This was originally published Oct 13, 2011
I preached two versions of this sermon, once at St John’s Church and again at Trinity Lutheran/Bexley Hall seminary chapel. This is the version preached at chapel.
O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. Therefore, strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
Isaiah 25:1-9 (NRSV)
I used to be in the Navy, a long time ago,
on a submarine.
That was during the tail end of the Cold War and my boat carried missiles
with nuclear warheads on top,
enough atomic bombs to wipe out about 150 cities the size of Columbus.
I have no doubt,
that had we been told to do so,
my crewmates and I
would have unleashed our arsenal
though to be honest
we never really talked about it.
To reflect on that time
for me now
is an odd mixture;
of pride in service,
shame at my callousness,
fear at the realization of what evil I could do, nostalgia for the people and experiences of youth, and deep, deep thankfulness
that I was never called upon to kill another person.
when I hear in Isaiah
the exultation in destruction,
I cannot help but wonder about
my own preparedness
to utterly destroy the cities of those whom we named enemies.
For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
What I see in those words
is something akin to
the pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
and I want to rebel against them
and disdain any connection
between such devastation
and the works of God.
if we are to understand
and our world,
we must come
face to face
with a God who is both creator and destroyer.
In this scripture,
(and throughout the Bible, really)
we listen to the testimony
and the witness
of the biblical authors
as they reflect upon
the intersection of an all-powerful God
and a suffering world.
most of us here aren’t as quick as the Israelites
to see the hand of God
in the horror of war.
But at the same time,
I think we would be wise to acknowledge
that an active God,
a God alive to our world
and present within it
use destructive power
for the building of God’s kingdom.
Our lives are full of the clearing away
of old practices and patterns, and
the destruction of
habits and places of comfort.
Probably like many of you,
Coming here, for me, involved
More, or less
the complete demolition of my old life
to answer God’s call to serve God’s church
I left my job,
my sense of security and
a myriad of plans long laid down.
Trusting God is often like that,
Faithfulness is looking at the devastation
And seeing a construction site.
And you need to move a lot of dirt
to lay solid foundations.
Our lives are predicated
on the need of each and every one of us
to be willing to break apart our selves in order that
we might strip away all the barriers and stumbling blocks to faithfully living out Christ’s gospel.
And the congregations to which we will be called to serve
are no different.
One thing that has become clear to me in
the 2 1/2 years I have been here,
is how profoundly this community is broken up every year.
In fact, the very essence of this community
is predicated on the need to break us apart
year after year.
To be alive,
(and as the Body of Christ,
we are called to be alive),
is to undergo constant
and repeated change.
I suspect most of us
are drawn to a theology of Incarnation,
of the creative goodness of God,
So much so
that we might be fairly accused of
being Resurrection People.
But as a Bishop reminded just last week,
“only dead things get resurrected.”
So the truth of it is,
that we as individuals,
and as churches
have lots of structures,
literal and metaphorical,
that may need clearing away.
Perhaps most of us
would prefer to
spend time in our
citadels of self-justification,
but as in Isaiah,
as well as at Jericho,
God’s gonna bring them tumblin’ down.
Right now, though, it is our time
It is our opportunity.
as a community
to take a look
at the structures we have built and live in.
we are where God needs
and wants us to be
at this time
and in this place.
But even if we are,
the story continues to unfold;
the needs of God’s people
and God’s world changes
we must occasionally
take stock of what we have made
to prepare for its unmaking
are a pilgrim people,
we must never become too comfortable
settling in just one place.
To build the foundations of faith,
it is necessary,
it is necessary to demolish
what had once occupied the terrain,
to clear away the old and
make way for the new.
So, as hard as it was for me to hear the joy in Isaiah’s voice,
to share in the exultation of destruction,
Isaiah also says these words;
O LORD, you are my God;
for you have done wonderful things,
Isaiah looks upon the destruction of the city and is joyous because he sees that in its place, on that mountain
the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The death of the city is the means of the defeat of death itself.
Because when Isaiah says;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
The good news is
that there are no more aliens,
no more strangers
They are gone;
And not because they’ve been wiped off the earth,
But because the strangers have been made part of us,
and we of them,
together we have been gathered into the people of God,
the body of Christ.
For you have done wonderful things(Isaiah writes), plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
God has a plan for us,
a hope for us,
a dream for us.
And God’s plan
isn’t some mechanistic blueprint for our lives
Isn’t the inescapable tragedy of fate.
God’s plan is
No, our lives aren’t programmed,
They are blessed
blessed with gifts,
Gifts to be discerned
and handed back to
God who gave them to us
in order that a world of justice,