Isaiah 61: 1-11
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
Luke 4: 16-21
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Good morning. Seems like a long time since we last gathered. Could it really just have been a week? What a week it has been. We have traveled a distance. We have seen much change. We have seen a change in our political leadership to be sure. But we are seeing our national landscape in ways that perhaps, we may not have been able or willing to see before.
But before we go any further, will you pray with me: Holy One. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Look around. Look around and see that many across the nation are celebrating. They are hopeful that they have found someone who understands their needs, hears their anger and frustration and that is going to be able do something about it.
Look around. Look around and see that others right now across the nation are heartbroken, grieving, disoriented, despairing, unsure of the way forward or what is going to happen next.
Look around. Look around and see many who are deeply afraid. Many are feeling terribly vulnerable right now. Those who have been the targets of hate speech and actions are feeling frightened and exposed in this new reality, wondering “will they be safe?” Will there be a place for the full humanity of all people now that one who evidenced hate now holds the highest office in the land?
Look around. What is it that is coming into view? What is it that we are seeing?
The author in our Old Testament reading from the book of Isaiah is also looking around. He is also pausing to take in a landscape of his time that too has changed.
The back story to our text today is an interesting one. The setting is the fifth century before the Common Era at the end of the Babylonia rule. Fifty or so years before the time in which our Scripture is set today, the Babylonian army under the command of Nebuchadnezzar had taken Jerusalem in a ruthless siege and bloody battle. They had torn down the city walls and burned to the ground the Great Temple that Solomon had built. About 10,000 of Jerusalem’s most prominent, educated, and prosperous Jews had been rounded up and taken into exile in Babylon. Left behind were the poor and disenfranchised, who were faced with trying to make life in the midst of ruin.
But now in the passage from Isaiah this morning, it is fifty years or so years from that time and the Babylonian empire has fallen to the Persians. The Persians have taken a different view of how to govern their conquered lands and have allowed those Jews who had been exiled to Babylon to return to Jerusalem.
And that is where we find ourselves in the Scripture passage for today. The author who had been in exile has now returned. He is looking out over a changed landscape. It is a land that is no longer flowing with milk and honey, but is instead a land that is broken and battered. There is hunger and hardship. There is suffering. There is also sizable tension and distrust between those who had remained and those who are now returning. There is much division between the people.
It is a changed landscape. The prophet takes a good long hard look at the reality around him, then looks harder and deeper still and then turning to the people he says:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion — to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
And then he continues telling the people that “They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. For [I] the Lord loves justice.”
What is he talking about? Can he see something that they do not? How are we to understand his words, this morning?
Perhaps you have heard about the work being done right now in theoretical physicists that is taking us deeper and deeper into our understanding of matter, space and time. These scientists are looking deeper and deeper into our world, looking past even the molecular level of things. They are pursuing the theory that at the most granular level, the most elemental substance, the basis of all that is — is tiny, little vibrating strings of energy. And what is exciting about this theory is that if it turns out to be true, it may very well change the way we understand everything. It may very well turn out that there isn’t just a universe but that there are multiverses. It may turn out that there are not just three dimensions but that there are 4 or 5 or who knows how many. It may turn out that space and time behave very differently that what we had thought.
Just as in the 1500’s when Copernicus stunned the people of this time by theorizing that the earth was not, as was thought, the center of the solar system, but that instead the earth and the planets actually revolved around the sun, theoretical physicist are postulating that we too may be living in an equally profound time that will require an equally profound reorientation of how we see and understand what is. In the words of one scientist, “Every time we look more closely at the universe, turns out we discover another unexpected layer of reality.”
“Every time we look more closely at the universe, turns out we discover another unexpected layer of reality.” I find that statement so incredibly hopeful and while discovering another unexpected layer of reality may be may be the work of theoretical physicists but is it not also the work of the prophet?
Prophets those who are able to see deeply into what is so that a deeper layer of reality may more clearly come into view? Prophets the ones see deep down into the heart of thing and see those vibrating bands of energy; that perhaps could be the redeeming and sustaining energy of God that lies within all that is and that is waiting, hoovering, ready to be named and called forth.
Isaiah of 2500 years ago, looked out over a broken land and a suffering people. He looked deeply into what was and he saw something that had not been seen. He saw HOPE and promise and to a hurting people he spoke that Hope and that Promise. He said “They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord”
Isaiah looked deeply into what was and saw something that had not been seen. He saw HOPE and promise and to a hurting people and spoke that HOPE and PROMISE. He told them that “ They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
And if we think that Isaiah’s ability to see deep into the reality of things was an anomaly, let’s turn to the New Testament passage. Jesus takes these words of the prophet before him and makes them his own. Not only speaking them, but asserting that these words have come alive in his living. Jesus embodies God’s Promise of fullness of life for all and seeks to bring that fullness into reality for all to live.
So as we look out over the landscape of this nation, as we see places of hardship and suffering, what are we to do? I believe we are to seek out the prophets of our time. And where will we find them? We will find them where prophets always tend to be. We will find them of and among the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners. We will find them among those threatened by the rhetoric of exclusion and hatred. We will find them looking deeply into what is and lifting up what can be. There is particular power where people come together in the broken and hurting places, God prefers those places the best, I believe, and shows up most powerfully there to anoint God’s prophets to lead the people into the future that is already waiting to be revealed.
So in these days to come, let us feel all that we are feeling, whether that be joy or fear, hope or despair. Let us feel it all deeply. Claim it and honor it.
And then, let us look out more and more deeply into our world. Let us look out and see the broken places, and go there. Let us go to the “oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners” Let us look there for the prophets and hear their word for us this day. Let us follow the Way of Jesus who goes before. And Let us walk with and work along side our brothers and sisters and the prophets who will guide us to “build up the ancient ruins, and raise up former devastations; and repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.” And let us too believe in and work for the day when through the power and promise of God, all people may know the fulfillment of the God’s promise for fullness of life, for the day when all shall be called “oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord.”
And a final thought, as long as we continue to draw breath, there is always space for gratitude. There is always space for saying thank you simply being alive, for the beauty that is with us even in the midst of our brokenness, for the love that abides and the peace that passes understanding. There is always space for a Hallelujah, even if especially if, in the words of Leonard Cohen, it is a “broken Hallelujah.” Thanks be to God. Amen