst. Why doesn’t somebody nominate Isaiah?
Let me ask you now, with still eleven months and a few days to work on it
to begin to take Isaiah seriously, take the Bible seriously, take the vision seriously. The Bible holds up a better world for us to envision.
So why don’t we take it seriously? Why don’t we take the vision seriously?
Well, the first reason is that we’ve been taught to consider visions as, well, visionary. A visionary is somebody unrealistic, am I right? Would you hire a visionary to work for you? Do you want a visionary doing your investments? Do you want somebody looking far ahead to be driving your bus or your taxi? Do you want a visionary as your doctor or teaching your children?
Do we? I don’t think so. It’s not practical. It won’t work in the real world.
But think about that for a minute. We say, “A vision won’t work in the real world.” But are you really sure that the real world is the best standard to set? ls the real world, the world you see on the evening news the world you really want to preserve? Given a choice between the world of the evening news and the world of Isaiah’s vision, would you really opt for the world we have? Do we really have no choice? Is there really no way to get from here to there?
Well, no, there isn’t.Not if we accept the conventional wisdom. The President’s representative told us already: “That’s how it is. It happens all the time; get over it.”
But as Christians, we have in theory at least committed ourselves to change,
change in ourselves, change in the world.
Two weeks ago we held up another vision: we celebrated the festival of All Saints. We gave thanks for the lives of men and women who did not accept the world as it was. A hundred years from now no one will know the name Mick Mulvaney, but they will still know names like Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Take her for just one example. She grew up in a world in which white people could own black people and black people had no vote, no rights. She held up a vision of another world, or actually, she showed people the world as it was
and said, lsn’t that dreadful? Isn’t it time we changed?
And the world did change. It took one of the bloodiest wars in history and a hundred years of suffering after that to get somewhere even close to the vision of a world of equal rights for all but the point is, she didn’t say
“That’s unrealistic; nothing can be done.” She had a vision, and in spite of ferocious and tenacious resistance the world was changed. And that’s the point: it’s the visionaries who change the world, not the realists.
We’ve got too many realists out there.
Where are the visionaries?
This country still has a higher percentage of active Christians than any other in the world. But why are the people who claim to be Christians not holding up a better vision then an appeal to the past: “Make America great again.”
Seriously, can you think of any four years in the past you would want to repeat? Why is it that people claim to be reading their Bibles and find nothing more to inspire us with than a condemnation of abortion and same sex unions and higher taxes?
I have a vision of a world without abortion too, but anger and condemnation won’t get us there, and I want to preserve families also, but what’s the vision that will get us there? It’s here. lt’s in the Bible. It’s in lsaiah and the Sermon on the Mount and the Revelation of John: a new heaven and a new earth
where there are no tears and no mourning, where no one thinks first of self,
where love of God and love of neighbor is primary, and motivates and transforms.
They say it’s discouraging that so few people vote in an off-year election,
I think it’s wonderful that so many people voted at all two weeks ago when no one held up a transforming vision or challenged us to change the world.
What was it that brought out those who did vote? Was it anger or fear or self-interest or a narrow agenda without a vision? Or was it a sense of duty,
that I ought to vote even if there’s no one who seems to hold up the values and vision I find in the Bible and the lives of the saints?
What I know is this: if there is no vision, we will not make any progress toward it. lf there’s no one with ideals, we will continue to be immersed
in the same “real world” we have always known, and we will continue to dismiss Isaiah’s vision as impractical dreams.
So let me not be a visionary; let me suggest some very practical steps
that you and I can take now that will make a difference.
First – first and always, know the vision. Read the Bible, pay attention when it’s read in church. Ask yourself, “What does this say to me? What is God showing me about my life on the one hand and God’s purposes on the other?
Second, pray for the vision, pray for guidance in reaching it, pray for a transformed world, a new heaven and a new earth
“where suffering and pain are no more” where “they will not hurt or destroy” any more.
And third, remember that the vision is real and the evening news is not. What they show you there is not God’s purpose, not what we are called to work for, not what we hope at last to experience. Because it’s the vision that is the real future. God shows us through the prophet what will be, what will be, and we build our lives on sand if we commit ourselves to anything else.
God has not promised this will be easy. Read the gospel today for that.
“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.” Nor are we promised that everyone will ever
see it our way. Jesus used the analogy of a mustard seed and yeast –
something small but powerful, a tiny thing that can transform the whole.
It’s the yeast that makes the bread. It’s the invisible yeast that is lost in the dough, but without which there is no bread. It’s the small packet of yeast
that transforms the whole.
So I challenge you to become part of a new moral minority that really understands, really sees the vision, and is willing to work slowly and patiently in a sometimes hostile, often indifferent world, to serve God’s purpose and make the vision real.
“Behold I make new heavens and a new earth…”
That’s the vision.
That’s the vision.
Hold onto it.