Join David Barnes as we celebrate Epiphany Sunday.
Upon your walls, O Jerusalem, I have posted sentinels; all day and all night they shall never be silent. You who remind the Lord, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it renowned throughout the earth. The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in my holy courts.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples. The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” They shall be called, “The Holy People, The Redeemed of the Lord”; and you shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”
Good morning and a happy new year to you all! Today’s reading is, I believe, a perfect place to begin 2017. It serves as both a reminder and a comfort that our God is not a God who reneges on promises. Let’s set some context from our scripture verses as a starting point and see where it takes us…
Juliana Claassens, Professor of the Old Testament at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa says that the passage “speaks about restoration, about redemption, about salvation. The images used to describe this joyful change in Judah’s circumstances are of homecoming, of God preparing the way for the people, of building a highway for them to go home after being for so long in exile in Babylon”.
Remember also that once again the people have come into hard times. They have suffered greatly at the hands of the Babylonians. They have been rejected, thought of as being less than and that feeling of abandonment is once again upon them. They know what they want and they know who can provide it for them and once again, the Lord is with them. Isaiah, the voice who speaks almost as loudly in the new testament as he does in the old utter these words:
“The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink the wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in my holy courts.”
Powerful words indeed and as I said earlier, very appropriate to the times we live in. Claassens continues, “The prophet’s hopeful message of deliverance and salvation occurs when everything is still pretty much in shambles. And yet Isaiah’s words that attest to “Vision over Visibility” to quote one of U2’s songs, draw our attention to the small acts of liberation in the here and now, as evident in the reassembly of the community, the sharing of a meal, the laughter where there had been tears, the candles lighting up the darkness, which are exemplified in the sound of the bells ringing in Christmas.”
Let me move away from scripture now and talk about the past year and in particular, this past Advent and Christmas. For many people, 2016 was a struggle to endure. If there weren’t bad things happening to you, they were happening to your friends, family, country and yes, the whole world. Political upheaval that had family members at each other’s throats, a refugee crisis of staggering complexity; this place, home, ‘hood, however you frame the place where you are, suddenly and inexplicably became something of a mystery. If you weren’t reminded of that by the people you talked to, you always had the gift of Facebook and other social media to remind you that something was seriously wrong.
And how did we react to this all? Fits of rage, tears, damaged relationships, broken families. I thrive on hope. No, maybe it’s more like I need hope to survive and don’t believe I’m alone in this. I’ve done without food and shelter in my life and I know what it is like to have no place to call home but I always made it somehow because I had hope. But honestly, I was running on empty…
I have no interest in talking about politics this morning so have nothing to say about the election except to say that it was perhaps a crystalizing point of time in the year. What had once been an abstract thought became a reality and the good news to me was at least we had something to move on from. But where to move to? And even more unsettling was where was God?
In November, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the San Francisco Interfaith Council’s Thanksgiving breakfast. I came out of need and left with a heart full of gratitude. People of faith together, breaking bread, sharing words of hope and strength and faith. I was beginning to see a glimmer of light that might have been a star.
Then there was Advent at Calvary and that glimmer of light became more of a fire as I saw people together, a community of believers, lighting the Advent candles, singing together, eager to talk to each other and so anxious to avoid anything toxic that it was almost like a new language was being spoken. There was a pageant with a giraffe and a dinosaur, pack a sack, our youth made care kits for SafeHouse on Sunday mornings and we once again witnessed Linus define Christmas in a way that only a child could. I left the church on Christmas morning feeling like a different person and I wept out of gratitude.
You’ve just heard me mention my sister Susan in the children’s message and to my sister and I, Epiphany was something special. That came to us from our mother Barbara who believed in Jesus like no-one I’ve ever known before. The Jesus of love who was born in a manger full of sweet hay, kind and loving animals and very much looked as beautiful as Zander, the young man I just baptized. To my mom, Epiphany was the good housekeeping seal on the virgin birth, officially notarized by the wise men. My mom has been gone for a while now but I think of her a lot this time of year because of things like this.
We, like the people Isaiah talked about spent much of the past year feeling very much forsaken. No matter what side of the path you were on, right or left, conservative or liberal, there was an emptiness there that only hope could fill. And hope my friends is something that is surprisingly abundant when you go looking for it. Go to a shelter and prepare a meal, stop and talk to someone that looks like they need a friendly ear, travel to a place you have never thought about going to and discover it.
You see the sign out there that says everyone is welcome? Really welcome? Make it so that it is so known about Calvary, that signs aren’t even necessary! Most importantly, show your trust in the Lord by showing faith in the Lord’s people. That city not forsaken is the world we live in and as long as we have God by our side, the hope that surpasses and surprises all understanding will sustain us once again.