Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sharing Gifts

Matthew 2:1-12
Luke 2:25-32

The wise men come from the east to pay homage to the one who was born King of the Jews.  The story turns to treachery and tragedy so fast in Matthew’s gospel that we scarcely have time to realize that the practitioners of another faith, most likely monotheistic Zoroastrians, travel at great length to honor a person expected to be of importance to the Jewish faith.  After the angels warn Joseph in a dream to take Mary and the child to Egypt, the people of another faith shelter the holy family.  Whether this story is historically accurate or not, Matthew’s gospel includes people of different faith traditions in honoring and sheltering Jesus.  There is a generosity of spirit and blessing surrounding Jesus’ birth.  In Luke’s gospel, wise old Simeon, a man who waited a life-time to see God’s Messiah, holds the baby and praises God saying:

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
    which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.”



Simeon proclaims that salvation and light are God’s intent for all people.  Simeon sees that God-revealing light in Jesus.  If, as Simeon declares, God’s desire is to reveal God’s self to all people, then it doesn’t make sense that God would give that revelation to one people and hope that it would get around to all people eventually.  Matthew claims that the wise men of another religion saw and rightly interpreted God’s light and honored that light among the people of Israel.  And they brought symbolic gifts.  
Is it possible that God continues to reveal God’s self to seekers all over the world in many times and places?  All of God’s self-revealing is mediated, received, understood, and communicated through human vessels.  We might think of it as light that is refracted through a prism, split into a rainbow of colors.  One of the coolest things I learned in theater is that light mixes differently from pigment in paint.  In paint, the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow which mixed in different combinations can produce green, orange, and purple.  The three pigments combined make black.  But light is different!  The three primary colors of light are red, blue, and green.  Combined in different combinations, they produce radiant colors, but if you shine the three primary colors into a single spot, the light is white.  So what if some of us see God through a red lens, and some see God through a blue lens, and some see God through a green lens?  If we shared our visions, if we combined our light, would we see God’s light more clearly?
About two weeks ago, I was the guest speaker for the dharma talk at the Zen Center’s Wednesday night service.  My topic was “Being a Reflective Practitioner,” one of the central themes of the Ministerial and Theological Integration class that I teach in the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University, a Catholic institution.   I find everything about the last two sentences of this sermon to be an unbelievable honor, as is serving as your pastor.  While the rituals may be different in the many denominations of the Christian faith, we all serve the same God.  Among the people of other faith traditions, our images of the divine may differ, but our values are the same.  I don’t know whether my talk at the Zen Center was meaningful or helpful at all, but the conversation after convinced me that the goal of our different paths is love and compassion.  
C.S. Song is a Chinese Christian theologian whose book The Believing Heart invites readers to “harvest the insights of Lao Tzu as much as Anselm and to learn from the Buddha as well as Jesus.”  He tells this story:
A long time ago an old woman provided for an ascetic for as long as twenty years.  She used to have her twenty-eight-year-old daughter bring meals to him and wait on him.
On day when the young woman brought the meals to the ascetic as usual, she held him in her arms and asked him: “What do you feel?”
The ascetic replied:  “Dry wood leaning on a chilly rock with no warmth after three winters.”
When she returned home, she reported to her mother what had taken place.
Hearing what her daughter told her, the old woman became angry and said:  “He for whom I have made provisions for twenty years is merely a man with no culture!”
She then drove the ascetic out from the hut and burnt it to the ground.
The moral of the story is that after twenty years the ascetic had not lost his preoccupation with himself.  He had not arrived at the wisdom of enlightenment and compassion for the suffering in the world.  The goal of asceticism was to return to the world of love and hate and to be a light to men and women submerged in a ‘sea of bitterness.’”
Love and compassion are at the heart of every major world religion.  I love this poster that I found years ago with quotes from other religions that mirror the golden rule.  It tells me that my Jewish, Baha’i, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sufi neighbors share common values with me and that we have gifts to share with one another.  We can learn from each other—we need to learn from each other.  When we get together as people of faith to share a celebration of gratitude at Thanksgiving each year here on the island, our practices may not allow us to worship together, but we recognize light in one another.  Brian McLaren asks how we might live out the gospel of Matthew’s invitation to share our gifts with each other and to shelter or protect each other from harm.  It’s a great question.  I thought I’d leave you with a love poem from God that comes from Kabir, an Indian poet from the late 15th and early 16th centuries.  “Kabir achieved a remarkable synthesis of Hindu, Muslim, and even Christian belief.”
What Kind of God?
What kind of God would He be
if He did not hear the
bangles ring on
an ant’s
wrist

as they move the earth
in their sweet
dance?

And what kind of god would He be
if a leaf’s prayer was not as precious to creation
as the prayer His own son sang
from the glorious depth
of his soul—
for us.

And what kind of God would He be
if the vote of millions in this world could sway Him
to change the divine
law of
love

that speaks so clearly with compassion’s elegant tongue,
saying, eternally saying:

all are forgiven—moreover, dears,
no one has ever been

guilty.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Eve Sermon: Alive at the Center

December 24, 2014

I’m glad you’re here tonight.  I imagine you’ve had a lot on your plate the last few weeks.  I have too.  But it has been sweet to hear the familiar Christmas story and to sing carols.  It has been lovely just to sit in this beautiful space and be still and perhaps rethink our images of God.  We’ve heard stories about stars and angels, shepherds and wise men—all such foreign experiences in our daily lives.  

The birth of Jesus is an invitation to rethink everything including our images of God.  Most of us hold multiple images of God from Bible stories without realizing it—some good and helpful, others maybe not so much.  Tonight we are invited to see God in a mother lovingly tending a newborn baby.  We hear God proclaim peace to the world through an angel choir.  We are invited to think of ordinary surroundings as places where God’s presence is revealed, instead of ornate temples and palaces.  In the Biblical record we can see images of God changing from those held by long-ago tribes who worshiped multiple gods to Yahweh, the living God of Israel whose name was I Am.  Even images of Yahweh were transformed over the years as human experiences of God grew more relational and less fearful.  

But Jesus knew God in a different way.  His relationship was intimate and loving.  When we look at God through Jesus’ eyes, we see an infinitely loving parent who desires healing and wholeness for each one of us.  Can you imagine God loving you that way?  It’s true.  The gift of Christmas is God’s extraordinary love revealed in a human child.  We are invited to feel the pulse of that love when we hold a newborn child; to feel protective and over the moon—consumed by love as vast and deep as the ocean.

That’s how you are loved tonight and every day and night of your life.  Just because you are you, unique in the universe, and precious to God.  The love light of God is shining on you, tonight and always.  We may not feel God’s presence or that love light all the time.  But when we choose to honor God’s light in others and in creation, light and love and abundant life bubble up within us like a fountain.  So when you imagine all the light and love that surrounds the baby in the manger, know that the same light and love surround you, Beloved of God.     

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good News for All People

Psalm 34:1-18
Luke 2:8-20

At one of the UMW’s last yard sales, one of the women spotted the beautiful crèche that is displayed on our chancel.  It is lovely in its detail and includes all of the people in the Matthew and Luke’s gospels: Mary and Joseph and the baby, the shepherds and their sheep, angels, wise men and their camels.  And there is one more figure that we never put out—a roman soldier holding a sword.  He’s not in the birth narratives.  Neither is the little drummer boy that I do put in the crèche and that is included in the advent calendar that hangs inside the front door of our home every year.  I put up the little drummer boy, probably because I like the song and the number of days on an advent calendar has to come out right.  But I always put the Roman soldier back in his Styrofoam container high on a shelf in the storage closet because, seriously, he doesn’t belong.  Historically, the Jews were hoping for a Messiah that would conquer Rome and return their freedom as a people.  So when the angels proclaim the Messiah’s birth, it should have been bad news for Rome (and Roman soldiers).  But when I listen carefully, I realize that the angel didn’t proclaim good news to Israel or Judah or Jews in general, but for all people.  Could it really be political if the news actually was good news for all people?     
The angels first shared the news with some shepherds, a few of the people who had one of the least desirable jobs around.  Theirs was lonely and dangerous work.  They worked in the dark while the rest of the world slept.  Who else would have been awake in the middle of the night to hear good news?  My guess is that they would have been the least political folks around, and also some of the poorest.  What would be good news for the shepherds?  What would be good news for poor people?   Could news that was good for poor people also be good news for rich people?   Can the good news be economic if it really is good news for all people?  
What on earth can be good news for all people?  For people on Vashon, in France or India, on Australia or in South Africa, in Israel, Palestine, Russia, the Ukraine, Syria, Pakistan, and Korea?  How can a baby being born be good news for all people?  
I wonder if it is because the person that baby became really saw people.  Jesus saw the people other people looked over and passed by.  He saw children and stopped to bless them.  He saw a woman alone at a well and a man high up in a tree and engaged them in life-changing conversations.  He saw tax collectors and fishermen and called them friends.  He heard lepers and blind men call his name and healed them.  He offered a woman caught in adultery forgiveness and saved her life.  He knew when his disciples were afraid and offered them peace.  He calmed stormy seas and stormy lives.  He even knew the habits of birds and fish.  He heard anguished parents’ pleas for help and healed their children.  He felt a woman reach out to touch his robe hoping for a miracle.  And he commended the faith of a Roman soldier who sought help on behalf of his servant and he even stopped to restore the ear of a Roman soldier on his way to be crucified.  He comforted thieves dying beside him.  Jesus noticed.  He saw people and responded to their pain.  Jesus saw people and loved them, even the ones who turned away, even the ones who harmed him.  And in Jesus, we see the heart of God opened wide, made visible in human flesh and blood.  We see what God-With-Us means.  
Perhaps the good news for everyone is that God knows us—really sees and knows who we are and hears our cries of joy and sorrow, pain and guilt.  And God is with us, individually, and in the space between, offering life and healing, forgiveness and comfort.  We are not alone.  Our lives matter and God will work in and through us for our good, if we are willing.  Even when we are not willing, God is there.  Even when everything goes wrong, God is there and we are held in love.  No matter what our circumstance, the one who saves us from ourselves and heals us is there, loving us no matter what.  
The quotation on the cover of the bulletin says:
God comes to the woman who feels in exile in her own marriage, for the man who grieves the loss of life dreams.  God comes to the child who lives on the street, for the parents who struggle to feed and clothe their children.  God comes to the one whose loneliness or depression intensifies every Christmas. . . .
    . . . Emmanuel—God-with-Us—is coming to us, to meet us wherever we are—happy or sad, joyous or grieving.  God comes to stand with us, whatever our condition.  

That knowledge, held deep in our bones, could change everything.  And when we know that God loves the other persons in our lives as unconditionally as we are loved, maybe we could live in peace.  Henri Nouwen writes:

Real freedom to live in this world comes from hearing clearly the truth about who we are, which is that we are the beloved.  That’s what prayer is about.  And that’s why is so crucial and not just a nice thing to do once in a while.  It is the essential attitude that creates in us the freedom to love other people not because they are going to love us back but because we are so loved and out of the abundance of that love we want to give.

So this year, I’m putting the Roman soldier in the crèche where he, too, belongs.  Because the good news of God’s loving presence is for everyone.  Every person.  No matter what!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Power vs. Compassion

Micah 5:2-5a
Matthew 1:18-2:18

How many of us lost power this week?  We lost ours on Thursday night around 6:30 p.m.  We lit our candles, got out our Nooks and settled in for a few hours of candlelit leisure.  But because the wind was so strong, and we know what falling trees can do, we decided to sleep in the living room.  Adventure sleeping!  We have a little lantern that holds a tea light.  We left that burning, because it was safe and contained, as we extinguished all the candles and tried to find a comfortable place to sleep.  The lantern has a circle of cut out stars in the lid to allow oxygen to feed the little flame.  Not until all the other flames were extinguished, did we noticed the circle of stars, each one the size of your hand, glowing on the ceiling. Starlight on our ceiling from one tiny candle! 

I don’t have to tell you that sometime during the night the adventure wore off.  We had appointments in Seattle in the morning.  We hoped the lights would come back on by morning, but just in case, we made contingency plans.  Fortunately the lights were back on when we woke up.  What a gift to be able to see clearly again!  

Now I know that all metaphors break down, but one of the central themes of the Advent season is waiting in the dark for the light to appear.  Yes, the days are getting shorter, almost oppressively so at this time of year.  But there is also the hope that we will acknowledge the darkness and pain in our world, and recognize God’s light and a path to peace in the life of Jesus.  The birth narrative that we read this morning admits that the birth of Jesus did not create peace.  In fact it ignited Herod’s fear that his position as Rome’s puppet king was precarious.  We know from historical accounts that “he assassinated anyone he considered a threat—including his wife and two of his own sons.”  So whether the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem can be authenticated historically, it is true to Herod’s character and actions.  Herod gripped power with bloody hands and no conscience.  We hear this horrific story and are appalled, as I think Matthew’s gospel intends us to be.  We will never know whether Matthew reported a true incident in Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, or whether he artfully recreated the legendary storied of the Hebrew people’s first liberator, Moses, to frame the life of promised Messiah.  Matthew’s story involves the holy family in the all too frequent modern exodus of refugees fleeing from unholy terror.

There has to be another way or we are doomed as a species to continue the awful atrocities of our history, either as victims or perpetrators, and sometimes both.  We live in a world where we have witnessed more atrocities than we can bear, and perhaps that has made us numb.  How is it that we can hear the awful news of genocides, we see photos of children who are the innocent victims of bombs; watch wars, riots, and horrific brutality on TV and somehow go back to eating dinner.  

When I watch the news, I am disturbed and angry, but I also feel helpless because the darkness is so terribly dark and the pain seemingly unbearable—and, I am ashamed to say, it has not touched my life.  innocents.  But Matthew is also telling us that violence bookends the life of Jesus.  Violence is the raging dark that threatens to overwhelm the world.  

I know you didn’t come to church this morning for a dose of despair.  The lights going out this week reminds me of why we need this dousing with cold water in Advent.  It’s just too easy to sentimentalize Christmas and forget that it is about light shining in darkness.  John’s gospel proclaims, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” 

We could go to bed Thursday night with stars on our ceiling after sitting in the dark.  But as the flame flickered out and time passed, we made alternate plans for living without our lights, hot water, and heat for home and food.  It was an “Oh well” moment for me.  It’s dark, I can’t do much about it, so I’d better prepare to live with it.  And that’s how we often engage with the pain and violence in the world.  

We are invited in the four weeks of Advent to take into our hearts the pain of our world and lift it up in the hope that God will lead us to light.  We may need to take our hands away from our ears, uncover our eyes, so that we can hear how deep the pain is, how unrelenting the cries of the poor, the victims of war and racism, those who live in constant fear.  We are invited into thorny questions about how power is used and abused, how violence is employed to retain power, and how war kills not only combatants, but innocents.  These are difficult questions.  And every year we are also invited to recognize in Jesus the vision and heart of God that chooses compassion over power.  We are invited to “let our hearts be broken with the things that break the heart of God.”  We are invited to moments of wonder and reflection on the Church’s audacious claim that, unlike humans and governments who rule and subjugate by violence, God gifts the world with light and peace through the birth of a child—not only Jesus, but all who would follow him.  We could be light for the world.  We could be makers of peace.  We could be healers of the wounds of at least our small part of the world if we could recognize that violence, fear, and anxiety live within our own hearts. 

To find that deep well of compassion we must know that we are victims and we are terrorists. Compassion helps us understand the fears and anxiety that can lead to violence. Compassion draws us toward a desire for economic justice, for racial justice, and for just relations in and among nations.  Compassion tells us that every person needs to live peacefully under his or her vine or fig tree, the Biblical vision of agency and well-being.  How do we start?  By doing one thing, and then the next thing.  Where do we start?  With what breaks your heart.     

One tiny flame threw starlight on our ceiling in spite of the darkness.  There is so much darkness in our world.  But darkness only exists as the absence of light.  Even the smallest light begins to dispel darkness.  Christ’s light.  Your light.  My light.  Like the dawn that is almost imperceptible as it begins, the light gathers until we can see clearly.  Night will come again, but it will be followed by the dawn.  Okay, every metaphor breaks down eventually, so how about a parable from South Africa, retold by Trevor Hudson, in which a wise old spiritual master had a conversation with his disciples:  
Once he asked them, “How can we know when the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming?”
The disciples were quiet for a moment, and then one answered, “When we can see a tree in the distance and know that it is an elm and not a juniper.”  Another responded, “When we can see an animal, and know that it is a fox and not a wolf.”
“No,” said the old man, “those things will not help us.”
Puzzled, the students asked, “How then can we know?”
The master leaned over and said to them quietly, “We know the darkness is leaving and the dawn is coming when we can see another person and know that this is our brother or our sister; for otherwise, no matter what time it is, it is still dark.”

We are invited in this season of Advent to reimage Jesus, not as the one time solution, but as an embodied reflection of God’s light that dispels darkness by revealing power secured through violence for the fraud that it is, and to offer ourselves as conduits of that light.

Let us pray:
Guerillas of light?

Awed to Heaven?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Expecting Wonders

Isaiah 7:14, 9:2-7
Luke 1:5-55
Romans 12:1-2

I asked Steve to read the whole of the gospel reading this morning instead of the shorter version I chose for the bulletin because I think the two pregnancy stories have something profound to say to the church in the 21st century.  Elizabeth’s story mirrors Sarah’s pregnancy in the Hebrew scriptures in which a woman long past child-bearing years becomes pregnant and bears a child promised by an angel.  In that story, Sarah laughed at the idea—until she found herself pregnant.  In Luke’s gospel, it’s Zechariah that can’t believe the angel’s impossible message.  Most churches mainline congregations have aged significantly.  The faithful have grown older.  A few of our children remained in or have come back to the church, but most have not.  We can no longer do the things we used to love doing—things we believed were important and wished that we still had the energy to do.  
And maybe we have become world-weary.  We have lived through enough history that we know how unrealistic some of the prophetic hopes are.  I find myself looking at them with a sad nostalgia because I don’t see the kind of progress that I used to believed was possible.  As much as I love the prophecies of peace and visions of the Kingdom of God, I know that in my lifetime, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction.  We always seem to be at war, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and the divide wider.  There was a time when the church actively sought solutions for the ills of society.  The Church created hospitals and orphanages.  The Church formed Sunday schools to teach children who worked in factories six days a week how to read.  The point was to teach children whose work supported their families how to read—the Bible was their text.  The Church founded schools and universities to educate the poor.  The Church advocated for the end of slavery.  The Church created soup kitchens during the Great Depression.  Most of these improvements to society eventually came under the purview governments or private industry as their value was recognized.   
But we live in a time when the church no longer seems to matter very much in our culture.  Even though we have been given good news to share, our voice has become mostly irrelevant.  For all practical purposes, we are as mute as Zechariah.  God has seemingly impossible work that needs to be done, but we see a glass that is so much less than half full because our experience tells us that what once seemed possible is improbable.  
And yet, and yet, Elizabeth’s story tells us that God can raise from our aging Church a prophet, or prophets, that will prepare the way for the Lord.  The prophet Joel tells us that our old men will dream dreams.  And isn’t that one of the iconic images of our time, a prophet named Martin proclaiming his dream?  The urgency of that dream remains to be fulfilled as we see daily in riots and demonstrations all across our nation.  We can dream the Kingdom of God and raise up prophets who cry out for justice that may seem impossible, but can be won.
In Luke’s birth narrative, the aged Elizabeth is overwhelmed with joy when she greets her young relative Mary whose youthful response to the angel’s message was, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  For Mary, the future is a blank page where anything is possible, even the seemingly impossible fulfillment of the prophet’s visions of a world made new—of peace realized because justice has been attained.  Several years ago, I attended a United Methodist School of Congregational Development.  We were given a list of congregations that were on the cutting edge and invited to worship with them.  One church I visited set up worship each week in the cafeteria of the local high school.  The other was a new church start that was ready to move into a church building, but had not found one willing to share their space until they found a United Methodist church with a handful of aging members who offered to let the new church rent space and worship on Sunday afternoons.  A few of the morning worshipers attended an afternoon service and came back to report on their experience.  The afternoon group, who called themselves Jacob’s Well, were a vibrant group of young adults with some young families.  The older church members decided that God was calling them to give away their church.  Most of them loved their worship style and chose to join other churches.  But four members decided to stay and worship with Jacob’s Well.  The music and worship style didn’t move them, but they wanted to financially support something that was giving others new life.  They were like Elizabeth beholding Mary with joy!  
The night I worshiped at Jacob’s Well, there was a black out in the neighborhood right in the middle of worship so we finished the service by spur of the moment candlelight.  There was a worship band with enough musicians to take turns, creating an A band and a B band, each with about ten members.  The musicians were writing their own worship music and putting old hymns to modern tunes.  The sanctuary was full.  The pastor invited us to take communion as our way of joining Jesus in dangerous ministry, signing up to be ready to respond in love to whatever God sent our way.  We were joining the people of God on a mission to reveal the Kingdom of God.  There was an urgency to taking communion.  Are you in or not?!  The message was true to the gospel, but unlike any I had ever heard preached with an urgency toward social justice that called for action now.  They could sing Mary’s song with hope and commitment because the future was theirs to write.  
God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.   

Brian McLaren suggests the two improbable birth stories that Luke tells may be designed to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible.  I believe that God is birthing a new Church.  Those of us who have been faithful are being given the gift of preparing for that birth.  We are blessed indeed!  That gives me a new sense of hope in watching and waiting.  I am not afraid of what God will do next with this church or the greater Church.  Whether we raise up prophets or say, “Here I am,” God is moving in a powerful way.  

Hope Prepares for a Different Future

November 30, 2014

Isaiah 40:9-11
Luke 1:67-79

What’s on your wish list for Christmas this year?  This is the time of year that every retailer wants to convince you that their item needs to be on your or your loved one’s list, whether it’s a toy, or a cruise, or a car.  Or maybe you’re looking for wish lists from your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews.  We just helped our daughter and son-in-law take the photo for their Christmas card.  In one shot, their 2 year-old son is holding a chalk board with his “Wish List: □Baby sister or □Baby brother.”  This is no idle wish.  Their family is actually preparing for a new baby, due in June.  
Advent is the season when the Church talks about hope.  Hope is different from wishing.   I can remember the thrill of the Sears Christmas catalog arriving in the mail when I was a little girl.  So many toys!  Which ones would we put on our wish list?  We turned our wishes into hopes by actively lobbying—well, maybe nagging is a better word—let’s say pestering our parents.  But the truth is, that we had little or no control over the outcome.  As an adult, I can wish for something that’s totally impossible, like being taller, but I can’t do anything to make that happen.  And that’s part of the difference between wishing and hoping—whether we have any control over the outcome.  Well, maybe that’s not completely true.  I wish for a number of things over which I have control, but I am not invested enough in the outcome to work toward it.  For instance, I wish I could lose weight.  But I don’t try very hard.  My daily response when I stand on the scale is, “Today I have to lose weight.”  Then I go about my day, never thinking about it again.  Seriously, never giving it another thought.  My mind may say I want to lose weight, but my heart is thinking, “Oh well.” That’s the difference between wishing and hoping.  Wishing can say, “Oh well,” and keep going in the same direction.  Hope makes us roll up our sleeves and work toward our dream.  
So what does the Church mean when we talk about hope during Advent?  We are not hoping for a baby that will be born, even though it can look like that.  The prophet Isaiah is often called the fifth gospel because it proclaimed good news in the times that it was written.  It called Israel and Judah to abandon unjust practices and embrace ways of living that make for a blessed community.  Isaiah envisioned a time when people would beat their swords into plowshare and not learn how to make war any longer.  Isaiah calls the people to car for the most vulnerable in their society, the widows and orphans.  That’s what war creates—widows and orphans.  Isaiah envisions the poor being cared for.  My favorite chapter is the 58th, near the end of Isaiah that sums up what Isaiah hears God saying.

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
   to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
   and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation
  that practiced righteousness
  and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
   they delight to draw near to God.

"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest
       on your fast day,
  and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
   and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
   will not make your voice heard on high.

Is such the fast that I choose,
   a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
   and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
   a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
   to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
   and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
   the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
   you shall cry for help,
       and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger,
   the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually,
   and satisfy your needs in parched places,
   and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
   like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
   you shall raise up the foundations
       of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
   the restorer of streets to live in.

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
  from pursuing your own interests
       on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
   and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
   serving your own interests,
   or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
   and I will make you ride upon
       the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage
       of your ancestor Jacob,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.  

I try to hear these words for our nation and culture.  Is there any hope that we could beat our weapons into plows?  There is a group of people who are transforming guns into gardening tools.  It’s a small effort, but it captures the imagination.  Is there any hope that our government could not learn war anymore?  Or is that an empty wish, a pipe dream?  A religious fantasy?
Isaiah hopes for a different future, and lays out a plan that builds a Beloved Community instead of destroying others and itself in the process.  Isaiah envisions individuals who are courageous enough to care for God’s people and build God’s Kingdom because God cares for the people as a shepherd cares for his sheep.  
In Luke’s gospel, the priest Zechariah, prays a blessing that echoes Isaiah over his son John, who would later be called the Baptist.  Zechariah envisions his infant son being one of those courageous leaders who would call the people back to God’s dream of the Beloved Community.  And here’s our hope comes in.  Christians all over the world prays Zechariah’s prayer every morning to hear these words:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Our hope comes from individuals who hear their own names being called to be prophets of the most high God, to go before the Lord preparing the way, offering restoration and wholeness through mercy and forgiveness so that we all might experience the dawn of God’s Kingdom and find our way into peace.  You child, and you child, and you child, and me.  May we put our hearts and hands and feet into our hopes for peace.  It will never happen if it remains only a wish.  You child, and you child, and you are God’s hope for peace.