Sermons 2013 Page  

December 8, 2013

Rev. Barbara Lorbach

Isaiah 35:1-10 (NRSV)


The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8 A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.10 And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

     Reclamation is huge in our time…it’s important, it’s vital for the salvation of the earth. Total Reclaim is based in Seattle, Washington and its whole purpose is to reclaim CFL’s and keep them from going into to landfills. There are Million Tree and Billion Tree projects, one started by teenagers who are fighting to keep the desert from encroaching on farmable, arable land in Inner Mongolia.

     One reclamation project was headed by the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace prize—Wangari Maathai. Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which for over 30 years mobilized poor women in Africa to plant 30 million trees. In her 2004 Nobel acceptance speech, she told of how, growing up in rural Kenya, she watched forests being clear-cut to make room for commercial plantations. The large-scale agribusinesses not only took jobs away from small farmers, but destroyed biodiversity and limited the capacity of forests to conserve water.

     Although her simple desire was to restore the environment, one tree at a time, Maathai ran up against powerful forces that tried to block her efforts. She was physically attacked at least 3 times. On one occasion, during a 1992 hunger strike, police officers clubbed her unconscious. Yet she persevered and the corrupt regime eventually collapsed. Even after winning the Nobel Prize and speaking all around the world, her friends observed that her knees always seemed to be dirty—dirty from kneeling to teach visiting VIPs how to plant a tree. She died in 2011 from cancer but left a lasting legacy in Africa. Desmond Tutu called her a true African heroine.

     The prophet Isaiah describes a reclamation in today’s text. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” Or as the choir sang: “Creation will dance and rejoice.” Isaiah is writing to a people who are staring the prospect of foreign domination and exile in the face. Their ancestor Abraham had been chosen by God to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. By the time of Isaiah, Israel’s history was a tragic cycle of failure to live up to their mission. Even as they face destruction and exile, Isaiah tells them God will restore them and their land—there will be a reclamation.

     Advent is a reminder that God has launched a reclamation plan for the whole world. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Messiah but never lived to see that day. In the time of Jesus, the people of Israel still lived under the thumb of Rome and under a cloud of fear. Then Jesus steps onto the scene and becomes the word made flesh—God come to be one of us. Jesus preaches of the already-and-not-yet completion of the restoration of God’s creation and God’s people. This reclamation plan, the promises that Jesus recalls from Isaiah as he teaches, all point to not just a renewal of the desert but to the renewal of humankind.

     Advent reminds us of the promise that God will save all creation—that there will be a total reclamation. But we are part of the equation, too. Jesus didn’t come to fix the problems. Jesus came to teach us how to live in such a way that the problems could be solved. He taught us to share of our resources so that 5 loaves and 2 fish could feed a multitude. He taught us we couldn’t condemn someone else for their sin unless we were without sin. He taught us about serving when he washed the feet of the disciples.

     We know the kingdom Jesus talked about isn’t here yet, but in the meantime we are supposed to make the world around us look more and more like that kingdom. We can engage in projects that care for the basic needs of people and promote good stewardship of the earth’s resources, like wells in desert lands where people need clean drinking water. We can find ways to be involved in the lives of those who are physically limited and often pushed aside or ignored. We offer hospitality to people who have been denied a place at the table because of their orientation or gender identity.

     Sometimes like Wangari Maathai we will pay a price and may even be hurt, physically or emotionally; but like many before us, we keep following the way of Jesus knowing “we may never see the end result, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.” (Bishop Ken Untener)

     Mother Teresa told this story in a book titled “In the Heart of the World.

”      At a seminary in Bangalore, a nun once said to me, "Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them things free. They are losing their human dignity."

     When everyone was quiet, I said calmly, "No one spoils as much as God himself. See the wonderful gifts he has given us freely. All of you here have no glasses, yet you all can see. If God were to take money for your sight, what would happen? Continually we are breathing and living on oxygen that we do not pay for. What would happen if God were to say, 'If you work four hours, you will get sunshine for two hours?' How many of us would survive then?"

     Then I also told them, "There are many congregations that spoil the rich; it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor."

     There was profound silence; nobody said a word after that.