Monday, December 2, 2013

Let Us Walk

Isaiah 2: 1-5, OT page 631-632 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; All the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! Sermon I’ve told you before about my grandfather, my mother’s father, who grew up in a place called the Caw-Caw Swamp in the Low Country of South Carolina. He was born into a world I have to work to imagine. In the time and place of his childhood things were different than what they are now. You couldn’t just run to the store to get what you needed, there were no stores to just run out to, so mostly what you didn’t have you learned to do without. There was no access to Spanish or Italian wine in the Caw-Caw Swamp, so my grandfather’s mother made her own in the bathtub. And when my grandfather was born, several weeks premature, there was no specialist to refer him to if there was a doctor present at all. Nor was there an incubator to put him in where he might slowly make up for lost time in the womb, he was born and his only chance of survival was his mother’s ability to make due. It’s a well-known story in my family, that when my grandfather was born premature, my great-grandmother put bricks in the fire place, and once they were good and warm she used those hot bricks to fence in the pallet she made on the floor for my newborn grandfather. There he stayed warm, and there, by the grace of God and his mother’s ingenuity, he survived. Now that I have children of my own I have gained a small sense of what this must have been like for her. Before the baby is born, the dreams and the worries can be big. There are bikes and worries over elementary schools. There are thoughts of college and how it will be paid for. For the parents of little girls, there might even also be thoughts of marriage and how much the wedding will cost, but somewhere in the hospital other possibilities become so real and the dreams become smaller. Parents hope, as nurses hover around and monitors chart a little heartbeat, not for Harvard, but simply for another heartbeat. In the delivery room, there is no thought of the perfect wedding, but just for a baby who keeps breathing. So, I imagine my great-grandmother, in one scene feeling her pregnant belly and dreaming big dreams, but then I see here there, warming bricks in the fire and stacking them around her newborn son, just praying that he’ll stay with her another hour, maybe another day. Her dreams became small surely, as sometimes dreams have to. The dreams of the Israelite people had become small at the time the prophet Isaiah saw the vision that our second scripture lesson is based on. They were a small nation, no longer the military power that they were at the height of King David’s reign, and during the prophet Isaiah’s lifetime they had to fear the great power of Assyria, who will eventually force them out of Jerusalem and into exile. Their dreams had become, not big dreams of greatness and strength, but simply of survival. You can imagine the hope that they had for their children – maybe that they would have the chance to leave home and work in one of the Assyrian cities where they would have the chance to do something with their life. They hoped small hopes for their daughters – that she would marry well, marry a man who could scrape together a living – thinking little of love and even less of happiness. Israel – what hope had Israel? But the prophet saw a vision. A vision in which people will not stream out of Israel for some place better – no, that is too small a dream – the prophet sees a time when all the nations shall stream to Israel. They will not go somewhere else to learn something worth knowing – for – that is not aiming high enough. The prophet sees a time when all people will seek out the house of the God of Jacob to learn how to walk in paths of righteousness based in the word of the Lord. And the Lord shall judge between the people, bringing forth righteousness and justice – the time of frustration and futile hope will be over. Even those who are bold to hope for a time when Israel might defeat Assyria haven’t hope for enough for the time is coming says the prophet, when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” But maybe you think that’s dreaming too big? Or maybe you’re not dreaming big enough. On Thanksgiving Day a man in Culleoka killed his wife over a pair of shoes. This event causes me to wonder – have we hoped for enough? Is there no more to life than a pair of shoes? Surely this Christmas there are those who will settle for small hopes. Rather than dream big dreams of happiness, there are those who will settle to hope for the things that the world has told them to hope for: a new television, some video game system, while others will go so far as to dream for a new Lexus parked in the driveway with a bright red bow – but I tell you, none of them has dreamed for enough. Just think about the world we live in – just think about what God has done already. Our own Beth Himes now oversees a floor in our local hospital that can do things for premature babies that my great-grandmother would never have dreamed of in a million years, so why then would you underestimate the power of God? The commercials tell you to want the kinds of things that are possible, but I’m telling you today that Christmas wishes should not have so much to do with what is possible according to human power. By human power there is a chance of all kinds of gifts and delicious food, and all it will take is a maxed-out credit card. But as I consider the prophecy made in Isaiah I realize that our dreams have become too small. Too often we leave the notion that swords will someday be beaten into plowshares to the foolhardy idealists who don’t understand how the real world works – but in dreaming too small, have you failed to understand how God works? The Lord can change what you cannot. The Lord can bring peace to the very heart of war. The Lord knows your inmost desire – that hope so fragile that you wouldn’t dare speak it much less actually hope it – the Lord knows what you really want for Christmas and I tell you that you should not be so quick to settle for the same thing you asked for last year. Have you given up on the idea, the dream, that everyone would give up fighting this season – that your children and grandchildren would calm down long enough to get along - and have you resigned yourself to something less? Have you given up on the idea that there would not just be a full house, but a house full of love? Have you started to dream of something smaller because your heart has gone hopeless? Have you stopped dreaming of a better life and just started hoping for some better channels on TV so you don’t have to think about it anymore? Have you stopped dreaming the big dreams? If you have than remember that Isiah is talking about a day when war will be no more – and if the Lord is about doing such work as that don’t you imagine that God can handle something more than a stocking full of Lifesavers? Dream big dreams. And until they come true, “let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Walk in the promise, not of what is, but of what will be. Walk in the light that shines forth from the God of heaven and earth, and know that no darkness will ever overcome it. Walk towards such a future, such a dream, greater than what you have dared imagine, and know that the Shepherd of Israel who is to be born in a manger will lead you there. Amen.

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