For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. 19I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. 20No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 21They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. 24Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.
This morning is our annual commitment Sunday. It’s the Sunday we ask you to bring your financial commitment to worship and we invest in the future of the church. It’s a really important Sunday as our elders have discerned what is needed for the following year for ministries to take place. The session has created a vision for ministries for children and youth, for our community and for worship. It’s a vision that has only been imagined, for a future not yet realized. It’s the Sunday in which we put our hope in the future of ministries of this congregation through the act of giving an offering.
We are asking all our members and friends to stand up and be counted, to make a generous commitment for the witness and program and mission of this church in the year ahead. Not nearly enough of our members and friends do that. If you believe that we don’t need your gift, please allow me to gently challenge that misconception: we need everyone.
It costs $1, 214, 677 a year to run this place. Today we have about $237,000 in commitments for 2016, and so we only need $980,677 more. The year ahead will be critical. It’s a significantly important Sunday, because what people contribute impacts our future. Our offerings today are an act of faith and an expression of hope that ensure that our ministries grow, and our acts of service continue. But there is more to our offering than line items and ministries.What we are really doing when give an offering, is we are putting our hope and trust in the building up of the kingdom of God.
Our offering is an act of faith, equal to kneeling in prayer, engaging the Word, serving the poor. Giving an offering is a way of saying that we believe in the kingdom of God can be realized here on earth. It’s a way to testify that we believe that God is in the future and we are willing to invest in that future.
How are you feeling about the future these days? Some of you may feel really hopeful and optimistic. Some of you may feel uncertain and doubtful. Some of you may feel indifferent. Whatever you feel about the future today, if you have lived long enough you know that your feelings about the future can change based on your life circumstances and the state of the world.
None of us really know what the future holds, the one thing I believe about it however, is that God is already there, waiting for us, and that should at least bring us comfort. When I visit with people who are facing an unknown future, I always assure them, that Jesus is already there, waiting for them around the corner.
I believe in an omnipresent God.
The book of Isaiah is a book that assures of this truth — that God is with us in the past, the present and the future.
The book of Isaiah is a fascinating book that scholars believe is broken into three separate books, written either by three authors, or one author who started writing when he was very, very young, and ended when he was very, very old. Nevertheless, we know that the book is broken into three sections, creatively named First Isaiah, Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah. This morning we land in the 65th chapter of Isaiah in what has been identified as Third Isaiah. We have entered the story at the back end of a saga. Imagine your family is watching Gone with the Wind, and you just walked in at the scene when the war is over, and Scarlet has returned to Terra and has found the ruins of the plantation and rubble of war. That’s about the placement of the scripture passage we find ourselves in today.
Remember that Isaiah tells the story of the Hebrew people living as refugees on the banks of the Babylonia for 70 years The journey had been long –forcibly removed from their homeland of Jerusalem, driven to live in exile in Babylon. They are surrounded by many different religions and cultures and Isaiah keeps preaching to keep the faith and to remember Jerusalem. Finally, they are released to go back to Jerusalem and there is a measure of debate as to whether or not to return. They are a nation divided.
Isaiah wants them to go back and some do – in hopes for a bright and promising future. They believe that all will be well.
But when they finally get home, they discover that all is not well, at all. They are bone-weary exhausted from their exile, an exile whose losses and fears permeate their every breath, an exile that literally overturns the very ground of their being–family, land, temple, culture, life. Remember that none of the people who returned home, were actually the people who had left home in the first place. These were the grandchildren of the first exiles, going back to their grandparent’s homeland. They had only the stories and the visions of their grandparents to hold on to.
Was this not the holy land of God? Was not this place, Jerusalem, filled with the presence of God? And if so, why do God’s beloved people continue to experience chaos and fear so deep that even to imagine or to hope for something else seemed beyond even the most desperate of grasping hands and hearts. Shouldn’t they be flourishing? Building and planting, inhabiting and celebrating? Living? Isn’t God here in their midst? And shouldn’t that change everything?
The people return to the promise land for the promise of a better future, and the future is not what they hoped it would be. The future they envisioned will require a lot more work than they ever imagined. The people look around and think, is this all there is? What is going to happen? What will the future hold?
And as the look at an uncertain future, where they have more work to do, more things to build, more people to serve, more work to do, Isaiah casts this vision from God. God says, “See, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. So be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating.”
Martin Luther is credited to have said, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” The saying does not appear in his collected works, but it’s the sort of thing Luther could have said, maybe even should have said. It’s very similar to a Jewish saying, “If you have a sapling in your hand and they tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out to greet him.”
To be honest, there are times when I think about the future of the church and I wonder what in the world is going to happen? Maybe you share that concern about your kids, your career, you marriage? We so want to control the future.
And then I remember that the answer to that question is not ours to answer. It is only on all of us to invest in the promise of the future. It is only on all of us to be the hands and feet and Christ. To plant a tree, plant a church, build a hospital start a university. Create something that will help millions. Spin off an act of creativity that would do proud the God who flung stars into space. Let us dream bigger than what is reasonable. Let us hope bigger than what is practical. Let us get our hands dirty, and invest in a future our grandchildren will live to see.
How do we live today when we don’t know what will happen tomorrow? We draw strength from God, who invites our participation and endures long after the cities and buildings and stones have crumbled. We adopt a posture that asks not what God can do for us, but calls us to bring the Kingdom of God just a bit closer. We love neighbor as self and we strive for just societies and a stable planet- new heavens and a new earth. We pray without ceasing, and we trust in a mighty God from whom all blessings flow.