“Changing the Future”
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, UCC
August 28, 2022
Isaiah 58:9-14 NRSV
9Then 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, 10if 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. 11The 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. 12Your 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.
13If 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; 14then 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 get all my information only from the most reliable sources. You know, like Facebook and the internet and stuff. I picked this topic over a month ago, “Changing the Future.” This week I read this – I think its called a “meme” – that showed Spock, from Star Trek, talking to his younger self, or maybe his son, talking to him, not sure which, but it said:
“When people speak of traveling to the past, they worry about radically changing the future by doing something small, but barely anyone in the present thinks they can radically change the future by doing something small today.”
Think about that a moment. Have you ever thought about the power you have to change the future, just by doing something small today? We all feel pretty powerless most of the time, but what if we all claimed our power to change the future by doing something small today to make the future radically better? And what if we kept doing those small things day after day? Is that worth our effort? Is that a commitment we are willing to make?
Our Scripture reading today is basically about how God wants us to change the future. The words come from thousands of years ago. They are attributed to a man named Isaiah. If you are not a history buff, forgive me these few words about him. He proclaimed his words of wisdom somewhere around 700 years before Jesus of Nazareth was born.
According to the Brittanica Encyclopedia [ one of those sources of wisdom we used to use before the internet, although I did read this online at their website! ], the book of Isaiah tells us that Isaiah had a vision from God. “He became agonizingly aware of God’s need for a messenger to the people of Israel, and, despite his own sense of inadequacy, he offered himself for God’s service: ‘Here am I! Send me.’” This was his commission “to give voice to the divine word. It was no light undertaking; he was to condemn his own people and watch the nation crumble and perish. As he tells it, he was only too aware that, coming with such a message, he would experience bitter opposition, willful disbelief, and ridicule, to withstand which he would have to be inwardly fortified. All this came to him in the form of a vision and ended as a sudden, firm, and lifelong resolve.”
The Brittanica also described Isaiah’s message as one that emphasized that God’s “sympathies were emphatically with the victimized poor, not with the Kings and well-to-do.” In addition, he did not approve of the religious leaders of his day. His words include and “unreserved condemnation of the priests and their domain.” In other words, he spoke loudly and clearly about what must change in Israel in order to change the future for the better.
The words we read this morning state it clearly. Israel had suffered in exile. They had been conquered, and hauled off to other lands, in bondage. They were not free. They are back in Jerusalem, but the walls of the city are destroyed and they don’t know who will “repair the breach,” the hole in the wall of the city where their enemies came through to conquer them. Isaiah tells them they can change their future, if they seek to live by God’s values, and God’s vision. To do so they had to “remove the yoke from among you.” In other words stop enslaving their own people in poverty and injustice. They had to stop “speaking evil.” They needed to “offer their food to the hungry,” and satisfied “the needs of the afflicted.” Then the future would change for them. Their “light [would] rise in the darkness and their gloom to be like the noonday.” Then God would guide them “continually and satisfy [their] needs in parched places.”
Also, Isaiah promised that doing what God calls us to do would result in a beautiful future. Their bones would be made strong. Their lives will be like a “a watered garden, a spring of water, that never fails.” Their “ancient ruins will be rebuilt,” and they will be known as people who repaired their city, their nation. And God would call those who did this work, “Repairers of the Breach.” In other words they helped rebuild the strength, the defenses, the hope of protection for the city. That’s the future God promised them and still promises us today. The question is are we willing to do what it takes to change the future? Will we be “Repairers of the Breach?”
In answer to that, first, let me commend you all. This church is already part of changing the future. You, as part of this church, are part of changing the future for the better. Your support for the food banks and feeding the hungry at “God’s Kitchen” each month are small ways to do exactly what God demands of us. Your support of the Barnabus fund, which aids locals and travelers with needs for food, gas, and utility expenses are exactly what this passage says we need to be doing. There are probably a half dozen other examples that pre-date me being here that you have done. These are good things.
This morning what I want to do is encourage you “not to grow weary in well-doing” as the Apostle Paul once wrote. And I want to encourage you to realize that those who actively invert the meaning of words like “freedom,” “faith,” “Christian values,” and “democracy” do not own the future. They may be like a wave that is coming at us. It seems big because it seems like it is all around us, but it is not the storm surge of the 1935 hurricane. We must continue to call out the falsehoods of those who want to take over our churches, our state, our nation. We must speak the truth to the abuse of power and privilege as the prophet did.
To me the perversity of the values of many who claim to be pro-freedom, pro-Christianity, and even “protectors of democracy” strike me as like the family of a man I read about this week. They were calling their son’s wife an, well, “butthole,” because the wife had thrown him out of her house and sent him back to live with his parents. The woman had written in to some website asking if she was the “butthole.” She had ordered him out of the house and back to live with his own parents because over the year or so they were married he refused to go to work full-time, took money from her to party with his friends all day, quit his part-time job without ever telling her, lied to her about looking for a new job, and wouldn’t even take care of the house while she was at work, or cook the meals or anything. And his parents were calling her the “a-hole” word. She asked the internet for its verdict. Of course, most people agreed that the in-laws were the – well, you-know-what- holes. The best response was one that said his parents were just upset because they had finally gotten the freeloading jerk out of their house and now he was back mooching off them again. It’s pretty clear to me that although the man’s parents are calling her a name, it is the son who is the real “you-know-what.” To me this is the equivalent of people calling taking away freedoms freedom, accusing others of abusive behavior when they are abusive, and a bunch of other things that people do today that are the exact opposite of what they say it is.
My point is we have always lived in a world where people called bad good, wrong right, and down up. But we do not have to give those people power to take over. Just because they are loud, or seem powerful, the reality is that they are plagued by a disease with symptoms including, ignorance, prejudice, anger-issues, and confusion about reality. Our job is not to change them. Our job is to be sure they do not change us or give in to their version of reality. Our job is to keep working to change the future to fit God’s vision.
God communicated the vision for our world clearly: do what is right, even - or maybe especially – for the powerless, the poor, the immigrant, the physically and spiritually unwell. Do not cheat justice in the courts or enslave others. Jesus put these things in the positive form: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The one who does good to the least of these my brothers and sisters does them to me. I came to serve and not to be served. I have washed your feet as an example that you should do unto others. These were the values Jesus gave us.
There’s one more truth in this passage. One Biblical scholar points out that the word in Isaiah translated as bread, means far more than bread. She says, most English translations misunderstand the word Nephesh from the Hebrew. “The text does not say to give food to the hungry, but to give one’s whole being. Nephesh is repeated a second time for emphasis in regards to satisfying the oppressed.” She adds, “In return, [our] light will rise out of the darkness and [our] whole being (nephesh) will be satisfied, continually nourished (“you shall be like a watered garden”), and have a future (“you shall raise up the foundations of many generations”)” [ Shauna Hannan, workingpreacher.com, August 22, 2010. ] That’s the incredible demand God makes of us – our whole being. In return, God promises us a blessed future, filled with plenty for everyone. Are we willing to trust God’s promises?
We live in a critical time. Maybe more than some, maybe not as much as others, but surely a critical time. We may be tempted to give up, or run away. But the future is in God’s hands, not those who want to snatch it from God. The only question is will we give in to those who want to steal God’s vision? Or will we commit our “nephesh,” our “whole being” to doing every little thing we can – and every big thing we can – to the reality that God wants for us?
The song we are about to sing proclaims, “these are the days of Elijah, of righteousness being restored.” We can change the future for better. And if we do, Isaiah tells us God will give us the title: “Repairer of the Breach!” You and I, called to be “Repairers of the Breach.” Is that worth our effort? AMEN.