Saturday, October 28, 2017

Year A, Reformation Sunday, Psalm 46, Be Still

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
We live in tumultuous times.
I can think of no better words than that.
Tumultuous times.
Let’s begin with the weather.
Mother Nature has been, of late, cantankerous, to say the least.
At one point recently hurricanes were lined up one after another headed for the gulf states and the Caribbean.  Satellite images showed not one, or two, but three major hurricanes heading toward our shores.
How much can the human spirit take?
Puerto Rico has been particularly hard hit.  And even with substantial aid from the government it will be years before they recover.
Houston was also hit, with the rainfall alone coming down at such a rate that one might think of the floods at the time of Noah.  Five feet of rain in some places in short order.  That’s a lot of water.
At the same time, out here in the west wild fires have been raging.  And whether it’s the Columbia River Gorge or the Napa Valley, one cannot help but be struck by the ferocity of such forces of nature. 
One almost expects volcanoes to erupt, or tornadoes to strike, or any number of other natural catastrophies.
Some would say that what we are experiencing is the effect of global warming, and that this is going to be the new normal. 
Many of us have been untouched, but for others the effect is felt daily.
My cousin, for example, has lost 1/3 of his farm, a third of his farm, mind you, to the rising water levels in Northeastern South Dakota.  What for generations have been corn fields and pasture is now a lake.  And there is nothing he can do about it.  Except go fishing I suppose.
In the face of such phenomena we hear the Psalmist’s words:
“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
  I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved,
  and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea;
3though its waters rage and foam,
  and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
God is God, and there is no other.
And God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Be still.
Rest your weary soul.
The God who created you,
                The God who loves you
will not abandon you to the forces of nature.
We live in tumultuous times.
We are a divided people.
“One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Well, maybe not so much.
We are at war with ourselves for the soul of our nation.
Our nation is fractured, not one.
Obama promised to unite us. 
In 2004 at the Democratic National Convention he said:
“Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America.”
During the most recent election, Donald Trump declared:
"I say it is time for us to come together as one united people,"
"For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so we can work together and unify our great country,"

Two men from opposite ends of the political spectrum, each promising a unified America.
And yet the truth is far from that, for each of them, have been and continue to be the most polarizing figures in US history.
“One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Liberty and justice for all.
It’s that last phrase that has sparked protests, especially among the black community.
Police officers have repeatedly shot unarmed black men.
That’s a fact, often documented by videos of bystanders.
This, our black brothers and sisters say, is not liberty and justice for all.
Professional football players take a knee, or sit, during the national anthem to protest.
And many respond “How dare you show such disrespect to our flag and our military.”
Just a couple of  days ago the owner of the Texans said “we cannot let the inmates run the prison”.
Not wise words.
A divided nation.  Can’t even watch a football game without seeing it.
And then there is North Korea, and Russia, and the fight against ISIS, just to mention a few.
Our soldiers die in Niger.
Did you even know we had soldiers in Niger?  Or for that matter, where Niger is?
The nations rage, and the kingdoms shake;
And God says:
“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
  I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
We live in tumultuous times.
Yet God is still our God, and there is no other.
And God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
Be still.
Rest your weary soul.
The God who created you,
                The God who loves you,
Will not abandon you to the political unrest of today.

J R, in a few moments you will come forward to the font to be baptized.
A little bit of water and the words “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. 
In the Gospel of Mark we hear about Jesus baptism.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
You are my Son.
I love you.
And with you I am well pleased.
Just as God spoke these words to Jesus, I hope you hear God speaking these words to you today.
You are a child of God.
God does indeed love you.
And God is proud of you.
Remember these things, JR, throughout your life.
These are tumultuous times.
None of us knows what the future holds for us.
I wish I could tell you that now that you are being baptized life will be good. 
The Cajuns say “Let the good times roll”.
And I wish that I could promise you that from this time forth there will be nothing but good times.
But the truth is far different than that.
There will be good times and challenging times.  There will be times when all is well, and times when you say ‘what the hell’.
The promise that you receive this day is not that you will be spared the challenges of this life.  You will continue to struggle with them just as each of us will continue to struggle with them.
Tumultuous times.
We struggle with the forces of nature.
We live in a divided nation.
We each must deal with our own demons and difficulties.
But in the midst of it there is a promise.
“Be still, then, and know that I am God;
  I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.”
Be still.  Do not fear. For God is with you.
No matter what happens in this life, God will be by your side.
His love will surround you.
You will sin, and God will forgive.
You will stumble, and God will lift you up.
You may even despair, but God will give you hope.
Be still.
Rest your weary soul.
The God who created you,
                The God who loves you,
                The God who has claimed you this day as his own, will be with you.
No matter what else you do in the years ahead, simply remember this.
That you are loved.
You are loved. 
That, and that alone, will suffice.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Year A, Proper 24, Matthew 22.15-25, “To God the things that are God’s”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Jake was the husband of the matriarch of my congregation in Thompson Falls.
Though Elsie never missed something at church, Jake never darkened the door of the Church.
He did, however, like pastors.  He would take us fishing.  He would enjoy having us out to the place along the Clark Fork River for dinner.
In short, Jake was a good guy, just not a church goer.
But Jake taught me  something about generosity that I’ll never forget. 
“Pastor,” Jake said, “Pastor, there’s one thing I’ll never understand about people.  They’re constantly complaining about having to pay taxes.  I just don’t understand it.”
“You know, one year I had to pay $25,000 in taxes.  Imagine that, just me and my Cat building roads in the forest, and I had to pay $25,000 in taxes.”
“There were other years that I didn’t have to pay any taxes at all.”
“Pastor, the years I had to pay a lot in taxes were a whole lot better years than when I didn’t.  People should be grateful to pay taxes, because it means they had a good year.  They shouldn’t complain.”
That’s what Jake’s comments were all about.
Whether it’s paying taxes, or making our offerings, we should do so with a grateful heart.
What a blessing it is to have received enough to be taxed, or to be able to make an offering.
One more word about taxes.
One theologian remarked once that if we consider all that is God’s, there is little left for the Emporer.

How much should we give as an offering to God?
That’s the question for today.
And why should we give?
That’s another good question.

Giving has an interesting history, and the Church has done a variety of things throughout the ages to meet its financial obligations.
In the Old Testament times, God’s people were expected to bring their tithes, the first fruits of the harvest and offer them in gratitude to God.  It was straight forward.  10% up front.
Since then, many Christians have adopted this as a mandate for their own giving.
My mother and father-in-law told their story from when they were first married.  They were going to Church one Sunday morning, and between them they had only $1.  Could they give anything?
They prayed about it, and came to the conclusion that they’d give a dime.  10%.  And that they did throughout the rest of their lives. 
Many Christians have found this to be a rich discipline, and have reported many blessings from doing so.
One of the best pieces of advice  I’ve ever heard, and one that unfortunately I’ve not been able to adopt, was to give 10%, save 10%, and live off the rest.  If I had my life to live over, I’d like to do that.
At any rate, many Christians have answered those two questions of how much we should give and why, by saying that we are to give 10% of all we have received, and do so both out of gratitude and obedience.
One of the problems with these answers is that they can become a legalistic burden.  Sometimes, 10% is too much, and at other times 10% is far too little.
Pastor Herb Knutson, whom I knew in Montana, was deeply concerned about viewing our giving from such a legalistic point of view. 
His father experienced all sorts of guilt because he didn’t feel he was able to give as much as he was required to give.
Herb studied the scripture in depth, and realized that the Old Testament tithe, actually funded BOTH the Church and the State. 
It was a flat rate that covered everything, both giving and taxation.  Actually, when you think about it, submitting to a flat tax of 10% that supported the entire government and the Church would be quite desirable to many in our age.  Wouldn’t it.
But before we go there, there is another part of the Biblical witness to bear in mind.
In the New Testament, specifically in Acts, the early Christians were expect to give, not 10%, but 100% to the Lord. 
In Acts 2.44 & 45 it is written:
“All who believed were together and had all things in common;  they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
And again in Chapter 4 it is written:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.
This was a radical concept.
It was radical in its day, and especially radical for us today as our entire culture is built around private ownership of things, from the land we live on to the money we have in the bank.
Many will say, “Well, that’s communism, and it’s been proven it just doesn’t work.  It didn’t work for the early Christians, and it won’t work now.”
Maybe so, but there is a truth that this points to, and that is this.
Our whole lives are lived as Stewards, caretakers of all that God has given to  us.
What we do with our lives, and with all that we have, determines whether we are good stewards or bad.
Yes, it is our responsibility to provide for ourselves and our families, food and clothing, home and shelter, transportation, health care, and all that is part of living today.
But support for the mission of the Church is also part of that responsibility that we as Christians have.
And, to put it bluntly, if one owns a $500,000 dollar home, two $50,000 cars, an RV or two, and countless other things, yet only gives as much to the Church as they might as a tip to a waiter following a fine meal out—well, that says something.
This brings up another point, about why we give and how much we should give.
Our giving is a witness to what we believe in, and who or what is truly our God.
Giving is an act of worship, with it we are acknowledging that the Lord is our God, and the Lord alone.
There’s a good news, bad news, joke about this.
The good news is that Jesus has returned to the earth.
The bad news is that he’s mad and has brought his accountants.
The point being, that there is probably no truer indicator of what we value in life, than our checkbooks.  And if our giving is merely an afterthought, well, that says something about us and what we believe.
Having said all that, I go back to Jake and Herb.
Jake’s observation is that we should be delighted to be able to pay taxes, and give generously, because it indicates that we have been blessed with a very good year.  Wise Words.
But Herb’s point is also well taken, it is wrong to approach giving legalistically.  The truth is that there are times in our lives when we will be able to give a lot, and at other times, only a little.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians:
“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”
That last line, is another point about why we give.
“That you may share abundantly in every good work.”
When we give, we participate in the mission of the Church.  It’s an act of Christian service.
And our gifts make ministry possible.
The Church wasn’t always dependent on free will offerings.
During the Middle Ages the Church owned massive amounts of land and profited off of it, supporting itself.
In Europe, even to this day, taxation supports the Church.
And I remember reading about the first Pastor of one of the congregations my Dad served.
His compensation was $200 annually, plus two offerings of his choice, and, we might add, all of his living expenses were basically covered.  If a farmer butchered an animal, part of it went to the pastor.  Pastors were given free medical care by doctors.  This even continued into my Dad’s ministry.  He paid a total of $35 to have six children, and that only because the obstetrician for one of the kids was Jewish, not Christian.
Today, though, our ministry is dependent on our charitable giving.  Buildings need to be heated.  Pastors need to be paid a salary.  And the wider mission of the Church is dependent on our giving.
The bottom line is that it is through the generosity of our members that our congregation is able to continue its ministry.  That’s simply a fact.
Why do we give?
Because Jesus said “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
In order to do that in today’s world, and today’s economy, the Church needs cash. 
One final story.
There was a wealthy man who had a sense of calling to the ministry.  He was capable of making a lot of money, but felt the need to be a pastor, instead.
As he evaluated his gifts for ministry, though, he realized that what he really was gifted at was making money.  He wasn’t particularly suited for the ministry at all.
After much prayer and consideration he decided that the best thing he could do, was to make as much money as he could, and then give generously to support the ministry of those who were truly gifted as pastors and evangelists.
He decided he would live on just a small portion of his annual income, and give the rest to support the ministry of the Church.
It was a wonderful and faithful response.
We give, in order to support those who have the gift of ministry.
“Why do you give?” and “How much will you give?”
These are two questions each of us must answer for ourselves. 
And however you answer those questions, just remember this:
That whether we are able to  give a lot, or a little, we are always simply giving back to God what he has first given us.
That’s what the hymn we will sing next makes clear.
We give thee but thine own, whate’er the gift may be.
All that we have is thine alone, a trust, O Lord, from Thee.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Year A, Proper 23, Matthew 22.1-14 Dad cared.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
So, did that lesson make you feel a bit uncomfortable.
It’s hard to say “The Gospel of the Lord” immediately after reading “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
That there is a judgment,
That there is a heaven and a hell,
That some are saved, and some are not,
These are things that we are increasingly uncomfortable with.
Many of us would prefer that it simply is not so.

During my seminary years, one of the theological authors I read a lot of was John Cobb, who wrote a book in 1975 titled “Christ in a Pluralistic Age”. 
One of the basic premises of that book was the notion that Christ transcended human culture and religions in a way that he was present in all religions.  It was a theological argument that basically maintained that there are many pathways up the same mountain, but regardless which pathway we chose, in the end we would all end up together at the summit.
This understanding runs counter to any notion that “many are called, but few are chosen.”
One of the critics of John Cobb’s work, was to label it arm chair evangelism.
That is, instead of having to do the hard work of going out into the world, of sharing the Gospel with all people, and yes, seeking to convert them to Christianity, we could just sit back in our arm chairs and declare that Christ was present in all human religions, and in so doing, with one little stroke of the pen we have accomplished what centuries of missionary work could not, namely, saving the world’s many souls.
The problem is that every once in a while, as we gather for worship, we hear words like this from Jesus.
Words that speak of some being saved, and others not.
Words that warn of utter destruction for those that reject the invitation to the wedding banquet.
And words which assert in no uncertain terms, that salvation is not a universal condition, but reserved for the few who have been redeemed.
Such a notion seems antiquated.
And many of us are hesitant to go there.
What happens in the afterlife?
What about heaven and hell?
Historically there have been two major understandings within the Christian Church regarding heaven and hell, between being saved or condemned.
We are part of the Western Church, that part of the Church that originally was united under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, which we know today as the Roman Catholic Church.
Even following the Reformation and the establishment of the protestant churches, we in the Western Church continue to be largely influenced by Roman Catholic teachings, especially with respect to heaven and hell.
And in short, those teachings include the belief that following the judgment, God will punish the unbelievers by casting them out of his presence into a place of eternal suffering, ‘where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’.
The problem with this Western understanding of heaven and hell, and the judgment is that you are left with a God who is first and foremost one who judges and condemns, who has created an eternal torture chamber for the unredeemed, and who is capable of condemning the vast bulk of humanity, billions of people whom he created, to eternal damnation.
That’s not a picture of a loving and merciful God.
And it is little consolation that God spares a few.
God remains this incredibly wrathful God whose primary act is one of vengeance for the non-believer and unfaithful.
Personally I have been drawn in recent years to the other understanding in the Christian Church, namely that of the Eastern Church, what we know today as the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The Eastern Orthodox Church followed the leadership of the other eleven Patriarchs of the Church, not the Roman Bishop, and has recognized the Patriarch of Constantinople as the first among equals, and the leader of the Church, not Rome.
The Eastern Orthodox Church prides itself on having maintained the traditional teachings of the Church throughout the ages, and on a number of issues specifically rejects what they perceive to be the innovations of the Western Church, which by the way, they consider the “Western Heresy”.
What the Eastern Orthodox believes regarding the afterlife, is that all people will be in the presence of God in the afterlife, in part because there is no place where God is not.
Furthermore, God does not condemn anyone to eternal punishment, for to do so would be counter to his loving nature.
But, and this is a big but, those who are not redeemed will experience being in the presence of the righteous and holy God as punishment, intolerable, or to put it differently, it will be a hellish existence.
But it is not that God condemns them to such a fate, it is simply a matter that for those who love what is evil and hate what is good, being in the presence of the all Good and Righteous One will not be enjoyable, to say the least.
God’s only desire is that all might be saved.
But that some are not is the result of their own attitudes and the condition of their souls, not because of God’s judgment raining down on them.
The ‘Christian life’ then, is to prepare ourselves to be able to enjoy being in the presence of the Holy One, and not be destroyed by it.
But whether one finds the Roman Catholic teaching, or the Orthodox teaching, to be most attractive, BOTH are clear that not all will experience eternal salvation.
Many are called, but few are chosen.
Still, many of us in the modern world are hesitant to embrace this teaching of the Church.
For many of us, to be saved by grace means everyone is saved.  Period.
There’s one small problem.
That’s not what the Bible teaches.
And if we believe the Bible at all we can’t get around texts like the Gospel lesson for today.  Jesus doesn’t mince words here.  He is blunt.
I’m thinking a lot about my Dad these days.
One of the major concerns that occupied him throughout the final years of his life was that all of his children and grandchildren might be saved.
For Dad that meant that we must be baptized, confirmed, receive communion regularly, hear the Word of God preached, and repent of our sins and hear the word of forgiveness.
He was a very traditional and orthodox Lutheran in this regard.
We are saved by grace, yes, but this saving grace come to us through these means, namely the sacraments of baptism and communion, the preaching of the Word, and the forgiveness of sins.
To neglect these things, is to put our salvation in peril.
Now there is some motivation for getting up for Church Sunday morning. 
What Dad would maintain is that this stuff MATTERS.
It not only matters for this life, but for the life to come.
Dad often struck us as being too legalistic and not very gracious in his understanding.  It often sounded like ‘you must do this and that, to be saved’.  And when he expressed his concern about our eternal salvation, it often didn’t come across well.
But now, following his death, I will at least say this:
“Dad cared.”
Dad cared because he believed that what we do, and what we believed in this life had a direct effect on how we would experience the next life.
And so he did what many of us feel uncomfortable doing, which is to raise the question of salvation with those he loved. 
That was his mission.  Unwelcome as it often was, that was his mission that we might all be together in heaven. 
We sometimes wonder what our mission is as a congregation, and if we have a future.
Like so many congregations in our country, we are experiencing declining numbers and an uncertain future.
As we wrestle with the issues that raises, it is easy to starting thinking that our mission is to get more members. 
Our mission is NOT to get more members so that the congregation might survive.
Our mission IS to share the Gospel with others so that they might survive.
One of the most disturbing thoughts of all is that my failure, our failure, the Church as a whole's failure to reach the unChurched will impact their eternal salvation.
One of my seminary professors shared that his grandmother died with a profound sense of holy grief at the failure of the missionary movement to save the world. 
Perhaps that’s putting far too much a burden on us.
Faith is not something that we can give to others; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
One of the things we should pray for is that the Holy Spirit might work through us, to create faith in those who are called to salvation.
Because it matters.  It matters.
If it doesn’t matter, why are we here?  I mean, in all due respect life in the Church is not that great and fun.
If it doesn’t matter why invest so much effort and money into sustaining this or any other congregation?
But if it does matter, then what more can we do?
What resources to we have to share the Gospel?
And is there anything at all in life that is more important than this?
A personal prayer I’ll share with you comes from a song by Steve Green:
"Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful!
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful"


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Year A, Proper 22, Isaiah 5.1-7, I’m tired, Boss.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
“The Green Mile” is a movie about death row, and in particular, about one John Coffey, a black man who was a miracle worker, who could save lives, but who was wrongly charged and convicted of murder.
In the end, as he accepts his fate to be executed, he makes the following statement to the sympathetic guard he’s come to know who offered to help him escape:
“I want it to be over and done with. I do.
I'm tired, boss. Tired of being on the road, lonely as a sparrow in the rain. I'm tired of never having me a buddy to be with... to tell me where we's going to, coming from, or why.
Mostly, I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world... every day. There's too much of it. It's like pieces of glass in my head... all the time. Can you understand?”
Sometimes I feel like John Coffey.
I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world.
Just tired.
Sometimes the only thing I can do is turn off the news.
Not read the paper.
Just live each day, eating, working, sleeping, all the while trying to ignore what is going on in the world.
The struggle is it happens whether I pay attention or not.  It happens.
Life is hard enough to deal with as it is.
There is a certain amount of suffering that cannot be avoided.  There are natural disasters like hurricanes that will happen.  This has been a horrible year for that.
In other parts of the world there are different risks.
Forest fires.
When you think about it there are risks and suffering that go with living just about anywhere.
And then there is the whole matter of disease.
Little children fighting for life.
People struck down in the prime of life.
And elderly people, battling long term chronic conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease that robs them of every last ounce of dignity that they had.
All this is unavoidable.
It will happen.
There is no choice about it.

What is so difficult to deal with is the suffering we inflict on each other.
“I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.”  Coffey says.  Just tired of people being ugly to each other.
Gun shots rain down from on high on the crowds in Las Vegas as a lone man, for no apparent reason, takes fifteen minutes to terrorize the world.
Dozens of people killed.
Hundreds wounded.
One event like that is hard enough to deal with.
But they just keep on happening.  One after another.  Senseless violence that deprives the innocent of life itself.  School children.  Church people.  People enjoying an evening of entertainment.
We’ve become numb to the pain and suffering.
11,000 people die each year by gunfire in our country.
‘Mostly, I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world... every day.”
There is another statistic that disheartens me.
In 2013, 664,435 legal induced abortions were reported to Center for Disease Control from 49 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2013 was 12.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 200 abortions per 1,000 live births. 
1 in six babies conceived, is aborted.
I find that hard to believe.  But those are the statistics gathered not by anti-abortion activists, but by the Center for Disease Control of our government.
The most likely cause of death for each and every human being conceived in this country is not gun violence, or disease, but abortion.  Let that sink in for a moment.

One of the things that distresses me about our country is this:
We recognize, as constitutional rights, both the right to bear arms and the right to have an abortion.
That shooter in Los Vegas had a ‘right’ to purchase as many guns as he wanted to equip himself to carry out the mass murder he committed.
And we recognize as a right a woman’s ability to choose an abortion.
What we do not recognize as a right is the safety of people from gun violence.
What we do not recognize as a right is access to health care.
To put it bluntly, we are more committed as a nation to preserve the right to kill, than we are to preserve the right to live.
 “Mostly, I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world... every day.”
I wonder how often God has thought that.
“Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:
he expected it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.”
“For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts
is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry!”
Israel came under the judgment of God for their sins.
The judgment was that their nation would be defeated and the people would be carried into captivity.
Isaiah foretold of the judgment that was to come.
No doubt, he was not popular for doing so.
Most of the people in Israel during Isaiah’s time would have much preferred that he sing a song about God blessing Israel, not the song of the vineyard in which God judges Israel, and condemns it for their sins.
And are we any different?
We love to sing “God bless America” but when people talk about what is not right about our country we are upset.
“How dare someone say that God will judge America for its sins!”
I don’t know what the future holds.
I don’t know how much suffering our nation, and the nations of the world will endure.
Mostly I’m just tired of people being ugly with one another.
And I hope God is too.
Isaiah’s word to the people of Israel was not just a word of condemnation and judgment.
It was also a word of hope.
When God judges us, he does so for the sake of making us right.
Later on in Isaiah, the prophet writes:
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Imagine that world.
Imagine a world in which every life that is conceived is welcomed as sacred, a gift from God.
Imagine a world in which no one would even consider picking up a weapon to harm another human being.
Imagine a world that devoted itself to enhancing and protecting all life as holy.
Imagine a world in which all children are loved and adored, and all elderly are respected and honored.
Imagine a world in which they do not hurt or destroy.
Imagine a world in which people are no longer ugly with one another.
Imagine a world in which each nation devotes as much effort to preserving and enhancing life as they now do on the military.
That’s the world God imagines when he says in Isaiah 2:4 “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.”
That’s the world God wants us to enjoy.
“Mostly, I'm tired of people being ugly to each other. I'm tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world... every day. There's too much of it.”
I think that one of the most important questions of faith is whether or not we believe that the world can be any different than it is.
Do we believe that it is possible for people to give up killing, and devote themselves to living?
God does.