Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sermon: Just for the Messiah

Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:5, 7
I suppose that there is one thing that is obvious from our recent
Presidential election. People have a deep desire for a political leader who will bring us a better life. We differ strongly on what that means to each of us. But the fact remains that within us there is this longing for someone to step forward and lead us into a more perfect future.
Isaiah has captured that deep human longing in his writing that we read earlier. But he is not talking about just any political leader. He is talking about the perfect one, the one who is from God, the messiah, the culmination of God’s work in the world to bring justice, righteousness, peace and prosperity.
What makes the passage particularly powerful is that Isaiah describes the messiah. He looks deep into the human heart and says what we really want and need from our savior are these characteristics. We want someone who is truly wise and understanding, we want someone who is able to plan and who is strong, we want someone who has a knowledge and awe of God. We want a person who doesn’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay, who judges the needy with righteousness, and decides things with equity. We want to see evil punished, and we want to be led into a new world where miracles happen in creation and our relationships within it. We want see an end of people treating each other like predator and prey, we want all to be in peace.
We want, no we need, all of that from our messiah.
Because we live in a world that often isn’t like this. “In our world, wolves eat lambs and bears spit out straw to devour goats. What sort of sentimental clap-trap is this” picture of Isaiah’s with animals at peace.[1] Our world is more dog eat dog than leopard grazing on grace. We see that in the natural world every day. We see it in human interactions: society treats some people like they don’t matter and then people kill police officers or go on shooting sprees because they are mad at society. If people can’t get it, certainly wolves and bears won’t. And yet, perhaps what Isaiah is envisioning isn’t meant to be natural, maybe it is meant to be supernatural, beyond natural. A vision of interaction in which the fundamental rules of life are changed.
Recently my daughter Hannah received a number of angry e-mails from parents which she summarized as saying: "The world is cold and cruel. It is shameful and pathetic that you are treating students so gently in the aftermath of the election. These students need to learn how to cope with the real world, which is disrespectful, harsh, and generally unkind. By coddling them, you are leaving them unprepared for life. I'm embarrassed and horrified that you are treating students like small children and not like adults who need to grow up and learn to deal with the fact that people are going to mistreat them."[2]
Hannah’s response: “But why does the world have to be so intrinsically cold and cruel?” You see, she has a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision, where there is hope for something totally different.
I think each of us has a deep longing for that. A longing for a messiah who changes the rules. Who teaches us not to harm or destroy any more. We want that hope, we want to know that the kingdom of God cannot be overcome, it will not be overcome. God will prevail. We want to be reminded Christ has come. The messiah is real. His realm and reign is real.
But then the big question hit me:
is it enough to just expect our messiah to be different from the world? In other words, if this is the deepest desire of our hearts, if this is how we want the world to work, shouldn’t we start living like that now! Again, as I read the passage I am struck by how this is in many ways an ideal for all of us to strive for.
Now you may be saying to yourself. No, this is just a vision for how our leader will live. The rest of us can go on living in whatever manner we want. But that simply isn’t very biblical.
As followers of Christ, the one that we proclaim the messiah, we should also be striving to be like him in our character. Romans 15:5, 7 says, “May the God of endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude toward each other, similar to Christ Jesus’ attitude. . . . So welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory.” Here’s the thing, if it is our deepest human desire for our messiah to have these traits, it also ought to be our deepest human desire to have them ourselves – and we ought to be striving to live them in our lives.
So Hannah’s response to the letters was: “If we all treated each other with respect and understanding instead of shouting insults at people and then telling them to suck it up because that's "real life", the world would be a better place. If we all spent less time showing young people how harsh the world is and more time teaching young people how to be kind and understanding to people who are different, "real life" wouldn't have to be full of disrespect and inequality. If instead of leaving hateful messages on the bulletin boards and sidewalks, we all participated in open conversations, support groups, and, yes, even self-care coloring book sessions, we wouldn't have to learn to "cope" with the cruelty of the real world, because the real world wouldn't have to be cruel.”
What she is saying, without being directly religious about it, is that when we begin to take on the characteristics of Christ, we bring Isaiah’s vision to reality. So we need to be people of wisdom and understanding, we need to be people of planning and strength, we need to be people who have a spirit of knowledge and awe of God. We need to learn to stop judging by appearances, or deciding by hearsay, but judge the needy with righteousness, and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land. We need to be willing to punish evil, and put righteousness and faithfulness first.
As we do that, the ideal world that we desire, begins to unfold before us, just a little at a time.

Robert Frazier as an engineer, scientist, and a student of history,

studied every shred of data and evidence he could find on big-picture trends – trends spanning multiple centuries and geographies. In his book Kingdom Horizon: 8 Reasons Why Earth’s Greatest Days Are Unfolding he explains that the data show that every measurable socio-economic factor with data spanning geographies and multiple centuries shows improvement. The share of people living in poverty, deaths from natural disasters, homicides, and epidemics; all of these are down. Life expectancy is up. Too often as Christians he reminds us that we get caught up in doom and gloom when we should know that God’s kingdom will not be overcome.
By living out these messianic values, we have changed the world. And we can keep changing it. But it is up to us to be people who live out the dream, who stick to the vision of what true goodness looks like. We must draw upon that deep human desire which God has implanted within us, and become like Christ, as much as we can.
On that day, the root of Jesse will stand as a signal to the peoples, not just because of who he is, but also because what he has done through us. The nations will then seek him out, and his dwelling will truly be glorious.
People there is hope. Great hope. Our messiah is everything that we want and need. And he dwells within us. Here, in our hearts. Never leaving us, never deserting us. I believe that through his presence in our lives, through his unending love, we are being reshaped, our world is being changed, and a day will come where we will not harm or destroy anymore, and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, just as the water covers the sea.

[1] The Hope of Peace, John C. Holbert, http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Hope-of-Peace
[2] Hannah McPherson facebook message, November 15, 2016

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