Littlewell
Christ Centered Church Resource Site

Reversal of Fortunes

Isaiah 61:1-4
Isaiah 61:8-11
Sun, December 15, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
"The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news ..."

What a great opening line for a sermon.
I wish that I had though of it!
This is, after all, the reason why
we preachers even dare to open our mouths.
We have been anointed,
well ... ordained ...
to bring good news.
And not just any old good news,
but really good news
because it is good news for those
who have heard nothing but bad news.
This is good news for those who are pressed down
by others who are more powerful ...
by forces that are just too strong
for them to get out from under.
This news
binds up the bleeding hearts
of the broken hearted.
It announces liberty to all held captive
by debt,
by guilt,
by the past.
This is even good news for the prisoner,
the lowest and least
on the scale of human worth ...
the one who has been locked up
and fears that the key has been long since thrown away.
Talk about a reversal of fortunes.
This is really quite extraordinary good news ...
for it is nothing less
than the announcement of a new year
unlike any other new year:
the year of God's favour
a year when God gets things right
the year of Jubilee ...
so long promised and now
at hand.

Like I said ...
what a great opening line for a sermon.
Especially in a culture like ours which craves good news
expects good news,
demands good news.
Just ask any politician ...
they'll tell you.
If you really want to get elected,
if you want the people to vote for you ...
you must promise good news:
"We'll kill the GST"
"Jobs, jobs, jobs"
"Read my lips - no more taxes".
Optimism is the order of the day ...
officially at least.
That is why we expect our politicans
to keep up the pretense
that they can deliver
on their good news promises
and budgets.
And that is why seems only natural
that our preachers preach good news.
You would not expect any less from a preacher
just ten days shy of Christmas
than you would of a politician
a week away from election day.

But ... and it is a a rather large 'but' ...
just beneath the official optimism of our culture,
not very well hidden behind our wavering faith in 'progress'
lies a different truth,
a darker truth.
A truth called 'despair' ...
which means, quite literally,
to be 'without hope'.
Without hope
in the face of the storm on the horizon.
This is the shadow side of our
'officially optimistic' culture.
We are like the people in the movie "Twister" ...
watching the destructive storm
as it touches down nearby
tossing everything in its wake upside down
all the while
running around madly
hoping against hope
that it doesn't next touch down on us ...
which it one day
surely will.

The signs of despair are all around
in a society hunkering down
from the storm it fears is inevitable.
Less is the word on the tip of every tongue..
There is
less money to go around
the schools and the hospitals and the streets;
less security from violence
in spite of the latest in alarms and locks;
less work to be found
no matter your education or experience;
less innocence for the young
even with a v-chip installed on the tube;
there is simply
less.

So the honest politician tells it like it is.
Says what everyone knows ...
that there is less ...
and takes the consequences.
But here comes Isaiah ...
foolish old Isaiah
insisting that less is not the Word from God.
Here is Isaiah
with a brazen Word that he is sure is God's own.
It is the word 'more'.
'More', he says,
'there is more for those who mourn
for those who grieve
for those who weep over their loss
than black veils
and tear-stained pillows
and sleepless nights.'
Yes, Isaiah promises more,
not less.
Or,
to be more accurate,
Isaiah announces that God promises more,
much more,
to those who sow in tears.
'Yes', sings Isaiah,
'these broken, ashen, dispirited ones
are to be called 'The Oaks of Righteousness' ...
the Lord's own private planting ...
for they shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.'

We aren't used to thinking this way.
We expect that it is
the strong and the powerful
who do the building
and restoring and repairing
of that which has been broken down.
But Isaiah sees something else ...
he sees the renewal of the land
emerging from the
healing of the brokenhearted
and the freeing of the captive.

Well, that kind of news
is all well and good for Isaiah
to announce long ago and far away
to a rag tag bunch of exiles
wandering amidst the broken ruins of Jerusalem.
But what about me ...
and you.
Promising more
when we have learned
in the school of hard knocks
to expect less
can seem cruel.
Now,
let's be clear about one thing:
in spite of all appearances to the contrary
this upwardly mobile,
well-dressed,
intelligent,
well-placed
congregation
is made up of more than a few
who number themselves among
the afflicted
and the brokenhearted ...
who long for liberation from despair ...
but who have long since
learned to live
with less.

When faced with a congregation
like this one
caught in the act of reading Isaiah
I feel a little like the Appalachian coal miner
I read about this week:
out of work for months,
he caught his children
on the back porch
thumbing through a Sears catalogue,
wishing.
At this he flew into a rage,
switched their legs,
tore the catalog to bits,
and sat down in his yard
and wept.
He loved them so much,
he couldn't bear to see them wish for more.

To tell you the truth
I am sorely tempted to parrot words
from the school of hard knocks:
"Less ...
expect less".
It certainly seems a more prudent path
a safer path
a more realistic path.
Is it right to raise hopes
only to have them dashed?
I begin to wonder
if Isaiah ever wished that he had not been
anointed to announce such 'good news' ...
for on Saturday night
I wonder again how I will dare to stand
here on Sunday morning
and say that it is true ...
that there is more ...
and that it is near at hand.

But just then ...
just when I am about to lose my nerve,
to do the safe thing
to say the conservative word ...
God steps in.
God has enough of sending an emissary,
an anointed ... or ordained ... one to speak
on God's behalf.
Did you notice ...
right there in the middle of Isaiah's sermon ...
right here in the midst of this sermon ...
God can't hold back any longer:

"For I
the Lord
love justice,
I hate
robbery
and wrongdoing;
I will
faithfully
give them
their recompense,
and I will
make
an everlasting
covenant
with them.

Their descendants
shall be known
among the nations,
and their offspring
among the peoples;
all who see them
shall acknowledge
that they are a people
whom the Lord
has blessed.

That's how it is,
isn't it?!
Just when we begin
to get accustomed to less ...
right when we have finally figured out
that it is safer to live in despair
than to be full of hope ...
God intervenes,
breaks in
intrudes
on the world that we have
oh-so-carefully sorted out
and says simply:
"I love justice".

And that is all that we have to go on
for now.
Like the slaves in Egypt
listening to Moses' pitch ...
like Mary at home in Nazareth
wondering at the angel's claims ...
we hear that God has more in store for us
than we had ever dared to dream.
It is a
disconcerting voice
in a world whose daily chorus
we know all too well:
'adjust ...
adapt ...
get used to it,
its the way things are'.

It is a disconcerting voice
because if we dare to believe it ...
to trust the One who speaks ...
we dare to wish for ourselves
more,
more for our world,
more for others.

No longer do we hear
of the 'oppressed of the earth'
and imagine some nameless,
hopeless millions
but instead see
God's own planting ...
Oaks of Righteousness ...
builders of a new world.

No more do we pity the brokenhearted,
doomed to their brokenness ...
instead we cannot wait
to bring news of God's healing touch
so near at hand.

No more can we live in the midst of captivity
without proclaiming
and expecting
liberty ...
liberty from addiction
and from poverty
and from wealth.

Its a disconcerting voice
because
if we pay heed to it
we will
find that we ourselves
have become disconcerting
to others.

Like an acquaintance
who recently described a heated discussion
with a colleague at work
over the growth of casino gambling in the Province.
Finally he said:
"Why don't you just face facts,
it's here to stay,
there's nothing you can do about it,
the government needs the cash.
You might as well give up now"
To which she found herself blurting out
to her own great surprise:
"I can't give up now.
I'm a Christian.
I'm not allowed to give up hope".

In a world of thinly disguised pessimism
where most
hope for the best
and expect the worst
those who actually hope in God
stand out.

There is just no getting around it.
Isaiah says
that being on the other end
of the promises of God
is like being
a bride or a groom.
Not too hard to spot in a crowd
right?!
Usually its the clothes that identify the happy couple.
But if it's not the wedding dress
or the boutonniere
that give us away
then surely it will be
the undeniable joy
and irrepressible hope
that cannot be disguised
in our daily living
that does it.
"Newlyweds"
people will say,
"can spot them a mile away".

And,
like newlyweds,
we look forward ...
forward to tomorrow,
living expectantly
into the fulfilment
of promises made with God
and vows kept
by God.

Thank God.