SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 65:17-25 (Inclusive Bible)
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth! The things of the past will not be remembered or come to mind! Be glad and rejoice forever and ever in what I create, because I now create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight! I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it or the cry of distress. No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or old people who do not live out their days. They die as mere youths who reach but a hundred years, and those who fall short of a hundred will be thought accursed. At last they will live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyard they plant. They will not build for another to inhabit; they will not plant for another to eat. For the days of my people will be like the days of a tree, and my chosen ones will enjoy the fruit of their labors. They will not labor in vain or bear children doomed to die; for they and their descendants are a people blessed by God. Even before they call upon me, I will answer; and while they speak, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed side by side; the lion will eat straw like an ox. Serpents will be content to crawl on the ground; they will not injure or destroy in all my holy mountain.
One: This is the witness of The Church,
Many: thanks be to God!
I have mentioned this before, but every morning I walk to the front doors of St. Thomas, I have to take a deep breath when I look towards the mountains. It is seldom possible to look toward those mountains and not be awestruck by beauty and strength and grandeur. And it’s this same vision of unmatched strength and grandeur that the prophet Isaiah invites us to consider, as we imagine God’s “holy mountain”. It’s in this morning’s text where the soundtrack changes from oracles of judgment and pessimism about how people are living, to promises of restoration and peace at every level of existence. However, it’s not intended to be literal new heaven and new earth that comes as a result of Creation being completely destroyed. Rather, it suggests a transformation of a destroyed earth into God’s vision of heaven on earth; something teeming with light and love. We are invited to be transformed from people who feel invaded with hate and instability (as I was last week), to people who are filled with feelings of blessing, teeming with light and love.
Imagine being the people of Judah returning to Jerusalem after the exile. You’ve been in exile for what seems to be an eternity and when you return to what used to be your home, all you see is destruction. Everything in the city needs to be rebuilt. The only wish you had was coming home to safety and security, instead you are thrust into a reality where literally everything needs to be reimagined. Isaiah would suggest what was needed was a renewed relationship with God. I’m not sure I would say it quite in that way, but rather a continued assurance that God is with them in all times and all places; good or bad. Maybe this new heaven and earth Isaiah is prophesizing about means having a new vision of God revealing our capacity to reform, transform, and make new that which is wrought with harm. This peace of wolf and lamb eating together can be translated into contemporary language by saying, “This new creation will be so marvellous that residents of different countries will eat side by side, and people who worship in every way and every language will pray and feast together. The only one who will starve will be selfishness, finding nothing to consume in this love-filled world. This is my holy mountain. Here, no one will know hurt or destruction. Here, all life will know love, says God.”
You gotta admit that it was the greater order of the divine that had today’s scripture fall on the United Church’s Orange Shirt Sunday. This year will be the first year we, as a nation, celebrate the now recognized Truth and Reconciliation Day on September 30. For many years, September 30 has been Orange Shirt Day. A day where we wear orange shirts as a reminder of what happened to Indigenous children at residential schools around Canada. This year, we are invited to God’s “holy mountain” imagining a new earth as we continue to journey through the destructive truth of Canada’s historic reality and allow that truth to transform. Just like the people of Judah who have arrived home only to find it in shambles, we, too, have arrived at a place where all we see is destruction, where all we feel is hurt, and where all we want to do is hide and deny. Our scripture this morning is reminding us that God’s vision is our acceptance of this new reality and our opportunity is to transform it into something teeming with light and love. As a white colonist, I wear an orange shirt to publicly show my yearning for a new earth; one where I’m not afraid to face the ugliness of reality and use that new vision to imagine beauty. And it’s in that transformation, we experience God’s “holy mountain”.
The first time I met Dakota Eaglewoman was when I was working at the Calgary Young Offender Centre. I was Chaplain and Dakota was Indigenous Elder. Immediately, I was met with acceptance and friendship, and although our work was similar in nature, I very much became her student when it came to Indigenous spirituality. I remember one of the very first things I heard her say was that all of creation is a gift from Creator and we are always given opportunity to learn from every living thing gifted to us by Creator. She listed the plants, the trees, the waters, the skies, the animals, and the rocks. I remember thinking how can rocks be living things? And that was my first of many “holy mountain” moments with Dakota. She gave me a new vision, a new reality of rocks. She taught me that it is the rocks that are the oldest parts of creation we have, and they have many stories to tell us. In modern language geologists might call it radiometric, radioactive, or radioisotope dating; commonly referred to as carbon dating. And it was in that moment when my vision of reality changed. That teaching made me look at rocks in a whole different way; I had a new and deep appreciation for rocks and now, every time I look at those mountains outside, I give thanks for their continued stories and lessons.
What the prophet is calling us into is a practice of seeing what is possible. We have been encouraged to change our focus from the limits of now to promise for the future. We are asked to imagine God’s “holy mountain” and today, Orange Shirt Sunday, and this coming week when we have our first ever recognized Truth and Reconciliation Day, we are asked to imagine again. Listen, I know it’s hard to hear stories of residential schools. We want to grasp and hang on to the belief that things weren’t so bad, comparing residential school experiences with those of boarding schools that many Europeans attended. After the discovery of remains, I often heard people saying, well, that was a time when a lot of children died. Smallpox and TB were running rampant, and it’s not surprising that there are graves at the school sites. People don’t want to believe atrocities happened in their own country and I totally get that, but just because we don’t believe, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. God’s “holy mountain” is about seeing God’s vision and God’s vision for Orange Shirt Day is to understand the truth of what occurred in residential school sites in Canada. Things were very bad, residential school was NOT AT ALL like European Boarding Schools. Discovering graves at the school sites is shocking, not normal. The residential school legacy is predicted to uncover thousands of preventable deaths.
As hard as it is, we need to see this time as God’s “holy mountain”; a time when we begin to see what God is revealing to us. It’s an opportunity to face God’s vision of reality and be open to the truth about residential schools and the inter-generational harm they caused. Our scripture this morning…the prophet Isaiah…and God themselves are encouraging us to truly see the destruction that’s been caused. Just like the people of Judah returning home only to find it in shambles, we are being thrust into a vision of a new earth on a journey towards reconciliation. It’s a journey with paralyzing realities, yes, but one that also offers an opportunity to travel with Indigenous Peoples where the former things of violence, death, greed, threat, and exile are forgotten, and a new possibility of reconciliation emerges.
At the time of our scripture reading, the society in Jerusalem promises freedom from violence and threat, economic stability, and long and healthy lives and freedom for children. Sound familiar? These are the same things that we, today, are striving towards AND promised by our political leaders. We, the people, need to be open to living that out. That is how our new/transformed earth becomes a reality, and that’s why we wear orange shirts. In our quest for a new and transformed earth, we need to trudge through destruction before we can fully understand God’s vision. Facing the destruction will lead us to clarity on how to live out a transformed earth. We wear orange shirts to acknowledge the true past. We wear orange shirts to support those who attended residential schools. We wear orange shirts to support those who survived, and face, head on, the reality of those who didn’t. We wear orange shirts to reflect God’s vision for us. We wear orange shirts because the truth, even the terrible truth, will set us free. We wear orange shirts to work towards this new creation of a love-filled world. Simply put, we wear orange shirts because we care. As our scripture says, it will fill us with such wonder that we won’t remember what there was before. May it be so. Amen
A Vision of the Future, based on Isaiah 65:17–25
Prophets are people whose ears and hearts are so open to God that they know what needs to be said to God’s people. At a time when there was a lot of pain and hurting in the world, God spoke to Isaiah and Isaiah spoke to God’s people.
Pay attention. Watch closely now, I am getting ready to create a new heaven and a new earth. It will fill you with such wonder that you won’t remember what there was before.
The great city will be a joy and the people will be a delight.
Just like a tree has roots deep into the earth and reaches for the sky, all my people will be grounded in love and growing towards love.
Remember the pain and distress of seeing floods and tsunamis destroy homes, or endangered species being lost to extinction and green forests being lost to desert. Remember the suffering of children dying from dirty drinking water, or not having enough food, or diseases that can be cured with simple medicines. Remember the agony of people killing each other for different ideas about what is true or who is right.
And now forget that, because it will not happen anymore.
Life will be full. Every person will have a home and land, planting seeds and eating from their own garden. You will have clean streams of water to drink from and peace will grow like flourishing wildflowers among all people and creatures.
This new creation will be so marvellous that residents of different countries will eat side by side, and people who worship in every way and every language will pray and feast together. The only one who will starve will be selfishness, finding nothing to consume in this love-filled world.
This is my holy mountain. Here, no one will know hurt or destruction. Here, all life will know love, says God.
Resource: Copyright © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2020, Seasons of the Spirit™ Seasons, Fusion Season of Creation • Pentecost 2 2021