Following God’s Blueprints

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

12/7/08

 

Isaiah 61:1-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

 

4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. 5Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; 6but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. 7Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. 8For 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. 9Their 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.

 

10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

 

            Construction is a dangerous business, isn’t it?  Large equipment, high heights, nail guns.  Did anybody read in the newspaper this week about the guy that lost his entire left side in a construction accident?  He’s all right now.

            In times of economic trouble, more people are inclined to renovate their homes than to build or buy new homes.  At least this is how it seems to me.  And I would guess that the same thing is true with cars.  We are probably more inclined to fix up the cars that we are driving than to invest money in a new vehicle when money is tight.  I tried both this past week and neither one turned out quite the way I had intended.

            I’ve felt like I have been in the renovation business for the last number of months.  I have refinished a number of items around our house, rewired most of our 1st floor and attic, painted, painted, and painted some more.  And then this last week, I endeavored to do something I had never done before, and will likely never try to do again…I stripped wallpaper off the foyer in our home.

            We live in an old house and it was the style of the day to hang wallpaper on all of the walls.  Then as styles have changed, previous owners had made the decision to paint over the wallpaper.  Well after a while, the wallpaper started to come off the wall in certain areas.  It bubbled, it tore, it stopped clinging to the wall.  So before we painted over the pinkish hue in the foyer, we made the decision that it would be best to remove the wallpaper and paint directly on the plaster to avoid some of the bubbles and other problems.

            I put a wallpaper stripper on the paper and I began to tear it off with ease.  “I don’t know why people complain about this” I thought to myself.  “This is coming off pretty easy.”

            I found that under the first layer of wallpaper was another layer of wallpaper.  This one made the old stuff look attractive.  An orange floral pattern was hanging on the walls of my home.  I couldn’t make this stuff up…it was orange and floral and hideous!  But no fear, I’d simply strip off this layer as I had the previous layer.

            This did not prove to be the case.  This paper had been on that wall for 80 some years and it wasn’t about to let go.  It took a lot of work; I had to score the paper, use a chemical stripper, and scrape off the paper at a rate of what seemed to be about one square foot an hour.  I began to wonder if the old color was really that bad.  Maybe I could even live with the orange floral print?  But persistency paid off, and this week I expect to have a nicely painted foyer.

            Our scripture talks about God’s activity in rebuilding as well.  In Isaiah 61 we find that the Israelites are returning from their time in exile and they are coming home to something that only vaguely resembles their old homes, their old lifestyles, their old place of worship.  Imagine being in their position.  70 years have passed since the Israelites were taken from their own land and their own homes, taken to a foreign land.  Most of the people that were returning from exile had no memory of the old Jerusalem because they had probably not been born yet at the time of the exile.  But what they did have were the stories that had been passed on to them by their families.  Stories of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where God had blessed the Israelites in many ways.

And now the people were returning to a home that they had never been to before.  They have nothing of their own but perhaps the shirt on their own backs and the stories from their parents in their hearts.  And they arrive in Jerusalem to find their beloved city…in ruins.

            Imagine the disappointment that these travelers must have experienced!  All of the stories that they had been told led them to a place that hadn’t been kept up, maybe even hadn’t been lived in for 70 years.  I feel depressed for them just thinking about it.

            This kind of reminds me of what the residents of New Orleans must have felt like after Hurricane Katrina.  It is a little different because they had previously lived in these homes and worked in the buildings and shops.  But now they were coming home to a place that didn’t resemble the place they had left.  Homes had been swept away by the currents of water caused by the breaking of the levies.  Flooding had led to mold ruining foundations, clothing, and family heirlooms.  An estimated $81.2 billion dollars of damage had been done by Hurricane Katrina (Wikipedia). 

Coming home to that would be depressing, to say the least.  What hope could you have?  Everything you valued was lost.  All of the memories you had were being washed away with the floodwaters.

And while Hurricane Katrina is considered one of the greatest natural disasters to strike in modern history, it is far from being the only one.  The Indonesian Tsunami, earthquakes in China and India.  Homes were ruined, businesses were lost.  Lives were changed forever.  Lives were lost forever.

So we can begin to understand a little bit about what the Israelites were going through when they were returning from exile.  Everything had been taken from them and now all they had to return to was this rubble that once was a proud city; once a city blessed by God.

            Then the Isaiah character comes into this situation and delivers this message from the Lord: “1The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

            Maybe this place wasn’t what they Israelites were expecting.  Maybe Jerusalem wasn’t living up to the expectations that their forebearers had built up inside of this current generation.  But one thing was sure.  God was there.  And God was speaking through Isaiah, saying that Isaiah has been anointed to bring the good news to the oppressed, heal the brokenhearted, release the imprisoned, proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to comfort those who morn.  This God whom the Israelites serve is a big God.  A God that cares about His people.

Isaiah goes on to say in verse 4, “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.”

            This is something that I think so many people miss about our God.  If I were to ask someone on the street who God is, they might say that he is the creator of the world.  If I ask another person they might say that he is the savior of our soul through Jesus Christ.  Another might answer that he is a great healer.  And these answers are all correct…but incomplete.  Because like the Israelites were finding out in our scripture, our God is a big God.

            I get frustrated when someone tells me about a God that cares about my soul but doesn’t care about those who are starving in a foreign land.  I get frustrated when someone tells me about a God who healed them from some sickness but doesn’t care about living conditions in areas that have been hit by hurricanes, tornadoes, or other natural disasters.  I get frustrated when someone talks about a God that is more worried about my personal piety than my ability to serve God with my life.  We serve a big God and I am frustrated by those that try to reduce God to something less than the big God that he is.

            I shared with you earlier about how I have been involved in renovation, rebuilding my home in an attempt to restore it to its previous condition.  Stripping off the old, touching things up here and there, trying to make it as good, no better than new.  And I believe that this is what our big God is trying to do as well.  I believe that God is in the renovation business, trying to rebuild us to a condition that is better than new.  God wants to renovate and rebuild us mind, body, and soul; home, community, and worldwide.  And he wants our help in renewing his creation.  And we will get to how in just a few minutes.  But first, let’s look at Luke 4:16-21.

            Luke tells us about Jesus, fresh off his trip to the wilderness where he was tempted and hungry, and now he is beginning to teach and preach.  Jesus finds his way to the synagogue in Nazareth, where he spent a large portion of his growing up years.  And as he is there he is given the scroll of Isaiah.  He unrolls it and he begins to read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

            Does that sound familiar?  That’s our text for today from Isaiah 61; the words given to Isaiah from God to the Israelites returning from exile.  And what does Jesus say about this text?  “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

            Jesus recognized this passage as his mission on earth.  Bring good news to the poor, release to the captives and the oppressed, healing the afflicted, proclaiming Jubilee.  And Jesus did all of those things.  And then on the day we call Good Friday, Jesus willingly offered his life on a cross as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people…the same people that had caused poverty, captivity, oppression.  Jesus died for those who caused afflictions and those that experienced afflictions.  Jesus died for the debtors and the lenders.  Jesus died for all those that were willing to call him Lord.  We serve a big God.  A God that is in the rebuilding business.

            God wants to rebuild our lives to that which he originally had planned for humanity.  God never intended for his people, people he created in his own image to live in poverty.  God never intended for the people that he had created in his own image to oppress other people who were also created in his image.  God never intended for people created in his own image to be subjected to death through their sin.  So God showed us how to rebuild what we as humans had allowed to be destroyed.  He showed us by coming to the earth as a baby boy born in a manger.

            Which brings me back to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Many people made the decision to reach out to the victims of HK in the months, even the years following the storm.  Food, clothing, medications were all distributed by the truckload.  Many Christian organizations reached out to help as well, knowing very well that Jesus came to deliver good news to these people and therefore those that consider themselves his followers should as well.  Even our own denomination reached out, providing goods and services.  My in-laws spent a couple months in Louisiana working with Mennonite Disaster Services rebuilding what HK had destroyed.  Rebuilding homes and rebuilding hope; rebuilding faith and rebuilding love.  God is in the rebuilding business.  We should be too.

            My friends Dustin and Nate are both interested in this rebuilding stuff as well.  These are two gifted men; intelligent and dedicated to serving Christ.  And next spring they plan to begin an intentional Christian community in Cincinnati Ohio. 

            Two young, married, educated men.  You would anticipate that they would be looking for fancy homes, nice communities, white picket fences, two cars in every garage kind of places to live.  But no, they are looking for just the opposite.  They are looking to buy old, dilapidated, run down homes in bad neighborhoods which they can then put some work into to make them like new again.  And they are not doing this so that they can then turn around and sell these homes for a quick buck.  They are doing it as an embodiment of their faith in Jesus.

            By entering into the poorest of poor’s neighborhood, they have the opportunity to reach out to a demographic that is so often overlooked by the church.  By renovating the homes they will hopefully be able to instill a sense of hope in the people of the neighborhood.  By living among the people, they can practice hospitality, be a beacon of light, be salt and light to the neighborhood.  They will be witnesses to the way that God desires to rebuild his creation; the way that God wants to renew the people created in his image; mind, body, and soul; home, community, and worldwide.  Dustin and Nate are in the rebuilding business because God is in the rebuilding business.

            But we don’t have to move to the slums of Cincinnati to participate in God’s rebuilding project.  We can do it right in our own backyard.  Plant a garden, get involved with a restoration project like we can find downtown or better yet with the Jericho and Damascus Road project, mentor a youth, volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.  Jesus said to John in Revelation, “Behold, I make all things new.”  And he doesn’t do that by simply scrapping the old and replacing it with the new.  If that were the case, we would be in trouble.  But through Jesus, God is making all things new, renewing and rebuilding his people; mind, body, and soul; home, community, and worldwide.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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