Monday, January 16, 2017

“Whew . . . Oh, NO!” (Isaiah 49:1-7)

My grandchildren love movies and stories in which there is always a happy ending . . . an ending in which “everyone lives happily ever after.”  As adults, we know that life is not that simple.  One of the myths of life is that there are “happy endings” in which “everyone lives happily ever after.”  But reality teaches us that this is not true no matter how many Disney movies we watch and want to believe.  Life is not that simple . . . not that black and white; no, life is lived and experienced in that messy gray area between the black and white.

At the same time, we hope.  Hope . . . there always has to be hope.  We hope for the best.  We hope for those fairy tale endings in which “everyone lives happily ever after.”  We hope because we need hope.  Hope is what gets us through the day . . . hope is what makes another day bearable.  We need hope to keep us going.  We need to be able to hang on to that illusion that everything will turn out for the best . . . the hero will ride off into the sunset . . . and, “everyone will live happily ever after.”

The truth is . . . whether we want to admit it or not . . . is that it not that plain and simple.

Last week we heard about the plight of God’s children--Israel.  We heard how they had been stomped by the Babylonians . . . how Jerusalem had been razed . . . how they had been so utterly defeated that the once and proud nation of Israel--God’s children--had been reduced to a quivering mass of doubt.  Having lost their status as a nation . . . their livelihood, their homes, their religion . . . they no longer had identity or faith.  They had nothing to hang on to.  There was no happy ending to their exile to Babylon.  They were up that proverbial creek without a paddle and the rapids sure looked like they were coming up quick.  

Into that situation comes the prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah appears to throw them a life preserver . . . to throw them a paddle . . . to give them hope.  Remember what he tells them . . . about a savior who would come?  A savior that would rescue them . . . restore them?  Well, this week our scripture reading continues with that idea of hope.  Isaiah assures the people that they will come out of this mess . . . that they will be restored . . . that they will avoid disaster.

And, all God’s children sighed a sigh of relief . . . whew!

Whew!  That was close!

We all know that feeling of relief when we avoid disaster in our own lives. That everything is going to be okay.  It is a great relief . . . we feel good . . . we feel redeemed . . . we feel safe . . . everything is going to be okay.  And, at least for a moment, we believe in that happy ending.  Life is good.

We have all heard the story about the man who promised God anything and everything if God would help him win the lottery . . . and, yet, he never won.  How he went into the church lamenting the fact that he had done all of these things . . . made all of these sacrifices, and God did not allow him to win the lottery.  Then tearfully leaving the sanctuary of the church, God spoke to the man, “Joe, you gotta help me out with this one--buy a lottery ticket!”  

Research shows that those people who have won the lottery do not live “happily ever after.”  No, a lot of them regret that they ever won.  Suddenly relatives and friends--not to mention every charity and scam artist--show up out of nowhere wanting a cut of the winnings.  Then there is the government showing up wanting their cut of the winnings.  Winning a lottery is complicated . . . and, yet, the hope is that in winning the lottery, life will be easier.  But, it is not.  It changes everything . . .

You see, the story does not end with winning.  No, the story now takes a new direction.  It is not a “cut and dry” matter.  It is not, whew!  It is more like . . . whew . . . oh, NO!

Yes, the prophet Isaiah spoke words of hope to the people . . . they would be restored; but, at the same time he told them that the story would not end with this act.  No, the story would continue . . . and, in the story’s continuation they would play a major role.  The restoration was only the prelude to the continuing story of God’s love and grace.  This hope is grounded in more than restoration of a people . . . it is grounded in the restoration of all of God’s creation . . . towards the Kingdom of God.

Isaiah’s hope is grounded in a savior--a rescuer--who would deliver the people.  Over and over again, Isaiah stresses this.  At the same time, this rescuer--this savior--would be one no expects . . . a virtual unknown who delivers something that no believes he can deliver.  In our perfect 20/20 hindsight we are quick to proclaim that this savior that the prophet speaks about is none other than Jesus . . . and, it fits.  It fits our understanding of the faith story.

At the same time, the prophet speaks in metaphors . . . speaks in symbolic language . . . spiritual language.  Yes, there is the savior . . . the one who comes to rescue and restore . . . the one we point out for us as being Jesus.  Yet, at the same time . . . last week and this week . . . the prophet alludes to another meaning . . . to the rest of the story.  That allusion is that the story cannot be complete without the very people receiving the words of hope . . . the children of God themselves.  They, too, have a role in the story . . . they, too, are responsible in taking this story beyond themselves to the rest of the world.  The people have a role to play in this restoration.  They are to carry this hope to the rest of the world.

Yes, the people are restored.  They reclaim their place as the children of God.  That alone is a happy ending . . . but, God is not done.  No, it is a good start.  For God the story continues . . . out of restoration comes expansion . . . a constant outward movement to bring everyone into the family . . . to restore the Kingdom of God.  Isaiah wants the people to understand their role . . . it is not done.  And, if you listen carefully to his words today . . . and, remember his words from last week . . . that role for the people is one of servanthood.  To love God and others.

In this way, Isaiah speaks not only of a savior to come, but of a role for the children of God.

And, it fits.

It fits.  We recognize Jesus as that savior.  We are called to follow in his footsteps to not only live the words that he spoke, but to live the life that he lived.  That was a life of servanthood . . . of loving God . . . of loving others.  We are marching towards God’s Kingdom as we live our lives in Jesus . . . his words and actions.  We are called to deliver the Kingdom.

That is our hope . . . that is our dream . . . that is our “happily ever after.”  It is what gets us up in the morning . . . it is what carries us through the day . . . it is our hope.  No story really ever ends.  No, every story that involves is only a prelude to another layer of the story being unfolded . . . the beginning of another adventure.  Thus, we cannot get complacent in those moments in life when we think that we have accomplished the fairy tale ending . . . the “happily ever after.”  The reality is that it is never over until the Kingdom has be restored.

The story of faith is a never-ending story.  May we rejoice in the victory while preparing for the next chapter . . . it is grounded in hope.  Jesus showed us the way . . . let us buy the ticket and play.  Amen.

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