Ever had the thought…this is never going to get better? Ever wonder if it will always be this way and nothing is going to change? It is difficult to believe things could really be any different. We imagine a new world, hope for things to change, look for signs to see where God is at work. And then we notice what we really see… fighting and backstabbing, lying and cheating, bullying and degrading. And that’s on the 6 am news before the day even gets started. Children are starving around the world and many of the world’s diseases could be prevented with something as simple as clean water. Greed rules the day and selfishness is the theme of so many.
Even in the church, the place where we should be seeking and striving for a new way, it is difficult to imagine sometimes. If we are honest about it…we tend to be judgmental and cruel…we tend to think that people should act a certain way, dress a certain way, have their hair a certain way, smell a certain way, and should adapt to our way of life. We don’t have a lot of patience for those that are different and if we do for a moment, it is because we have the expectation that they will soon enough change to be who we want them to be. We don’t have a lot of experience with other cultures so we dismiss them. We don’t understand our differences so we seek to eliminate rather than to embrace them. We don’t often take the time to know someone else’s story because we are waiting for them to change. We like the way things are and to do anything different would be…out of the question – even if we don’t verbalize that feeling.
Now, you may think that this cannot possibly apply to us, as the church today…but I would challenge you to take a second or third look. Do we really want people who are different with us…do we really want to reach those that come from different cultures…do we really want to welcome those that we might consider an outsider…and the fact that we can use the word outsider in this sense really does answer a lot of the question. We don’t really want to consider that there could be another way. To envision something different is difficult because we become comfortable and fear causes us to push back on anything that takes away that comfort. We like the way things are because that makes us feel better. We aren’t ready for anything different. So we push out those that do not quite conform…those that do not quick enough make the change…that do not see like we do. And we become a group of people…like us. And to do any different is scary.
It even happens among us…among those that are already here…that have stayed and are a part and we have accepted. We have created a culture that rewards conformity to such an extent that it is sometimes difficult to express what you really feel. For instance, if someone is struggling at home, it is better to keep that under wraps – for fear of judgment. If one of us is facing depression or loneliness, anxiety or fear…if we mentally just don’t know how we are going to make it…we don’t express that in church – people tend to gossip about things like that. And let’s face it, historically, the church’s answer in general to our problems has been one of…pray about it and if you have enough faith, all will work out. The problem is that this a hollow, one liner that doesn’t really seek to understand the real struggles of the person. No…having enough faith does not cure all things. No…praying enough does not take away depression or anxiety. No…pretending to conform just so you fit in is not the pattern of Jesus. And no…this is not what is taught. This is not okay. We have to do better. There is still hope, though. And wouldn’t you know it…it is found in the Bible. There is hope of a new way…hope of a new day…hope that this is not all there is…and it begins with words from God.
God is presenting a new vision…one that the Israelites can’t even wrap their minds around…and frankly, neither can we. God is presenting a vision of peace, of justice, of health…it is a vision where no one is hungry. It is a vision where his creation…which he created as good…really is good. It is a place where there is joy. There are tangible realities…eating from the crops that are grown…living healthy lives because of living off the land – a land that they take care of, love and tend…peace rules…not because everyone is the same, but because they use their gifts for the greater good. All comes together, as God intended, created, and ordained. This is good. And it is to come, God says. All being made new.
When we read this, it is such a beautiful picture that we can see this as idealistic…a type of utopia that never will be. We can miss the possibilities contained in the scripture. We could easily skip over that God says he is doing this. This is a vision that God has at work…is putting in place. God can make this happen!
We could say this vision is for the future – it is a new heaven and new earth after all. And that is true – it is a future glimpse. But that is not all. We could also look at it as beginning here and now. God may just be at work reforming, renewing, remaking right now. We could think of it as the kingdom of God. We could think of it, as Jesus taught us to pray…Your kingdom come, Your will be done…on earth as it is in heaven. Your kingdom is to come and yet is already here. Jesus brought the kingdom and yet…there is so much more that awaits. But that begins with us doing as we are called and created – right here and right now. That begins with us giving up our ideals of how we think things should be and focusing on what God thinks things should look like. And I think this new…looks a lot more diverse. I think this renewal looks a lot more welcoming and loving…accepting and exciting…I think it looks a lot more joyful and promising. And I don’t think it is idealistic as we want to make it out to be. I think it is accessible and real and right before us. But we have to be willing to let the old things go…the things that we want…the ways that we want…the ideals that we have…
Note…I am not suggesting giving up our values or beliefs…I am not suggesting giving up following Jesus or living by God’s word. I am suggesting that the ways that we have of doing that may not be the right way. I am suggesting that things could be different…joyful and peaceful and equal and above all else, loving of all. I am suggesting we begin to follow Jesus, truly follow his lead.
I admit…it sounds idealistic to me – I long for this picture to be so. I so want to know that God is making all things new and that there is hope for a new creation…that God can once again say that it is good. I want to see where God’s children come together in peace and no one is hungry. What a joy it would be to see this vision to become reality. But what if it means we have to begin to re-vision what we expect? What if it means we have to do some changing to be more like God? What if it means that we have to be willing to take a step back and realize where we are not doing what we should – where have we missed it?
If we are honest, keeping things the same is always easier. Change is hard. Doing things like we always have is much more comfortable. Living where our ways are the ways and people conform to that makes us feel better. Worshiping with people like us alleviates fear. Giving quick answers is easier than getting to know people and their stories. Ignoring what is going on in life is more comfortable that walking with others through their fears and struggles.
But the problem is…I don’t read anything in the Bible about that being okay. Jesus broke all the molds by fulfilling what God has taught. What he did completely shook up the establishment. How he lived was so radical that they wanted him dead. He made the religious so nervous with his ways that they wanted him eliminated…silenced…done away with. Are we living like that too? There is a different way. There is a better way. But it is scary and uncomfortable and different…it means people that look different and act different will be with us. It means that people will able to talk openly about mental health and their struggles and the church will have a better answer than simply praying and having faith. It means that people don’t have to dress or smell or act like we do to be loved and welcomed and accepted. I wonder…could it be so. Isaiah’s vision says…it certainly can.
Jesus began to change things…he challenged those that thought they had it all together…he loved on those that knew they needed him…he pushed people out of what they had always been doing and always had known. Jesus began to help people see that it could be different…that the church didn’t have to be like it was…that faith was so much more…that love required action rather than just words. Jesus understood the struggles of people…their mental struggles, their physical struggles, their health struggles…he got it and reached them where they are…he didn’t ask them to become more like the religious people…he helped them become their best – who God had created them to be.
If we become more like Christ, this vision becomes clearer and clearer. If we walk like Jesus, the reality that this is the kingdom to come and yet, is here becomes more apparent. We begin working for reform right where we are. And we begin with ourselves. We begin with changing who we are so that we reflect Jesus. We don’t worry about what others are doing…we work on us…who we are, what we think, how we act, why we judge, what we need to do to become who Christ calls us to be.
I say…we look forward to this vision…make me an instrument in your plan, God. Renew, remake, shape, form and help me to see what you are up to. And Lord, use me to help make your vision of the kingdom a reality. Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done…on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.