November 17, 2013 by Ken Dale
As much as I love the New Testament and as guilty as I may be of preaching from it too much more than the Hebrew Scriptures – this morning I cannot help but focus on the two offerings from the prophet Isaiah. The first reading we heard is from ?Third Isaiah? and was addressed to the first wave of exiles who were returning to Jerusalem after their exile under the Babylonians. They are faced with the monumental task of rebuilding a ruined city, a ruined temple, a ruined Judah. And yet the passage is filled with hope.
The second reading from Isaiah 12 reads more like a psalm. It is actually a thankful closing to the drama of the first 11 chapters in which the prophet denounces the sins of Judah. Their captivity under Babylon is punishment for their sin but the prophet speaks of deliverance and peace. The beginning of the 11th chapter contains those words we hear at the beginning of our Advent journey to Christmas: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
For those who are uncomfortable with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, consider the opening verse of that 12th chapter: You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. The prophet teaches the people a hymn of praise to sing on the day of their salvation. He gives them in advance the words of thanksgiving that will celebrate that day – he offers them hope to hold them through the dark times in between.
I guess it is in that spirit I bring you this message this morning.
The vision in Isaiah 65 is one of building on the original, and yet, it speaks of a new heaven and a new earth and God rejoicing and being delighted in God?s people. God says they shall not labor in vain and that before the people call to God, God will answer and while they are speaking, God will hear. There?s a different approach to understanding God – ?God is still listening!? In our Christian faith that is what we celebrate in God?s breaking into the world in the person of Christ – to restore humanity?s relationship with God. We step out in the journey of life as individuals and collectively as church with hope in the God who creates, reconciles and sustains us.
Our statement of purpose in this church says: we walk together, nurturing our inward spiritual journey of faith and living our outward spiritual journey by practicing love and justice in our communities and the world. That is at the heart of the matter for us as church. As I mentioned last Sunday we have been blessed with a bequest from John Andrews and following worship this morning we will have opportunity to be together and talk about it. Interesting and wonderful things happen when people of faith sit and talk and listen to one another. As a church we have fine collection of hearts and heads – some mostly heart, some mostly head, some a good balanced mix of both – but together listening and sharing I think we?re pretty well equipped and I believe God equips us to do what God would have us do.
Over the years various authors have written about church typology. Back in the 80?s I really enjoyed the church typology of Lyle Schaller who said small churches were like cats – independent and they won?t die – and you don?t tell a cat what to do. The next size up was collie dog – which basically existed as ?if you love the collie dog, the collie dog will love you in return.? The next size up was garden – that took a little more organizing and tending too. And it went on from there to mansions, corporations, and what not. And he had fun talking about how cats and collie dogs sometimes get along or not – and what cats and dogs do in gardens?..
Most of you know that I?m pretty big on incarnation – at Christmas incarnation is the understanding that God came to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – but it is the presence of God in our midst – in human form. Kirk Hadaway speaks of purpose-based church typology and speaks about the ?incarnational community? – it has elements of other types such as a sense of community and caring, a sense of direction, and purposeful action. But none of those characteristics has become so predominant as to override everything else and none of them becomes the purpose of the church. The purpose is changing lives – being a community of transformation. The incarnational community is a church that embodies its purpose. Can we embody our purpose of walking together, nurturing our inward spiritual journey of faith and living our outward spiritual journey by practicing love and justice? The interesting thing about that incarnational community is one never knows precisely where God will lead or what changes the Holy Spirit will bring about. But like those people of God coming out of exile – they are filled with hope.
The image for the incarnational community type is that it can be likened to a garden which should be easy for many if not most of us to relate to. It is an organic growing system where individuals are nurtured by the community of which they are part. In turn those individuals bring their gifts to the community. It is all tended to as we tend to our gardens – and it is good to note that gardens produce good fruits for the benefit of those beyond the garden as well. But most importantly there?s an element that is transforming in the garden that we as humans have no control over. We can bring the ingredients but when mixed together something happens that we cannot predict or control. But we can be open to that mysterious power of life, change, healing, and transformation that God is.
It is my hope and prayer that as we begin conversations this morning on this wonderful blessing and opportunity before us we will be open to that unseen mysterious power – that presence of God in Christ at work in our midst. I have witnessed such conversations at work in the life of a church that led to unbelievable opportunity for community – and incarnational community as a church – I?ll share briefly before we break into small groups this morning.
Until then – please plan to bring the gift that you are to this church to our gathering – bring your heart and your head, your love and good thoughts for this church, and an openness to the presence of God in our midst.