There are lots of ways to imagine
what God’s love realized on earth will be like,
or what the kingdom of God will look like.
But one way to imagine the world
under God’s reign is as a homecoming.
Isaiah knows about homecoming.
The Judeans were sent into exile after
they were conquered by the Babylonian Empire.
Their homeland was ravaged,
and their defeat was tragic, humiliating and traumatizing.
But around 60 or 70 years later,
after the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonians,
King Cyrus let the
Judeans return to their homeland.
And this section of Isaiah we heard this morning
was written around the time they were returning home.
It was a homecoming.
It was hopeful and exciting times.
But it is also difficult times, filled with anxiety.
There were power struggles between
those who were left behind in Jerusalem, and the returning exiles.
And the Temple that had been destroyed was yet to be rebuilt,
and much of the city was a shell of what it used to be.
This homecoming was a time
of change, transition and great anxiety.
And times of great anxiety
call for great poetry and a powerful imagination.
From around Isaiah chapter 40 onward
is what is known as Second Isaiah.
This part of Isaiah was written
during this post-exilic period.
And I think these are some of the most compelling
and powerful scriptures in all the Bible.
They are breathtaking in their scope and power.
It is amazing to me how bold
and daring Isaiah is in proclaiming God’s love
to a faint-hearted and anxious people.
It is amazing how much confidence
and command he has over language in proclaiming
God’s power and deliverance.
Walter Brueggeman says that
“Second Isaiah is the supreme example of liberated poetic imagination…”
Brueggeman says this poetic imagination
isn’t just a pie-in-the-sky vision,
but this imagination is powerful
enough to bring a new reality into being.
He says that “the poetic rendering evokes an entirely different perception of
reality… the poet appeals to the old memories and affirmations in an astonishing
way to jar the perceptual field of Israel and to cause a wholly new discernment of
reality… The rhetoric works to deabsolutize imperial modes of reality, so that
fresh forms of communal possibility can be entertained.”
Consider these verses from Second Isaiah
we heard last week, and as you listen,
keep in mind what Brueggeman says
about how the poet jars the people’s understanding of reality,
and causes a wholly new discernment of realty.
“Get you up to a high mountain; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem,
herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is
And a few weeks from now,
we will hear these words, also from Second Isaiah,
“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until
her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall
be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a
crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your
Can’t you feel the power and confidence
of God’s love burst forth and shine in these verses?
Can you feel a different reality
come into being as you hear these words?
These words are so perfect,
clear and true that as a preacher, I can’t elaborate on them.
To elaborate would be to diminish
the clear dazzling light of Isaiah’s proclamation.
My job as a preacher this morning
is to simply lift them up and place these words in your hearts,
so that you hear them and truly believe that this bold,
liberating Word of God is for you too.
Because this word is spoken to us in our own exile.
It doesn’t really feel like we are in exile.
As comfortable middle-class white folks,
we don’t feel exiled.
But we are.
We’ve bought into the dominate ideologies of our times-
the ideologies that cause us to fear those different from us,
ideologies that keep us
from welcoming our neighbor in need.
We’ve grown numb and buffered
ourselves from the cries of the world,
so that we’ve failed to see Christ in our neighbor in need.
But God is calling us,
just as God called the Judeans,
out of exile into a true homecoming.
God is calling us to find our way to true home,
true hospitality in the welcome arms of God’s love.
So when we hear this poetry from Isaiah,
it compels us live into a different reality.
This poetry isn’t created
from some pie-in-the-sky idealists.
Nor are they texts that point
to some far off heavenly reality realized on the last day.
But this confident and commanding poetry
grounds us in the present in our mission as a church,
so that we live into a different reality,
a reality not formed by the powers
and principalities of this world,
a reality that diminishes us
by diminishing our neighbor in need.
But we live into a new reality that recognizes
Christ in our vulnerable neighbor, a realty created in the life of God.
And this brings us to our banner,
which is up again this morning.
I think even though it was vandalized,
it is important to keep it up through the Christmas season.
Because to remove the banner
is to give the vandal the last word.
If we shrink back from displaying the banner,
then the vandal wins,
and we would be sending the awful message
to the community that we can be bullied
or intimidated to back down
from our message of welcome,
that we don’t really mean what we say.
And as we display the banner,
we can ask ourselves ‘what does it mean
to welcome those who do not look like us?’
What does that look like?’
Does it mean that they have
to assimilate into us, and do things
our way before they are truly accepted?
Or does it mean that we love them
for who they are, for their own sake?
Does welcome mean that we say
a quick hi during the sharing of the peace,
or does welcome mean making
time to truly get to know them,
to invite them to dinner, or have coffee with them?
Do we have the poetic imagination of Isaiah?
Do we have the boldness and confidence to truly
welcome others as we all travel from exile to homecoming in God’s love?
I really think these issues surrounding
the treatment of immigrants and refugees,
as well as the examination of our own privilege
and complicity in a complex system
that is larger than any individual-
these are some of the defining issues of our time.
These are people who are routinely
profiled, stopped, harassed,
separated from family members
and detained without due process,
and deported to places they have never know.
And so this is the time for the church to be the church.
There are a lot of people out there
who are really turned off by the church.
They love Jesus, but not the church.
They see the church as clinging to the status quo,
of being a club more interested in themselves
then in bandaging the wounds of the poor.
And people are watching us.
They are watching us more closely than we think.
They are watching to see if the church will be the church.
Do we have the backbone to be the church?
There is a hunger out there for people to see
the church follow the harder path of Jesus.
And this is our time to show them
that the church is the church in difficult times,
that the church is a true friend to those most vulnerable.
Because the spirit of the Lord God is upon us,
because the Lord has anointed us;
God has sent us to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to give those who mourn the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
Don’t you feel the power and confidence of these words?
Sometimes we feel
like the Israelites returning from exile.
We are anxious.
We want to draw inward, because we are afraid.
We think of church as
a refuge from the world’s problems.
But I’m going to challenge us,
and you challenge me,
and we’re going to walk forward together.
And we’re going to be the bold
and confident and empowered presence of Christ
for all in our community, especially the most vulnerable.
And we’re going to make mistakes, and fail,
and make progress, and take steps backwards.
But most of all, we’re going to believe
that the audacious poetry of Isaiah,
of God’s fierce and tender love for the world,
is addressed to our neighbor in need and to us this morning.
Walter Brueggeman goes on to say that “The central task of ministry is the
formation of a community with an alternative, liberated imagination that has the
courage and the freedom to act in a different vision and a different perception of
And we are going to live into
that different reality starting now.
We are going to live into our homecoming.
Isaiah declares, “I 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.”
It is interesting to note that God
clothes the Judeans in garments of salvation,
not so they can hoard God’s glory all to themselves,
but so that they can bear witness to the nations of God’s love.
“Their 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.”
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we here at Ascension
lived into the gospel in such a way that
all who see us shall acknowledge that
we are a people whom the Lord has blessed?
And more than that, that they themselves
would be blessed through seeing the kingdom
vividly at work through our ministry and our welcome?
May we have the courage and the boldness
to live into that liberated imagination as we live
into our homecoming from exile, today and always.