Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
November 27, 2016
“The Evil Acts of Men Exposed to the Light of Day is Hopeful”
Isaiah 2: 2-4
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.
3 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.
4 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.
Do you remember dial-up internet? Staring at the screen, listening to that sound which cannot be replicated. Come on, come on, come on! Only to then stare at the screen waiting for an image to download half an inch at a time. Excruciating.
Having to wait often raises our blood pressure, tempts us into acts of road rage, causes words to vomit out of our mouth that we would never say at any other time. Most of us hate to wait.
Isaiah presents something remarkably similar. He starts his prophecy in a very dark time. A time for which the people of Judah and Jerusalem should have been very embarrassed. Isaiah even describes the faithful city of Jerusalem as a whore. The first chapter of Isaiah is written like a refrain for “if only you would...” If only you would “defend the orphan and plead for the widow.” If only you would “seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” If only you would “cease to do evil, learn to do good.”
It’s a bleak time. They have turned a blind eye to the needs around them while maintaining a kind of lazy observance of religious duties. God, Isaiah said, is tired of it. Isaiah warns the people that God will turn a blind eye as they are dragged off from their homes by their enemies to live as strangers in an alien land. Their best days are behind them. But all this calamity can be avoided. “Come, let us argue it out, says the Lord.”
And then Isaiah writes the beautiful words of hope we read this morning, “In days to come, swords shall be beaten into plowshares.” But such hope cannot be untethered from the reality the people created for themselves.
You’ve got to deal with the first chapter of Isaiah first. It’s classic wrath of God stuff – for good reason. Isaiah presents a God who is tired of waiting. Not exactly like how having to wait often raises our blood pressure, tempts us into acts of road rage, causes words to vomit out of our mouth that we would never say at any other time. Because God is not tired of the inconvenience of standing in line or being on hold in a voice mail loop. God is tired because the poor would not suffer even one more day if only the people would fulfill God’s command to seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow. Isaiah presents a God who is tired of waiting. Not tired of the hassle and the hustle of small slights and inconsequential snubs but because it seems like no one gives a damn.
When we get angry about having to wait, most of our anger is about inconvenience. We tire of wasting our time when could be doing something else. Our blood pressure rises because we are better than that. God’s anger comes from systems that tangle the poor up in red tape.
I am privileged to only wonder and stand in detached fear for what is coming for our friends and neighbors who are targets of the new presidential administration. I can’t imagine the terror of children who leave for school unsure their parents won’t have been taken away during the day. The hateful schoolyard rhetoric. All the groups who wait in justified anger and real fear and understandable depression. What promises are going to be fulfilled? Are they just threats? This stuff is real. And ultimately temporary, but at the expense of families whose children will become orphaned. Widows will suffer. And many more. So much has been promised and yet so much unknown. And there is only so much we can do.
Nelson Mandela did not see his 27 years of waiting for release from his prison cell as a waste of his time. 27 years in captivity, 10,000 nights of loneliness and separation… But they were simply the in-between time in which his strength and focus, vision and determination were forged so that he could preside over a free nation. He said “It was during those long and hungry years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people. [Because of my waiting,] I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.” That is how he became the president of the whole nation.
Which makes me think of how important it will be to get out of our own bubbles and listen. What led to this present moment? So that one day we can be a whole nation with justice for all. In days to come, swords shall be beaten into plowshares. And neither shall they learn war anymore.
Someone remarked this week that they were glad that Advent begins with the word “hope.” I have more fear than hope, they said. And when the week begins with a conference room full of men doing straight armed Nazi salutes, such fear should be real. Even worse. People who excuse it as not a big deal. When a tiff at a Broadway musical generates more attention than 800 hate crimes and acts of violence, such fear is justified. Unnerving. Alarming. And motivating. And ironically, hopeful. Evil in the light of day can be stopped more easily than that which is enacted in the dead of night. Evil in the light of day is hopeful.
Perhaps I should be grateful that Advent has arrived just in time. We need a pregnant pause. A time to remember that what is will not always be. And that is a very good reason to be hopeful.
Think of all the possibilities that lie in in-between times like these. Imagine that moment when the house lights dim and the curtain rises. That moment of anticipation. Sitting on the edge of your seat. Of course, it first took some waiting, stuck in freeway traffic to get to a parking garage without enough spaces, standing in a line without enough ticket takers, crawling over people already in their seats. Moments of inconvenience yes, but imagine that moment between when the house lights dim and the curtain rises. The pregnant pause after all that trouble, the moment that comes and all the possibilities that come with it. In days to come.
Or the in between moment when the plane has finally reached its place in line on the runway before the engines finally roar to life, ready to lift us skyward. That moment of anticipation. Of course, that was after we stood in zig zagging security lines for an hour and boarding was delayed a few times. And our seat number was the last one to be called. But then, after all that trouble, minor inconveniences, comes the moment when the journey finally begins and all the possibilities that come with it. Hope-filled waiting. Weeping shall last only the night, but joy shall come in the morning.
Not waiting is often what gets us into trouble. Reacting instead of using the time to get prepared. A rise in blood pressure instead using the moment to calmly deepen our resolve.
Last Sunday 90 of us gathered in groups to begin getting prepared – ready to defend the orphan and plead for the widow. Isaiah said, if only you would seek justice and rescue the oppressed, cease to do evil and learn to do good. We identified areas of passion and this week we will begin the process of organizing. If we don’t have your email please make sure you add it to a notepad by one of these signboards.
We enact this pause in time liturgically in the season of Advent. Advent, which means coming, necessitates waiting. But the texts are full of admonitions to use the time to get prepared. And so shall we.
In days to come fear shall become hope. The evil acts of men exposed to the light of day is hopeful. It’s what we don’t know that should scare us. Use this in-between time to build strength and deepen your determination. Anticipate that moment when the time is right to act. For then, we will be ready for our anger to become a force for love.