“New Heavens, New Earth”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

November 13, 2016

Isaiah 65:17-25


This is an impossible sermon to preach.

It’s not impossible because our faith has nothing to say in such a moment as this.  Quite the opposite.

It’s not impossible because God is not alive and at work.  No, God is as active today as God was last Sunday, if not more so.

It’s impossible because each one of us needs something different today, and somehow this collection of words, these few minutes of thoughts, must offer what is needed to every heart.  This is true to some extent every Sunday, but all the more so, I think, today.

When things seem impossible, it helps to remember that we are not alone.  It helps to lean on those who have come before.  So I stand this morning where decades of faithful people have stood before, where other impossible sermons have been preached in other tumultuous times, and where other preachers will stand in times to come and proclaim the gospel as best they know how for the moments in which they live.

We are a diverse congregation in many ways, and this is a good thing.  If we only spend time with those with whom we already agree, we will never, ever learn something new.  We will never, ever grow beyond our current situations and abilities.  We will never, ever discover new things about God, new facets of the divine that can only be seen through the eyes of those who have a different perspective than our own.

We are a diverse congregation in many ways, and this is a good thing… and it is also sometimes a challenging thing.  And so I want to begin today with something that unites us, and that is the promise of God.


Did you hear—I mean, really hear—the promises in our text from Isaiah this morning?  New heavens and a new earth; the whole of creation restored, renewed, redeemed.  A joy so all-encompassing that the pain and the struggle and the hardship of the past will no longer burden our minds or ache in our hearts.

No more weeping.  No more cries of distress.  No more mothers and fathers mourning over the deaths of their children.  No more elders stolen from their families by dementia, or cancer, or Alzheimer’s.  No more miscarriages.  No more infertility.  No more addiction or illness or accidents or violence.  Just abundant, beautiful life as far as the eye can see.

No more lives spent working as hard as you can but only slipping further behind.  No more children growing up in poverty.  No more young people dying by overdose or suicide.  No more parents skipping meals so that their children can eat.  No more bodies made old too soon by hard labor and then cast aside in favor of newer, younger, stronger ones.

Predators and prey lying down together to snuggle.  The survival of the fittest replaced by the thriving of everyone.  No one hurt.  Nothing destroyed.  Just flourishing creatures, a blossoming earth, safety and health and delight everywhere.

That is the promise Isaiah offered to his hurting people, 2500 years ago—a promise that burned brightly even in the deepest shadows of that perilous night, and a promise that burns as brightly today as it ever has done before, because the God who makes that promise specializes in light.  The God who makes that promise is an expert at shining.  The God who makes that promise is not deterred by things that go bump in the night, but glows all the brighter the more the darkness gathers round.


But my friends.  Oh, my friends.  This week, that promise feels so much dimmer, so dim as to be nearly invisible, for many of our sisters and brothers.

Please understand, I am not speaking now of Republicans or Democrats, Independents or Libertarians or the Green Party.  I am not speaking now of specific candidates who won or lost.  I am not speaking now of the nuances of domestic and foreign policy.  I am not speaking now of judicial nominees or the role of special interests.  We are a diverse congregation in many ways, including our political ideologies, and this is a good thing.

I am not speaking now of politics, which so often divides us.  I am speaking now of something that unites us, something that is the heart of the very heart of our faith.  I am speaking now of our God-given call to care for the most vulnerable in our midst.  And friends.  Oh, my friends.  Our most vulnerable sisters and brothers are hurting.

Last week, from Tuesday night through Friday, more than 200 incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation were reported.[1]

Rainbow flags were burned.  Swastikas were found painted on baseball dugouts.  A black baby doll with a noose around its neck was left in an elevator on a college campus.

Muslim women had their headscarves removed by force.  One was even told to go hang herself with it.

Women were grabbed and groped on subway trains, on buses, and on sidewalks.

A twelve-year-old African American girl was told by a boy in her school that he was going to shoot her and all the black people he could find.  Other black children were told to sit in the back of the bus where they belong.

My friend’s eight-year-old daughter, who was adopted from Ethiopia, wakes up in the morning terrified that she will be sent back to a country she left as an infant.  Another dear friend of mine has spent the past five days making phone calls to her children, nieces, and nephews, sharing strategies they will need to stay safe as black folks in America in 2016 and beyond.

For our friends, neighbors, sisters and brothers who are vulnerable, it does not feel like the predators and prey are lying down together to snuggle.  It feels like the wolf and the lion are sharpening their teeth, and the lamb and the ox have nowhere they can go to be safe.


Does this make Isaiah’s promise any less trustworthy?  Does this make God’s promise any less true?  Hear me when I tell you, it does not.  It does not.  This is not the first time that vulnerable people have been threatened.  This is not the first time that God’s promise has felt out of reach.  This is not the first time that our hope has flickered, that we have needed reminding that God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.

That glorious, flourishing, joyful realm of which Isaiah spoke will yet come, make no mistake.  And here’s how I know:  because of you.  Because the people of God will not rest until that promise comes true.  Because you are here today, and you will be here next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, to pray and to sing and to remind one another of the promise that love will win.

And as you go about your daily lives tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, you will do so as disciples of Jesus Christ, the One who spent his life—who gave his life—in solidarity with lepers and prostitutes, with sinners and tax collectors, with people who were marginalized in one way or another, and who teaches us that to care for the least of these is to care for him.

And as you go, you will not go alone, but in the courageous company of God’s people who have gone before, the communion of saints we celebrated last week.  You will go arm in arm with Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Oscar Romero, and Dorothy Day.  You will go arm in arm with people across this nation and around the world who are working for justice in ways great and small.

You will go strengthened by God’s power, and tempered by Christ’s mercy, and upheld by the Spirit’s fierce tenderness.  You will gird up your loins and put on the whole armor of God, and you will go bravely and boldly, in the spirit of words shared in the UCC’s Daily Devotional yesterday by my friend and colleague, the Rev. Molly Baskette, who wrote:

If you wear a hijab, I’ll sit with you on the train.

If you’re trans, I’ll go to the bathroom with you.

If you’re a person of color, I’ll stand with you if the cops stop you.

If you’re a person with disabilities, I’ll hand you my megaphone.

If you’re an immigrant, I’ll help you find resources.

If you’re a survivor, I’ll believe you.

If you’re a refugee, I’ll make sure you’re welcome.

If you’re a veteran, I’ll take up your fight.

If you’re LGBTQ, I’ll remind you that you are beautiful and beloved, just as God made you.

If you’re a woman, I’ll make sure you get home ok.

If you’re tired, me too.

If you need a hug, I’ve got an infinite supply.

If you need me, I’ll be with you.  All I ask is that you be with me, too.  

Together, we’ll be the strong arm of God.


My friends.  Oh, my friends.  This is what we will do.  This is what we must do.  Stick together.  Show up for each other, especially for those who are more vulnerable than you are—men for women, straight folks for gay folks, white people for people of color, citizens for refugees, Christians for Muslims.  If you are afraid or hurt or despairing, reach out.  If you hear something hateful, name it.  If you see something violent, record it, report it, stop it.  In every moment and at every opportunity, choose love.  Choose love.  Choose love.

This is the call of the church; this has always been the call of the church—to bring good news to the poor, 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.  It has been so since Jesus came into this world as the very embodiment of God’s love.  It has been so since Isaiah offered a gleaming promise to a hurting people walking through the valley of the shadow.  It has been so since Moses led the Israelites out of slavery and into the freedom of covenant life.  It has been so since the very beginning, when God entrusted this God-so-loved world into the care and keeping of human hands.  And we who have known the peace that comes in surrendering everything, entrusting our hearts, our souls, our very lives to the God whose justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream—we will find ourselves equipped, step by step by step, to be the church in the world, to answer God’s call at such a time as this.

My friends.  Oh, my friends.  That glorious, flourishing, joyful realm, the new heavens and new earth of which Isaiah spoke, will yet come, make no mistake.  The new heavens, we’d best leave to God.  But a new earth—we can do something about that.


[1] Citations for these events and more can be found at https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/11/over-200-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election-day, https://medium.com/@seanokane/day-1-in-trumps-america-9e4d58381001, and https://twitter.com/i/moments/796417517157830656.


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