“Before my people call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah:65:24)
In our beautiful Old Testament passage, Isaiah tells us that God is about to create a new heaven and a new earth. This has been described as one of the “most sweeping, eloquent and profound promissory” statements in the Old Testament – telling us that God does not simply call forth “newness” from what is already in place in the world. God as Creator has the capacity to work from nothing in order to do something so new that it is not derived from what was before.
God is inviting Israel to move out from all that is broken and dysfunctional in the old world . . . a phrase we hear repeated in Revelation, (21:1) “Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more.” . . . what has been called “the ultimate, most sweeping promise of the entire New Testament” . . .
In today’s Old Testament passage Isaiah is proclaiming the New Jerusalem . . . in contrast to the former failed Jerusalem . . . point by point . . . no more economic hardship . . . no more pain in childbirth . . . no more infant mortality . . . Proclaiming instead that there will be a form of immediate communication between God and Israel, that not only will God answer the call of Israel, God will hear the call before it is even spoken – an intense immediacy in God’s relationship with all the people of Israel.
This is what happens in a God-centered community: God’s people following God’s vision – God’s direction – God’s call – to and for them all – truly another version of what we sometimes refer to as the “thin place” . . . a place and time when our awareness of God’s direction for each of us, and for us as a worshipping community serving God, is increasingly clear. Over time, a profound “formation” is unfolding within each of us individually – and as a community – so that we are more able to recognize and respond to God’s ongoing call to us all as well as guide those who may be newly arrived among us.
In our Gospel passage, Luke is describing people gathered at the temple in Jerusalem talking about how it is “adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God” . . . many of these are overlaid with gold and other adornment – actually huge, magnificent boulders – the one at the southwest corner was 36’ long!
So there in the midst of all this overpowering majesty, Jesus is telling the people “not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” . . . The people are asking Jesus when will this be and how will we know – not realizing they are asking to be God instead of the faithful, mortals God has designed them to be.
Jesus is telling them – and us – not to be distracted with false claims or signs of the end times . . . not to attempt to predict the end of this or any age . . . that we are all given in one form or another opportunity to “testify” – to live our faith by our very identity – by who we are – what St. Francis meant when he said we must preach the Gospel at all times using words only when necessary . . . Jesus is also telling us that those of us who may be called to use words will be given what God needs us to say . . . that not a hair of our head will perish and that by our endurance we will “gain our souls.”
When I was a child we did a lot of imagining . . . lots of “what-ifs.” My father was the ringleader in this. He had a great respect for children’s imagination, creativity and insight – especially about God and God’s Creation in our everyday lives. Each day, to begin our special time for “what-ifs” and imaginary stories, he’d ask with such joy, just the right size for little ones, “What do you know today?” The family story is that, one day, when I was 6 years old, I responded, “What I know today is that I will be a minister.” I remember saying this a lot. I also remember – maybe by age 9 or 10 – saying that I knew Churches are meant to be healing places for everyone who ever comes through the door. My father’s response was always very affirming and encouraging . . . and always followed with his invitation to imagine and get creative about listening to God . . . “What’s God saying to us here?”
Maybe this is why I’ve spent so many years in healing ministry and as a consultant with struggling parishes as well as parishes seeking to deepen their ability to respond to God’s call for them . . . and why it’s taking me so long to retire . . . and, best of all, why God bringing me here to St. Michael’s is such a blessing!
I immediately recognized this is a community of Grace . . . of prayerful respect and hospitality and inclusion. Also, I immediately felt the presence of generations of prayer and healing – of redemption and resurrection . . .
The great theologian, Henri Nouwen, describing how our culture here in the Western world increasingly encourages individualism . . . that we are “constantly made to believe that everything we think, say, or do is our personal accomplishment, deserving individual attention”. . . but that as people who belong to a faithful community such as St. Michael’s, where we worship and attempt to serve God, Nouwen says, “we know that anything of spiritual value is not the result of individual accomplishment but the fruit of communal life. Whatever we know about God and God’s love, whatever we know about Jesus—his life, death, and resurrection—whatever we know about the Church and its ministry, is not the invention of our minds asking for an award. It is the knowledge that has come to us through the ages from the people of Israel and the prophets, from Jesus and the saints, and from all who have played roles in the formation of our hearts.”
Nouwen also says, “Living a spiritual life makes our little, fearful hearts as wide as the universe, because the Spirit of Jesus dwelling within us embraces the whole of creation. Jesus is the Word, through whom the universe has been created.” . . . as Paul says to the Colossians, (1: 16–17) “In him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible—all things were created through him and for him—in him all things hold together.” So that when Jesus lives within us through his Spirit, our hearts embrace not only all people but all of creation. Love casts out all fear and gathers in all that belongs to God . . . and prayer, which Nouwen describes as “breathing with the Spirit of Jesus” leads us to this ever deepening experience of recognizing and responding to the often staggering simplicity of Jesus’ call to us all when he says, “Follow me!” . . . calling us to be God’s messengers by our presence and our service in and to the world . . . This is something we understand here at St. Michael’s and are continually seeking God’s direction to expand – giving thanks for the opportunity and recognizing this as God’s blessing to and for us all.
These past several weeks we’ve been so privileged to hear beautiful testimonies from one another about what being a member of St. Michael’s means in their lives and in the lives of their families, friends, and communities in and beyond the parish – that who we are as a parish family nourishes, inspires and touches so many lives.
This morning, let’s take a few moments now for prayer and reflection . . .
giving thanks for the gift of St. Michael’s in your lives . . .
reflect on one or two particularly inspiring experiences you may have had . . .
may continue to have . . .
reflect on the aspects . . . .
the qualities . . .
of these experiences . . .
and why you feel called to support financially the life and ministry of St. Michael’s . . .
Take a few moments and, when you are ready, there are some cards in your pews for you to make notes for the group discussions to follow . . .
In closing, a prayer from the Celtic Christian tradition ~ this one from Lindisfarne also known as Holy Island
Let us pray . . .
O Christ, you had compassion on the crowds
You drew people to yourself
You repelled none who knew they were needy.
Grant us hearts like yours
Hearts that go out in genuine greeting and humble welcome
Until, in the fellowship of sharing
Souls are drawn to You.