Sermon, November 13, 202

A Sermon


The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton

Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

November 13, 2022

“Thy Kingdom Come”

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust!  They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Isaiah 65:25[i]

It’s over — the midterm elections are behind us.  Various forms of media will go back to their usual forms of advertising and, at least at some level, our lives will return to some semblance of normality.  The issues before the American electorate were important and the people have spoken.  For a while, we will get a political reprieve – at least until we gear up for the 2024 elections.

But things feel different than they did twenty years ago.  Oh, there was still division between liberal and conservative.  But the level of political polarization we are witnessing today is of a different order.  Recently, the New York Times ran an article entitled, Today’s Politics Divide Parties, and Friends and Families, Too.  The article states, “In the latest poll by The New York Times and Siena College, nearly one in five voters said that politics hurt their friendships or family relationships.”  I have seen it in my extended family.  I have seen it within our church.  Something seems different.

            I believe our faith has something to offer amidst all the divisiveness, and I think it is found in our reading from Isaiah.  At first blush, it can be seen as a fantastical view into the future.  I am very sure that this picture of a lion lying with a lamb was Photoshoped!  And I am certain that Isaiah did not want these words to be taken literally.  So how do I find a helpful message contained in this idealized view of our world?  How does Isaiah help to heal our current political divisions?

            In the interest of transparency, let me confess that much of what I am going to offer is derived from Garrett Galvin’s[1] commentary on Isaiah 65:17-25.  We begin by exploring the context in which these words from Isiah were written.  Galvin notes that it was a time of internal turmoil.  Those who were taken to Babylon in captivity were returning to Israel.  One would think that this would be a time of great joy and celebration.  But wait.  Those who were retuning had been the best and the brightest.  Before they were captives in Babylon, they had been the movers and shakers of Israel.  Indeed, they were so gifted that they had prospered while being captives.  And those who had been forced to remain in Israel under Babylonian occupation?  They had learned how to survive.  They had the shame of planting vineyards and never eating the grapes, of building homes for their oppressors — homes they would never occupy.  They had endured.  Now the elite return with the skillset needed to govern and the capital to get things done.  Instead of this being a time of unfettered joy, there was conflict in the land.  Having suffered under the Babylonians, now they will be forced to endure the rule of those who knew little of their suffering.  Oh, these rulers would be their fellow citizens, but neither the elite nor the less fortunate could find enough empathy to avoid conflict.

Sound familiar?  In America there are vast numbers of people who feel disenfranchised, who believe the system is rigged against them.  The MAGA (Make America Great Again) movement has millions who heed its call and millions who see it as dangerous.  Black Lives Matter has millions who embrace its message and millions who see it as an illegitimate cause.  The poll I mentioned earlier appears to have gotten it right.  And if all this is true, then we, too, have little empathy for those outside our political camp.  Both Isaiah’s Israel and our America have lived through trauma and need a unifying vision.

Garrett Galvin, the commentator I mentioned earlier writes:

The prophet has to imagine what a land with empathy would look like for them: a land without violence and destruction where the wolf and lamb or the lion and ox will live peacefully together.

Galvin continues:

There is a desperate need to build empathy bridges between the polarized groups in the United States. That is exactly what we see happening in this oracle from Isaiah. Rather than declaring one group right and punishing the other group, this oracle imagines a world in which both these groups coexist peacefully. They still have their salient characteristics: a lion is still a lion as well as a lamb being a lamb, but they coexist.

            How might we arrive at such a place?  By finding our shared humanity.  So I ask, Does God love you more than God loves me?  Does God love us more than God loves them?  Isn’t God’s forgiveness extended to us all and are we not called to extend the same even to those we find it hard to forgive?

            I have cited this quote from Reinhold Niebuhr before but I find it particularly apt for the healing we desire.

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.  No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”[2]

 Bearing his words in mind, I pray we find our way to empathy for the other and thus come to a nation healed.  Let us pray….

[1] Garrett Galvin, O.F.M., was born in December 1968 in Wilmington, Delaware to parents who recently emigrated from Ireland. After receiving his doctorate from the Catholic University of America, he began teaching full time at Franciscan School of Theology and the Graduate Theological Union in 2009, where he teaches a variety of courses on the Old and New Testament as well as Hebrew.

[2] Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History

[i] Isaiah 65:17-25

17 For I am about to create new heavens
   and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
   or come to mind. 
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
   in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
   and its people as a delight. 
19 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. 
20 No more shall there be in it
   an infant that lives but a few days,
   or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
   and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. 
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
   they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
   they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
   and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 
23 They shall not labor in vain,
   or bear children for calamity;*
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
   and their descendants as well. 
24 Before they call I will answer,
   while they are yet speaking I will hear. 
25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
   the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
   but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.