This is our last Sunday in the prophets for a while. In case you forgot we have read pieces from the rise of the ancient nation of Israel, it’s kings warring and dividing the nation into two, each of those nations falling to neighboring empires. We saw the people go into exile, learn to live lives there, and the plans to return home. The exile is over. Everything can return to how it had been before. We can live normal live in the Judea.
The exile started 100 years ago. When the people in exile started parking up to return, they were not the same people who left, I don’t even mean that metaphorically, no, they were the grandchildren and great-grandchild of the first exiled Jews. Imagine the stories that they told around the fires, at children’s beds at night, when they gathered as families. Those who were returning to Judea were fed of the stories of Jerusalem, they drank in the histories of the kings, they were immersed in the hymns I have no doubt there was a mythic quality to the land, to the times before, to the stories that they told of the land flowing with milk and honey, there the crops grew, the livestock thrived, and all that was interconnected produced.
But we know, sometimes, expectations don’t live up to the reality.
There were still people in Judea when they returned, the land did sit there empty waiting for them, there were those who were not exiled and did their best to make lives for themselves in the midst of the shattered pieces that empire left behind. Even if we ignore that Joel talked about those locust that came through, the Jerusalem that they exiles left behind, who stories they listened about on their parents and grandparents knees, was not this one. There was no temple, no wall, the glory seemed to be gone.
Expectations and reality.
My family is musical theater fans. We would see shows, sometimes the big touring show, often the local theater productions, one long weekend we saw 3 shows on Broadway. Anything Andrew Lloyd Weber was a regular soundtrack for our drives to Michigan. As an adult, attending a show has continue to be a part of special treat. Getting to know new shows through their music has produced anticipation while I wait for my chance to see it.
Maybe a year ago, maybe a little longer, I became obsessed with the music from a show called The Prom, and you can become obsessed with it too because it’s on Netflix. But is there anything that comes with unmet expectations like a prom. As a teenager from the 90’s all proms are supposed to come with high drama and a choreographed dance number that all the attendees somehow know. The reality is, it’s a bunch of kids thinking they’re grown and some poor girl is in the bathroom crying.
Anyway, the musical The Prom is about a girl, Emma, who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom, and rather than allow this, the small town, Indiana PTA first cancel’s prom, and then, essentially ruins this girls prom. Emma thought that she could have a nice time, like everyone else, like kids are supposed to be able to have, and they thought… well, no.
Ok, here’s a bit of a spoiler, but it’s a musical so you shouldn’t be surprised by the ending, Emma and her supporters through their own prom, one where anyone can come, with whoever they want as their date. In the last song, the cast belts out that they are going to “build a prom for everyone, show them all it can be done.” “Make the people see how the world could one day be.” So maybe this little prom of theirs in no-where Indiana could be an example of the world as a better place. But until that day comes, cue the drums! Dance! until the world becomes a place that includes all these people, they dance, because what else would you do at a prom?
That is what the prophet, and God through the prophet, are calling the people to—a new way of living in the world, a new way of being community, a way that can be a representation to all the nations of what it means to live together. There will be justice, there will be freedom from captivity, there will be healing. Those who mourn will be brought into times of joy. There is to be a renewal of the body.
There is an in Leviticus 25 that every 50 years there would be a year of Jubilee—debts would be cleared, indentured servants, slaves, would be freed, and land would be returned. Every 50 years there would be a hard reset so that those who had found themselves in financial troubles wouldn’t have to stay there, wouldn’t condemn their families, their children to the same fate. There could be freedom. The prophet doesn’t explicitly say the word Jubilee but this economic reset, redistribution, this rising up of the poor, this is jubilee. And this isn’t jubilee every 50 years, but a way of being. God is calling the people who are establishing this new community to live as people of the Jubilee.
In this new community of Justice and Jubilee, the strangers and the foreigners, will live among them, will have a place, will participate in the economic success of the nation. There is a renewal of the community.
The land will bring for the resources necessary for the community and renewed for the good pleasure of God, for the beauty of creation. There is a renewal of the land.
The Judeans, those who had been exiled and those who had never left, those part of the Jewish community and those who were not, were invited into a new community, a new way of being, a way of body, economic, community, and creation justice and equity. And then be rooted in this call of God to stand in the glory of God, to reveal the glory of God to the nations—not to lord it over them, but to represent how the world might one day be…
We’ve talked about this before, we have much to celebrate this week. With an approved vaccine, the light at the end of this long tunnel is starting to shine, even as we know the end is a ways away. But we have been through some stuff the last 9 months, and we certainly will have by the time we hit a year. When we are able to gather again, when we can all come through those doors, we will not be the same people, the world will be a different place, we’ll never return to what had been “normal”.
Who are we going to be? What is God calling us to be? How are we going to live as a church community in this new world? Maybe it’s found here in Isaiah.
We build a community of people where aren’t some who are in and some who are out. We build a community where all are able to participate in the kin-dom building. We build a community that strives for racial justice, economic justice, creation justice. We build a community that of peace makers—not just those who hope for peace but work to make peace.
We build a community that can stand like an oak tree in all its glory. We build a community like a light, like city on hill, an example of what it can look like, of what a community of Jubilee might look like. We’re going to see these lines again soon. Jesus quotes this prophet at the beginning of his ministry because he too was changing the culture, building community, demonstrating a way to live in the world with each other as an example to everyone, and to us.
That takes all of us—joining offering food, support, housing. It’s being creative about what it means to be in community. How do we build community with each other, staying connected, supporting each other, encouraging growth? How do we celebrate and shine in joy, in jubilee, in a way that the world might see what is to be a community that is rooted in God, in love, in kindness, in justice and mercy?
These are questions that really do need answers, not hypothetical, ideas, but the reality of who we are and how we are going to build this community, this church for everyone! How we are going to show to the world this way of living can be done. Maybe it involves small groups in homes, when the time comes that we can such a thing. Maybe it involves reaching out and inviting your neighbors into the missions we’re doing. Maybe it’s hosting classes for children or adults, on art or music or science or cooking. We still have time to create plans for what we will look like when we are able to return. It’s not going to the same world. And that’s ok. We’re building a church for everyone, showing the world it can be done.
And until the world joins us in this radical turning over of the way things are usually done, until the world becomes a more like the kin-dom of God, we love each other well, we be the example, we be oaks, we live jubilee, we dance.