A New Earth
No one can deny that we have arrived at an unprecedented and uncertain moment in our nation’s history. Our common life as a people has been upended in a way that few expected. Communities and families are polarized, and it is obvious that many are fearful about the future at the same time that others exult in a victory that surprised even them.
I remember the days immediately after 9-11 when people walked around in a daze and talked freely about their feelings of shock and grief. It seemed as though the world as they believed it to be had ended. They turned to the church for comfort and community. This week has seemed much the same as people have reached out to one another through social media and though more high-touch means of connection. Starting late Tuesday night, I began receiving a flood of texts and emails and phone calls. Different feelings have been expressed in different ways, but all have come from a place of anxious uncertainty.
The Hebrew text from the Lectionary today is a vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Those who received it were living in anxious times. Not exactly like our own, but there are similarities. The world the Hebrew people had known ended when they were exiled away from their homeland and dumped in Babylon. As they awoke in their new world, they were surrounded by hostile strangers who did not share their values. They were left trying to find their bearings as they adjusted to a new reality.
As years passed by, prophets like Isaiah began to shift from their earlier angry predictions about punishment and displacement. They took on a more comforting tone and eventually laid out a vision for a better future. In Isaiah 65, there is a vision of what the people most desired: a place of refuge that wasn’t just someday in heaven but could be expected here on earth.
If you read between the lines in Isaiah, you can see that there were many things keeping people up at night. Infant mortality and shortened life span are two of those. Then there is the horror of building a home and having it forcibly taken by others, as well as the desperation of growing food and not being able to eat any of themselves. The lack of fair pay for hard work resulted in feeling as though their work was useless. It was a time and location of economic injustice coupled with the hardship of being refugees whose very lives were cut short for lack of health care.
As grim as the lives of those displaced Hebrews were, the prophet pushes them to look beyond the present reality. He acknowledges that competing forces are wreaking havoc in the lives of the people. The image given is a wolf and a lamb. How do you get natural enemies to ever work together for good? It’s not a huge stretch to turn the wolf and lamb into a donkey and an elephant as we despair over political parties that seem to have little ability to work together for the common good. And yet, Isaiah speaks hope to the people and envisions a day when enemies will sit down and eat together. More importantly, he foresees a time when those who have previously inflicted harm shall not hurt or destroy anyone.
There has been more than enough hurt to go around in the last several days. And the specter of what may yet be destroyed is what stirs the anxiety and fear that is so common to those I have heard from this week. Many feel that they have invested their whole selves to create pockets of justice that now seem in jeopardy. What will happen to this earth and its life-protecting atmosphere if carbon treaties and regulations are suspended? What will happen to families in our community if promises to deport the undocumented are fulfilled? What about vulnerable children and women and men who depend on insurance attained through the Affordable Care Act? What about the safety of Muslim Americans? And what will happen if laws that prevent discrimination against LGBTQ citizens are nullified? All of these seem very possible right now, and the prospect of that degree of harm to the earth and to those we have sought to protect seems too much to bear.
The message that I read in Isaiah is that we are not without hope. We are not powerless. We have resources that are not depleted. There is a future on this earth that is possible because the Creator wills it to be so. There is a saying, “If you can see it, you can have it.” Isaiah put the vision before the people so they could begin seeing something that didn’t seem possible in that moment of particular despair. Right now it is hard for many to see beyond the murky mess of the moment, but I’ve been encouraged to hear some begin to speak of renewed determination to not let this earth and those we care for be unprotected.
How we respond to this past week will be different for each person. It’s important to acknowledge that even in a progressive Christian church such as our own, not everyone things alike. Or feels alike. Or believes alike. Some of us are struggling mightily, but not everyone is experiencing the same struggle, and that is OK. Some adapt quickly to changed circumstances and march forward. Others are knocked down and take time to recover and walk again. Not everyone has the same perspective on matters that may be very important to us, and we should not expect them to or make assumptions about one another. What we can expect, though, is to be loved and supported by those who are a part of this faith community.
I would like for us to take some time today to hear from one another to better understand how we are processing this time of change. Doing so in this setting is a bit risky. Part of that is a time issue. The kids in Sunday School can’t be held at bay while we spend all morning discussing things that will take us months if not years to figure out. Considering our limitations of time, I would like to ask you to follow some gentle guidelines. I’m going to ask four questions, and I’ll ask those who would like to share to respond with just one or two sentences. Remember that what others feel and believe is to be heard and respected here, regardless of what we ourselves might feel or believe. Also, this is not a political discussion per se, it arises out of our faith commitments rather than partisan politics, so please share from that perspective.
What are feelings that you have had this week, and have they changed over time?
What concerns or fears do you have as you look to the future?
What hope do you have for the days ahead?
What new or renewed commitments are you making?