Ken’s Pennings – Excerpts of a sermon from December 15, 2013

I invite you to read carefully Isaiah’s vision of a new world (Isaiah 55):

1Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 

3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 

4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 

5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 

6 Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; 

7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon….

10 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 

11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off. 

In 2013, we lost a dearly loved founding member of our church, Ellen Fluck, who died at the age of 95. A year before she died, I visited Ellen and read to her from my book “The Night Before Christmas.” I paused after reading the page “The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads,” and said to Ellen, “As a child, this was my favorite line of the poem. I had no idea what sugarplums were, but I knew if children were dreaming about them on Christmas Eve, they must be something wonderfully amazing!” After I finished reading the poem, I asked Ellen. “What are the visions of sugarplums dancing in your head? What is your hope and prayer in this season of your life at this time of year?” She thought for a moment, and replied, “I want my family and friends to be truly happy.”

Isn’t this the vision of sugarplums dancing in our head also? Don’t we all hope for a better world not only for family and friends, but for all members of the human family?

Isaiah 55 casts a wonderfully amazing vision of a better world for everyone.

Consider all the incredible things offered!

To those who live in poverty and hunger come the words from Is. 55: “Eat and drink all you want! Even though you have no money, come and be satisfied with plenty!” vv. 1-2

To those who are alienated from their neighbors come the words “People who don’t even know you will run to you” v. 5

To those who are down and out come the words “I will glorify you. I will favor you” v. 5

To those who have made horrible mistakes, who have hurt themselves and others, come the words “I will take pity on you. I will forgive you.” v. 7

To those who need liberation from all kinds of things that keep them in bondage come the words “Yes, as sure as the rain and snow water the earth, as sure as the fields provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so my word will accomplish everything I intend for you…that is, your freedom and flourishing” vv. 10-11

To those who are overwhelmed with sadness, who live in fear for their lives, come the words “you will leave your exile with joy and be led away in safety….” v. 12.

And the sugarplums are dancing not only for humans, but for all creation. To our planet which is languishing under the burden of human consumption, exploitation and waste come the words “the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle” vv. 12-13.

Wouldn’t it be great to get all this for Christmas?!

-Enough to eat and drink for all, even if people can’t afford it!

-Extravagant welcome of the stranger!

-Abundant pardon for the wayward!

-Joyful returns & peaceful reunions wherever and whenever people come together!

-A planet so renewed it bursts into song and claps its hands!

Why do we keep dreaming the dream of Horns-a-Plenty, Homecomings, & Hospitality alive? Why aren’t we willing to give up this vision? 

Because all it takes is one act of kindness, one expression of joy, one word for justice to call evil into question, to make evil cower in shame. It seems in every time and place where evil abounds there are always people looking for glimpses of God’s extravagant Wink, Wine & Welcome in just about every place they might dare look.

Occasionally we see glimpses of Isaiah’s new world in surprising places, like in a cattle stall which smells of manure, in a manger of hay, on a rugged cross, or in the surprising transformations that occur in us when we confront the real cruel world of evil with a heart full of compassion.

We shall continue to look for God in the most unlikely places, in prisons and traffic jams, in understaffed nursing homes and bedbug infested tenement buildings. We shall continue to look for God veiled in human flesh as in Jesus of Nazareth, as in each one of us. Out of the rubble of real life, we dare believe sugarplums will dance, and God will appear!