A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

New Year’s and the promises of God December 30, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — bweier001 @ 2:37 am
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This is the time of year when we are trying to make predictions about the up coming new year might be like, removing ourselves from the baggage of the past year and make resolutions about what we would like to be different in the coming year. Many of us think that when “I can accomplish losing weight, praying more, volunteering more, spending more time with the children, working more or less-then, then I will have my life completely together, I will have friends and family who love me, I will be financially stable, and all will be well”. Or for us here at LCM as a congregation-when we have worship a certain way, or the best outreach or the best SS, confirmation then we will be a “successful” congregation and grow to a 1000 members, have a bigger building and all will be well. We think that then we will know in our personal and community life that God is truly present when good things happen.
What I love about the prophetic books of the Bible is that they have recorded the real mess of life along with the real hope in our lives in an honest way. These later chapters in Isaiah, (55-66) tell of the Israelites homecoming after Cyrus the Great released them from exile. They had spent long years dreaming of going home to the holy city of Jerusalem. The Israelites had thought: Oh how wonderful it will be when we are home! It will be just as we remember it and even better! We will stick to our promises we made to God when were in exile. We will stick to our promises we made to God when were in exile. We will be the perfect beloved people of God and we will know that God is present and all will be well. The three verses we have out of Isaiah 63 are words of hope, comfort and reassurance of God’s presence and being God’s people. They seem sweet and idyllic. But let me read for you a few verses before and after:
4 For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and the year for my redeeming work had come.
5 I looked, but there was no helper;
I stared, but there was no one to sustain me;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath sustained me.
6 I trampled down peoples in my anger,
I crushed them in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.
10 But they rebelled
and grieved his holy spirit;
therefore he became their enemy;
he himself fought against them.

Verses 7-9 seem a little different now don’t they? They are not part of a long sugar coated message of “good news for all people,” but part of the memory of Israel that life with God ebbs and flows. They had indeed returned to Jerusalem but not all was well. How quickly they had forgot all the ways that they would forever praise and work with God and not for themselves. These verses are as Barbara Brown Taylor writes “airlifted” or rescued from the surrounding words of God’s anger, disappointment and disillusionment with the Israelites. Verses 7-9 can make it seem as if everything is going perfectly. But to not look at the verses around them is to gloss over the reality of what was happening-real life had crept into Israel’s resolutions for post-exilic life with God and one another.
For us here on December 29th, we have a similar issue: just a few days ago we were all aglow with the the sentimental, pastoral scene of the baby Jesus and God’s angels. We were excited for the day of family and friends. We as a congregation were looking forward to all the visitors and community people who would join us for the evening. But now-real life has crept in. Many of us have gone back to work. Maybe the family tension is back. The radio went back to playing Miley Cyrus versus Bing Crosby. We look around the worship space and realize that it will take more than one night to share the good news of God’s love for all people for all time with our community and well…now all we have left is real life. Real life where we may or may not lose that 20 lbs in the new year, read the Bible more, pray more, be a better parent, or whatever we think that it is we need to do. Real life where we fall short of our relationship with God and each other. Real life where God’s people forget to work with God for justice each day. Real life where we have to ask for forgiveness over and over as well as offer it.
But here is why these three verses are so important and are inserted into the disappointment, disillusionment and messiness of the real life of the Israelites and us: God inserts God’s own self into our real life. In the hardships of life, the broken promises, the times when we haven’t quite lived up to what we said we would do with God or with one another, the fear, the questioning–God is in the middle of it all. God inserts Gods promises in the midst of real life.
It’s not that these words of Isaiah 63: 7-9 are a problem; they are not and they are absolutely true. But they ring most true when set in the reality of our broken human existence. It’s easy to hear the words of being carried or being shown mercy when life is clicking right along as we think it should. But when in our distress, we are offered by someone to be carried when we can’t literally take one more step on our own, to hear that God says we belong to God and that she trusts and gives us benefit of the doubt even if we don’t deserve it, to experience that God doesn’t send an errand boy but comes directly to be with us, is a profound, powerful and hopeful declaration of God’s unending love for us.
This new thing of God made flesh dwelling with us, that Isaiah heralded, is God’s promise to us that while we may not be able to hold up our promises or expectations for the coming year: God does. God has promised to be with us from the beginning of time and forever. Jesus proclaimed that every time we gather, God is present, when we share in the bread and in the wine, God is present, when we feel the most alone and broken, God is present, as we gather here as imperfect people, God is present.
While we look to the new year with visions of how we think it should be and what we hope to change, Isaiah reminds us that if we want to predict what our relationship with God will be in the future-look to the past: God’s steadfast love, lifting us up, carrying us, forgiving us and promising that nothing will EVER change– that is what we can count on in this new year and in every new year. Thanks be to God.

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