“A New Day”
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these ancient words from the Old Testament writings attributed to Isaiah, chapter sixty-five, verses seventeen thru twenty-five.”
17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. 18 But 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. 19 I 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. 20 No 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. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They 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. 23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord – and their descendants as well. 24 Before they call, I will answer, while they are yet speaking, I will hear. 25 The 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.
“Having heard with our ears, let us now open our hearts as we seek to fully understand how these words of hope, offer hope to the people of this time in which we now live.”
“A New Day”
Our scripture lesson offers new hope for a new day to the oppressed people of Jerusalem who have been oppressed and exiled far from their promised land. His message was meant to uplift them and give them new courage and bolster their tenacity to continue ever onward into their future. Historically, we know that oppression, tyranny and the human condition still exists to this very day. Self-will, self-centeredness and all that go with the human spirit focused on its own needs, rather than an outward concern for the plight of others, has plagued humankind since the beginning of life. Unfortunately, this is a real consequence of the gift of free will which God has freely given to all of humankind. From this we can conclude: the message from Isaiah can easily be applied to human realities throughout the world we now live in.
Dr. Carla Sunberg, President, Nazarene Theological Seminary, sets the tone for us as we enter-into this reflection about a new day. “The joy of new life is anticipated by all of creation. Whether awaiting the blossoms of spring or the birth of a new child, hope fills hearts with the expectancy of new life. Instilled in us by the Creator, we cling to the future hope which is promised in God’s word.” There are so many ways to approach this discussion. Let us first take an obvious illustration. We live in Florida and during the summer folks that can, go north where it is cooler. But, when it gets cold up north, and it surely is right now with snow and ice, when it gets like this, folks flock to the south enjoying our warmer climate. In each case, when northerners flee from the arctic blast from the north, their hearts swell with anticipation of basking on our warm beaches. When they cross into Florida their hopes are fulfilled. The same happens in reverse as the summer springs forth in May each year. They get back in their cars with expectations of a cooler and less humid summer in a different part of the country. Hopefully, for their sake their visions of a blissful summer are fulfilled.
On a more serious note, many move from place to place seeking employment, any type of employment. Much like migrant farm workers do. The unincorporated area of Immokalee, in Collier County, just south of Fort Myers and Leigh High Acres. The Immokalee area is heavily agricultural. It is one of the major centers of tomato growing in the United States and therefor depends on farm workers heavily. /Wikipedia/ Because of the economics of being a farm worker, affordable housing in the region is in short supply. Hope for the families in that area comes from our sister churches advocating for them as they seek to stimulate affordable housing increases in area. Recently, our conference was able to free up $100,000, Challenging our member churches to match their anticipated donation to an affordable housing project in the area. Proud to say, we have sent off our first contribution to this cause.
It is so easy to slip into a hopeless state of mind like the scattered flock of Jerusalem and Judea were experiencing during the time of Isaiah’s writings. It is this way in today’s economic realities for all too many people even here in our beloved United States of America. It is a fact, that after the difficult recession, in the time period of the later part of 2008, on into the stock market crash in February of 2009 and beyond, most Americans needed a boost. Currently, at this juncture, the financial markets have indeed been booming for years. The housing market too, is at a high. Just look at the newly cleared acreage next door to our sanctuary where forty new homes are scheduled to be build. The sale of that land was a blessing for us as we paid off our mortgage, giving us the freedom to do more ministry. Prayerfully many young families will be able to take advantage of these new homes which are slated to be build, to be near schools, hospitals and all the other things a township like Palm Bay offers. For them it will be a new day and a new start, and their hopes and expectations will be high. But not for all young families.
Many in our communities and throughout these United States have not felt the advantages of a booming financial market. Corrine Carvalho tells us, from her view, how this writing is challenging us. “Isaiah 65:17-25 invites people today to consider how our experience of God’s holiness changes the world for us.” For those, like many of us here in our own community, who have not caught the glorious ride to financial success, they are looking for that ray of hope. We, whom are a part of a faith community that is currently trying diligently to respond to a call to become more missional – their needed hope is our needed opportunity. Our efforts to reach out to those who are in need in this area, our effort to be that needed helping hand may become that ray of hope giving a family a new vision for their future. We need to allow our good fortune to direct our outreach at every level. This is how the experience of God in our lives and in our community shall guide us, thereby helping us change that part of the world which is within our grasp.
Isaiah prophesied to his people: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” /21/ Indeed, our blessed good fortune from the sale of those ten plus acres allowed us to pay off our mortgage. This event has been passed forward opportunities for the financial group within the United Church of Christ to reuse those funds to finance other church projects. This event has placed the opportunity in the hands of a developer, the contractors involved, and those who are now and will be actively working because of this housing project. Others will benefit as these homes are sold to families seeking housing in this area. Merchants in this area will gain new customers and on and on the cycle of good fortunes goes. The fund for Immokalee which we have contributed to shall double with the matching grant from our Conference. Those funds will help fund a project which will put many to work and eventually offer more affordable housing to farm workers and their families. This is how God’s grace is distributed. Each passing it on to another.
Carolyn J. Sharp leads us into a discussion surrounding a new vision. “Isaiah invites us into a theological vision of what life can be for God’s faithful people.” A new day has indeed dawned on this faith community. We now are in a position – to reach out – in new and exciting ways, to those whom could use a helping hand. If we do not allow the focus to be only on ourselves, we shall become a strong ‘member’ of the body of Christ as we continue to explore opportunities to be of service to God and other. We need to set our focus on a new vision, not just a new day. The newness of our lives shall indeed come, so long as we look to the heavens in our quest for the future! The faithful people of God, those of us whom follow the teachings of Christ, we whom desire to serve God through this church, we shall see a new pathway opening up to us as we set our sights on heavenly images and ideas, rather than earthly things. Let us allow the Living Spirit of God to form our dreams, sanctioning the metaphors and thoughts which come into our hearts.
In verse twenty-one of our reading we hear these prophetic words. “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” /Isaiah 65:21/ Yes, new affordable homes shall be built in Immokalee, due to the generosity of churches just like our own. Because of this, hardworking farm workers and their families will have a place to live in proper housing. Because of your generosity others shall come to know of God’s love, as we initiate new pathways and new ventures to be more responsive to the community, in which we live. “I will rejoice in Jerusalem, (we shall rejoice in Palm Bay) and delight in my people, (in God’s People); no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.” /Isaiah 65:19 adapted/ This is the vision that has been here for us to see and hear. Can you not see it, can you not feel it, can you not hear the voice of God calling out to you? Can you feel the pull of the Spirit of God at your very hearts!?
Through Isaiah God is calling to you and to me. A new Day is upon us. A historical legacy of one hundred and thirty years as a faith community is our heritage. What shall our legacy be to the generations which shall follow us?