This passage tells us that God is not only present in our pain and suffering, but that God is looking far into the future, to a time when pain and suffering will not exist
a few brief words on: Isaiah 65:17-25
Arron, a teenager with the confidence of an adult, asked a poignant question. He asked, “Do you believed the suffering in our world would ever end?” Before I could answer, Martha, who I assumed was his grandmother, started reading from Revelation 21 - where God will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying or pain.
Little did they know this was one of my favorite bible passages because it gives me hope in tough times. But I wondered how the neighbors would receive it. After all, there are still mass shootings, opioid overdoses, cancer, homelessness, and failed relationships happening in every community.
Aaron handed me a pamphlet which I randomly placed in my bible. Now here’s where it gets a little weird. The place I put it just so happened to be the chapter in Isaiah which offers the same hope-filled images like the ones Martha read in Revelation 21. Stranger still, that passage just so happened to be the OT reading for this week. Maybe we should listen to the Jehovah Witness’ more. Or maybe just listen to what God has to say in our noisy or quiet times.
Read all of Isaiah 65:17-25
Last Monday I was walking home from the gym when I noticed the well-dressed people walking down my street in groups of two. The Jehovah Witnesses were out, taking advantage of Veteran’s Day when people would more likely be home.
I’m not sure how they missed the giant chalk sign on our walkway that read: Welcome to New Church Sherman Oaks, but there were two standing at my door talking to my kids. For people who refuse trick-or-treaters on Halloween, I do envy their commitment.
As I walked through the gate, Martha and Arron turned around giving Colleen and Sean the perfect opportunity to skip out on another religious talk.
In her Life Mastery course Mary Morrissey said, “Everything is created twice.” That is, everything was first a thought before it became a thing.
The lightbulb was first an idea before Edison produced the actual product. The seat you’re sitting on, the camera I am looking through, the shirt you are wearing, everything was first a thought before it could become a thing. Even us.
A student of biology knows that long after we’re pronounced dead our bodies take on new life through decomposition, and through that process we become something new.
So maybe this moment we are in is only God’s idea, and not yet the thing God has in store for us.
What this tells is that the stuff we’re going through today is not what will always be. Everything is created twice.
In the 7th century St. John Damascene said, “I do not worship matter. I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and designed to inhibit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter.”
Here Damascene speaks of the Christ who took on human flesh, who lived and died like all of us, and yet transcended the grave to create new life. You see, death was not God’s idea for us. Life was. And the life it produces through the Christ is resurrection Life.
It is in this promise that we find our hope, our joy, and our reason to love one another – even in hard times - knowing that what we do here will affect what is to come – a new heaven and new earth.
This might sound crazy or idealistic at best. But I’m sure DiVinci's idea of flight seemed nuts before the invention of the plane. God, the creator of life, is no different. And we see this in Isaiah’s prophecy.
A mere 700 years before Jesus is born, Isaiah watched the Israelites reject God yet again. In the preceding verse, the Lord spoke through the prophet saying, “I will destine you for the sword and you will bend down for the slaughter; for I called but you did not answer, I spoke but you did not listen. You did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me.” God was not happy.
Despite their betrayal, a plan was already in the works. As Isaiah watched Jerusalem burn and his family and friends get carted off into captivity, God spoke these words of comfort through him. “Behold, I will create a new heaven and a new earth.” Everything is created twice!
This passage tells us that God is not only present in our pain and suffering, but that God is looking far into the future, to a time when pain and suffering will not exist because Christ has ushered in the resurrected life.
This is the promise God gives us… to get through those seemingly impossible hardships we face.
When our job is lacking, our relationships are fading, or our health is diminishing, there is hope because God is at work making something new.
When a friend hurts you, your spouse betrays you, or someone you love is no longer with you, God is at work making something new. As an old southern preacher used to say, “when you are down on something God is up to something.”
The things we did will not be remembered nor come to mind. Our past will no longer define us or weigh us down or limit our possibilities. All the dumb comments we’ve made, all the shameful and foolish things we did in our youth God won’t remember them! And neither will we. Can I get an AMEN!
In this new heaven and this new earth…there will be no crying or weeping or suffering. The things that break our hearts will no longer exist. There will be no more miscarriages, stillbirths, or parents dying when their children are still toddlers. Sons and daughters won’t get killed in car accidents or school shootings. People can love without the pain of heartache. Can I get an AMEN!
In this new heaven and this new earth we’ll live in everlasting harmony with one another. There will be no more bullying, no more meanness, no more petty jealousy or personal attacks on Twitter. No more war, poverty, injustice, captivity, hoarding resources or holding back care. “The wolf and the lamb will feed together. They will neither harm nor destroy.” Can I get an AMEN!
In this new heaven and this new earth… you will enjoy the fruits of your labor. Yes, you still have to go to work. However, your commute won’t suck, your co-workers will be awesome, you won’t get frustrated when someone thinks your idea is dumb. And of course, you work will always be rewarding because your boss will always reward you with the greatest of blessings.
The way I see it, God’s joy is creating – creating a new space, a new context, a new Jerusalem where God will be with us and we can be with God. Where God is present, joy is present. Hope is present. Peace is present. This new space becomes a party space, because the reign of God is a joyful party that Jesus has invited you to attend. A wedding banquet, a marvelous feast, an unbelievable party to celebrate new life. For what was once lost is found, what was once dead is alive again! Can I get an AMEN!
You’re probably thinking this new life sounds great, but what about now in this unpredictable life that we are enduring the best that we can? How will this help me deal with the news from my dermatologist tomorrow or prepare for that math test on Thursday?
Lutheran pastor Daniel Habben said, “Studying this text is like circling your vacation days on your kitchen calendar. You do that, not because you’ll forget to go on vacation, but because sometimes you need a motivational tool to keep plugging away until that day comes.”
“When the shortened daylight hours lengthen your dark mood, you can look at those red marks on your calendar and be reminded” of the warm sands of Cancun tickling your toes.
When you need to work overtime to make changes on a presentation that is already overdue, those red marks help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.
When your world is literally crumbling and burning down right in front of you, God puts a circle around our life and reminds us that everything is created twice.
Through Christ, “we are headed to a better place that will keep us from giving up on life or from getting wrapped up in all the negativity and frustrations that cause us to lose focus and direction.”
God is up to something. We may not know exactly what it is but we have some clues to know what to expect. We are never without hope.
Hope is the sole message of Advent that leads us to the beauty of Christmas morning. The hope God gave us in the stable is also the hope we find in the Easter tomb. Everything is created twice – and with God, it’s always for a greater purpose.
While Isaiah gives us a great picture of what God is up to, Jesus shows us how to begin living that new reality today. In Jesus God is making painful memories, anger and sorrow disappear. So why bother holding on to grudges now?
Jesus teaches us to forgive the sins committed against us, just as God has forgiven and forgotten what we’ve done to others. Let your resentment go and focus on the love that God has placed in you.
Today is the day to give up all arrogance and all judgments and condemnations and take on a heart as gentle and humble as the heart of Christ who will bring you to that place where God has always imagined you to be – in a new heaven and a new earth.
I know we can’t circle the day on a calendar when Jesus will return, and make everything new. But I can stay encircled in Jesus’ love and the hope that his love brought into the world. We can be that love for others to understand that the pain they are feeling now will no longer be pain but joy.
By seeing and doing what Jesus did, not only will we set foot in that new heaven and new earth, but we will also help usher it in today, tomorrow and forever. Can I get an AMEN!
Greatly indebted to Rev. Daniel Habben for his inspiring sermon “When Lions Eat Straw” on Nov. 15, 2010 (accessed on Nov. 14, 2019). www.sermoncentral.com .
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year C. Vol. 2 (Westminster John Knox: 2009) pp.354-359.