Many of you know that last week Jen and I were in a resort in Mexico. We’d spend our days going to a huge buffet for our meals, sit in the sun and relax and when we got too hot, we’d slip into the ocean for a swim. There were people cooking our meals, cleaning our rooms and tending to our every need. It was much needed rest and a taste of paradise. Do you think Isaiah might have been in a beachside resort when he wrote his vision of the paradise to come?
He too is seeing a world that is very different from what others may experience although while my paradise was very real for a week, Isaiah’s existed in his prayers and imagination. There’s also some pretty important differences of what these paradises entail. Isaiah isn’t seeing a time of leisure where people of relative wealth are doted on by hotel staff but instead a time when all people live with justice.
Isaiah is considered one of the major prophets of the Hebrew people but this book is written by a few different authors. The first part of the book was written at a time when there were still two kingdoms of God’s people, the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. By the time the second part of this book was written, Israel was wiped out by the Assyrians, Babylon had taken the Judeans into exile and destroyed Jerusalem, and now the’ve returned to their homeland, struggling to rebuild and needing a bit of reassurance that God is still with them and everything will be OK. In this vision of Isaiah, the economic injustice that they currently experienced would be over – toil in the fields, enjoy the fruits of your labour. Live in the home you’ve built, see your children grow old.
This was one of the gifts of the prophets. They were the ones who told God’s people of the promises that God has made. Of course, this wasn’t all good news. The prophets were also the messengers of God’s displeasure, telling of times of turmoil if they didn’t mend their ways.
It’s often been thought that prophets were like fortune tellers, able to see into the future by some supernatural means but this might not be all that accurate. Prophets were those who observed. They observed their people’s past and saw patterns. They compared those patterns to God’s law and listened to God through prayer. They looked for those same patterns in the world around them then were able to see what would be in store for the future if the patterns held.
Beyond this power of observation though, the prophets were artists who painted their vision of the future with beautiful, evocative language. Their listeners couldn’t help be enthralled by their visions, even when they didn’t agree, or ignored the messages they wished to convey.
Jesus too, told of a world to come, the realm of God. In this reading from Luke though, Jesus warns that this will not be a cake walk. He talks of turmoil and war. He alludes to people who are false prophets who will claim to show the way to God’s realm but their promises will disappoint.
If we’re looking around the world, maybe these worlds from Jesus will ring true for you. Two days ago, we remembered those who went to one of the many wars we’ve had in the past century. One of those wars was supposed to be the war to end all war. People couldn’t imagine ever putting our world through that again. People couldn’t imagine that we’d ever again be so careless with the lives of our children. Yet, here we are. Sometimes, these wars have carried with them a vision of a better future: greater freedom for people enduring brutal dictatorships, the end of fascism, stopping the aggression of states who appear more like school yard bullies. Canada and so many other countries have sent children to fight and die for the vision of a better world, yet here we are.
Maybe Jesus was right when he said that things would get worse before they get better and maybe he was also right when he warned us about conflicting visions of the future. Jesus laid out a pretty clear vision of the world to come – and even how to follow the path to get there. That’s why the early church, long before we were called Christians, were called the people of The Way. We are called to follow Jesus on the way to the realm of God.
But then there are the other voices that seem to be getting louder and louder. These are the voices that so many find compelling. Jesus and later Paul would shake up the roll of women and cause scandal by talking to them, treating them as equals, and even recognizing that women had the skills needed to lead this new movement of Jesus followers. Some of today’s false prophets though, tell us that if you didn’t have the sense to be born a man, you should at least have the decency to know your place.
Christ tells us that all God’s children are our neighbours who deserve our love. False prophets though, tell us that the problems of the world are not our fault but those people over there, that look different, that maybe worship differently. If we can just get rid of them, dispose of them, kill them, our lives will be better. This is a vision that so many Canadians died fighting during WW2 but here we are with a whole buffet of scapegoats whether they be Jews, Muslims, LGBT people, blacks, or anyone else who is convenient to blame.
Jesus tells us to forgive, turn the other cheek and abandon fear, while false prophets tell us to seek out revenge, turn to violence and be very, very afraid.
These are visions of a future that are spoken in halls of power and even in churches but they are not visions that reflect the promises from Isaiah, Jesus or Gospel. These are not paths that will lead to peace but instead to the same future the prophets of God warned of – a future of division, war and prosperity for very few.
Of course, this is the Gospel, the Good News and we are not to be afraid. Jesus said that there would be trouble and he sure seems to be right but I believe that God is at work in the world and that work is pushing us forward into Isaiah’s dream. This though has been, and still is very threatening to those who worship their own power, wealth, and comfort. Jesus pushed the world forward and he was murdered for it. We are building a fairer, healthier world and this causes trembling in the halls of power.
There are still prophets around the world and while we may see slightly different paths or call the destination a different name, that dream of Isaiah is going to happen but it’s going to take some faith. We have to have faith that Jesus and Isaiah and the other prophets knew what they were talking about. That this world where all people are treated as God’s creations can be not only a reality but also a blessing for all people, from the richest to the poorest, from the biggest cities to the most remote farmland.
We have to have faith in ourselves. We have to believe that God is not yet done with us and that we all can have a part in bringing about the dream of the prophets. Maybe it starts with our own thoughts and feelings – banishing feelings of hatred and fear, refusing to think of others as less than simply because of how or where they are born. From there, our faith may even turn to courage – courage to stand up when to hate and bigotry and declare, “we are Christians and that is not who we are.” “We are God’s children and that is not who we are.”
We have to have faith in God. Faith that because we are all God’s children, we are all essentially good. Faith that God is still working in our world. Working through the hands and feet and voices of all who are willing to be a part of the universal movement toward justice, holiness, and love.
With faith, with the guidance of the prophets, the wisdom of Jesus and with the grace of God, we can recreate this world. We can all live with opportunity to worship freely, to have our lives and loves seen as blessing. We can create a world where diversity is understood as a God given gift. We can create a world where never again do we have to send our children to take part in horrors we back home can’t imagine.
God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. We are all invited to that holy mountain. We’ve been told what waits for us and we’ve been told how to get there – let’s go!