Always we begin again

invitationIn the most unlikely of times, the most unlikely invitation came. Although it was the invitation Israel desperately wanted to hear, it contained a promise that many must have thought naïve and unbelievable, or nearly so – a vision for the distant future, for another lifetime. But biblical visions have a way of falling out of the future into our laps, and they invite us to begin a journey toward a destination that is closer than we might think.

“There’s a day coming,” Isaiah wrote more than 2,700 years ago, “when the mountain of God’s House will be The Mountain – solid, towering over all mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, ‘Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.’ . . . He’ll settle things fairly between nations. He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God” (Isaiah 2:2-5 The Message).

Isaiah begins the first chapter of his prophecy by describing what he saw: domestic and international violence and the looming threat of war; bribery and corruption in business and government; people falling away from their faith; the wasting of the nation; the wealthy trampling on the poor. He offers glimpses of hope, but the dominant picture is one of violence and rebellion. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Then in chapter two he seems to start over, or he pictures a God who is starting all over again. “There’s a day coming,” he writes, when God will make right all that’s broken in the way we live, and in this place God will “show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” People and nations will be transformed by what God teaches.

Can you see it? Can you see the word Isaiah saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem? In spite of all evidence to the contrary, can you see God’s vision for this nation and for the world we live in? Can you hear the invitation, “Come, let’s live in the light of God.” Let’s wake up and come to our senses; let’s stop being so focused on the day-to-day business of living that we lose sight of the life that really is life. “The night is far gone,” Paul wrote, “the day is near” (Rom. 13:12). Come, let’s walk in the light of the Lord.

On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, like Isaiah wrote to Israel 2,700 years ago, Bishop Bruce Ough, president of our Council of Bishops, wrote to all of us who are called United Methodist, calling us to “a renewed commitment to the vision of the Beloved Community of Christ.” The heart of his call is in these three paragraphs:

Friends in Christ, this is not an invitation to naiveté. People’s lives, livelihoods, security and well-being are at stake. Immigrants are scrambling for the shadows. Indigenous peoples are disrespected and forgotten. Children of color are being bullied and threatened. Muslims are being labeled and listed. Women are ridiculed and objectified. The LGBTQ community is filled with fear. Racism is being legitimized. Hundreds of millions remain impoverished without access to educational opportunities, economic resources, or equal justice.

We must stand against the meanness and hatred that is upon us. We must stand for what is best in us as People of God. We must not address the anger, fear, confusion and insecurity of the prevailing culture with more blame, attack and criticism. As Richard Rohr recently noted, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” We must stand against bigotry, hate and discrimination in all forms and settings. We must proclaim from our pulpits the Good News that overcomes hatred and fear. We must be quick to confess our own sin and places of complicity and vigilant against all that diminishes the worth of any individual.

So, I urge all who follow the Christ to remember who we are in this time. We are the People of God called to proclaim the mighty acts of Christ who calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light. We are the People of God called to create the Beloved Community of Christ. We are People of God commanded to love as Jesus loved. We are People of God created to be the kingdom of God envisioned in the Advent prophecy and fulfilled by Jesus. This is our vision, our hope, our prayer, our opportunity, our commitment.

We are not victims of the times in which we live; we were made for these times. God has given us a word of hope, that we might speak it to those who feel hopeless. God has given us a light, that we might hold it high for those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. God has shown us the way God works so we can live the way we’re made and show others what it’s like to live that way.

Our task is not to fix a broken world all at once, probably not even to fix it in our lifetime. Our task is to offer a word, lend a hand, share an insight, or raise a vision that brings healing to the little part of the world that’s within our reach. Any small thing we can do to help someone else, to alleviate the need of those who suffer want while others enjoy plenty, to be a calming presence with those who suffer the storms and stresses of life, will help show the world the way God works so we all can live the way we’re made.

No matter where we are in our life’s journey, we can walk in the light of the Lord. We don’t have to be anywhere special; every place is holy. We don’t need to have extraordinary gifts; we need only to use the gifts God has given each one of us uniquely. We don’t need to be successful in ways the world counts success; we have only to be persistently, stubbornly, provocatively faithful to the charge God has given us to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-19; Heb. 10:24-25).

As I struggle to give God full control of my life and to order my daily activities around the one thing necessary (Mark 10:21, 42), and as I strive to be wise and intentional in how I spend each precious hour of each fleeting day (Ps. 90:12), I repeatedly falter and fail. But God knows how I am made, how all of us are made, that we are dust, mere earthen vessels, cracked and broken. And as songwriter Leonard Cohen put it, God uses the cracks in my life, in our lives, and in the world around us as places where the light shines through.

So we continue the journey, always repeating the cycle from Advent to Christmas, always moving from hope and expectation to incarnation and fulfillment. Always we falter and fail and fall short. And always, with God’s eternal grace, we begin again. So come, let’s live in the light of the Lord.

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