Isaiah 65:17-25; Luke 21:5-19

On Tuesday afternoon a friend of mine took his young son to the election polls to demonstrate the importance of voting.  As they huddled in the booth quietly discussing the ballot, suddenly his son shouted out the name of a specific candidate they selected for the vote.


My friend says he was shocked.  He glanced at the poll workers fearful that his son’s sudden outburst would have them shushed or removed from the room.  He says that thankfully several poll workers and fellow voters only chuckled.  After returning to the ballot and giving new instructions to his son not to speak louder than a whisper, there was a moment of silence when a voice from the booth next to them said, “Well, that young American just canceled out my vote.”


A mark of decency.  A kind statement, even though they chose different candidates, and laughter at an innocent exclamation which serves as a reminder that sometimes the best lessons in life can be received from children.


Children have unique ways of seeing the world that sometimes we adults forget or neglect to see ourselves.  Another friend of mine has a nineteen-month-old son and one day I was asked to monitor the toddler while he took a nap while his parents went out.  When the toddler woke from his nap he had a giant smile on his face as he happily took in his surroundings as though seeing everything for the first time.  His mother said every time he wakes it’s like he is experiencing the world fresh and new. 


Children also remind us to hold onto our imaginations and dream dreams. The toddler has an older brother who has an amazing imagination.  Some days he imagines he is an airplane and runs around the home with his arms extended.  He especially loves when I help him “fly” around the room by holding him parallel to the floor, lifting him up toward the ceiling, then allowing him to free fall to the floor, stopping his descent mere inches from the floor.

Other days he imagines is he an astronaut and he takes slow exaggerated steps while walking across the living room… I mean the moon. 


And he has big dreams.  He dreams one day he will be an architect like his father and he dreams of building a big house so that his brother and parents and grandparents can live with him.  He dreams he will have a large swimming pool that is located in the living room and he will have several rooms filled from floor to ceiling with LEGOS, and, the best part of his dream: he will have a pet dragon.


We may not have such a fanciful dream as that - but we all have dreams nonetheless, dreams of enjoying retirement and traveling.  Perhaps we have a dream of having a long and happy marriage, or having the perfect job.[1] 


In the case of Isaiah, his dream is like a child’s dream: he dreams of a day when the lion eats straw, and a wolf and lamb eat together as friends.  This is a strange dream - but one he believed God gave him and he believed that he needed to share this dream with the suffering Judeans so that they could replace their nightmares with sweet dreams.


The Judeans’ nightmare began when the Babylonian Empire had revenge on Israel and Judah for being betrayed and the Babylonian Empire launched a massive assault on Israel in 597BC. 


Four years earlier, the Judean King, Jehoiakim, had been advised by the prophets to align with Egypt, but in the third year of the war, he thought Egypt would fall so he switched allegiances from Egypt to Babylon.  One year later, when the battle turned in Egypt’s favor, the king of Judea again switched sides and betrayed the Babylonian king.   As you can imagine, the Babylonian king was furious and when the war ended, the Babylonian king attacked Judah and Jerusalem.  Egypt, wary of Judah’s shifting as the winds blew, turned a blind eye to the attack and thus the cities of Judah fell and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed.   The Babylonian empire then captured and deported young men and scholars to Babylon to break any remaining morale among the Judeans.  The young men and scholars were deported to Babylon, which is in modern-day southern Iraq.[2]


Following the initial deportation, two additional deportations took place further robbing Israel of young persons and skilled laborers.  Families were separated and no one in Judea knew if those taken captive were dead or alive.


Finally, 58 years after the first deportation, Persia conquered Babylon and the Persian allowed the former captive Judeans to return to Israel. 


The children and grandchildren of the Judean captives excitedly left Persia to return to Israel and reunite with extended family members back in Judah.   As they travelled to Judea, they dreamt of attending worship in the Temple where their parents and grandparents had worshipped.  They dreamt of playing in the streets and enjoying long afternoons at home, freed from slavery and burdens.  They had huge dreams.


However, when they entered the Judean valley their dreams were shattered.  The world grew cold, dark and dreary.  The former captives could not believe their eyes; what had once been a marvelous city was now nothing more than a graveyard of buildings.  There were no streets, mostly just narrow alleys filled with trash and stones, remnants of what had been.  Many of the buildings that remained standing, simply defied gravity, with missing walls and support beams, and the grand Temple - God’s home - was just a heap of rocks.  Among the rubble lived people who had not been taken captive by the Babylonians.  But, they lived in shacks and tents on top of the rubble.  They had not bothered cleaning or repairing the city.


The former captives were shocked, angry, confused, saddened, and frustrated.  Similar to their Hebrew ancestors who escaped from Egypt with Moses, the Judeans began to complain that they would be better off returning as slaves.  Some of the former Babylonian captives declared they were going to run away to the country up-north while some announced they were going to return to Persia.  Other former captives simply stood perplexed and immobilized by their fear and their hopeless state.   Depressed and defeated they stood examining the debris while their dreams faded and became a distant memory. 


Isaiah addressed this situation with an oracle from God.  He proclaims that he has had a dream and he shares this incredible vision that they will rebuild and they will overcome - and he says they will accomplish this great task because God will build it with them.  God will help them transform death and sadness into something new and wonderful.  Isaiah reminds the Judeans that they are God’s people and this is STILL God’s holy city.  


 Isaiah shows them the dream and invites the once captive Judeans to gather with him and dream this dream too, so that they will live into the vision God has given them. 


Isaiah’s dream makes it clear that the reality they experience is not what they want for themselves, nor what God wants for them.  There is something better ahead…


Isaiah says, I have a dream” and he casts a vision saying that they will build new homes and they will plant food and orchards and vineyards, and they will not have their homes inhabited or their vineyards possessed by others… he casts a vision that they will have an assurance of peace from war, and he casts a vision so they can lift their eyes and hearts to recall the great power of God.


This vision offers hope that his readers, and us, will experience a transformation.  One Pastor writes that on the horizon is “a better day because today’s unhappiness is not permanent” and “Today’s experience of life is not the end of the story…. This message of hope from Isaiah, keeps us focused on something beyond the reality of our present unhappiness, and promises that God will offer us a peaceful kingdom in surprising times and places.”[3] … and ways.


Episcopalian Pastor, Martha Sterne, says that Isaiah’s vision is a reminder that “nothing is final,” “and for people mired in regret or have been ground down by oppression and pain of living” and see an impossible task of repairing the temple and the city before them, Isaiah insists that “there is nothing in all creation, or in all that we imagine beyond creation, that is beyond the capacity of God.”[4]


Sure, some situations in life can look bleak, but we can have hope because, as a contributor to Sojourners Magazine writes, “when circumstances look the bleakest, that is when the spirit of the Most High God can break through in the most profound way.”[5] 


For example, when King David was a teenager, he encountered Goliath, who was leading the Philistine army.  No one dared to approach Goliath, but with one smooth stone and God’s assistance, David took down the giant.  Another example of God arriving in a surprising place happened when evil men arrested and wrongly executed Jesus.  Three days later, through the power and creativity of God, Jesus’ life was restored and changed the world.


Through David and through Jesus, and throughout history, God has broken through our chaos and delivered wholeness and wonderful opportunities, and in our passage this morning, Isaiah encourages us to believe God will do the same again.  He tells us to imagine a vivid world where God’s power can transform the impossible into the possible.


An example of God’s ability to do the impossible is told by David Argo, a Methodist pastor who wrote that “he had a turbulent relationship with his mother.  They never saw eye to eye on matters and one day, as a young adult, he argued with her and their battle led to an uneasy truce so that even as an adult he never felt a sense of peace in their relationship.


Then, when she was 92, his mother suffered a massive stroke.  The doctor said that she might not live very long, so he traveled many states to be with her.  He sat in bed and read to her, he sang hymns to her, prayed with her, cried with her, and sat with her - more so than when he was just an infant.


The hospice staff was amazed that she was continuing to live.  Finally, one of them said, “WE think she just enjoys having you here.”  At that moment, he realized that in the same room together, they were like a wolf and lamb feeding together.  Though he says, he was not sure who exactly was the wolf and who was the lamb.”


David was given an experience of God’s glorious ability to create a new creation and he came to understand that there are people who just need someone to sit with them, to spend time with them and find a way to share dreams together which can allow a peaceful world to unfold - even here, even now.”[6]


Isaiah informs us to look beyond our present situation, our present pain or hurt, and he says, hope in God who provides an image of what is possible.  Instead of focusing on shattered or broken dreams, Isaiah tells us to receive new dreams which can transform our lives and can lift us up out of the dumps of life. 


In regards to the vision Isaiah gave the former captives, Isaiah encourages them to stop sitting in misery wondering if they should just give up, as the others who remained, those who had never been taken captive, had given up, or those wondering if they should return to the Persian Empire, or if they should migrate to the country up-north in Samaria or modern Turkey.  He instructs them to cling to hope and then he instructs them to look within and discover that God resides within them.


He instructs them to recognize that God lives inside them, and then he says, with that knowledge, rise up, and participate in God’s new creation.  Allow God to fill your mind with dreams and visions of what is possible, visions that defy logic, but dreams that can transform lives.  Our own, and the lives of others.  American journalist and social activist, Dorothy Day, reminds us that when we receive this vision from God, “we can change the world - we can make it simpler for people to be fed and clothed and given shelter as God intended.  And, with the vision in mind, and working with God, “we can create better conditions by crying out for the rights of the poor and the destitute.”[7]


God has given us a vision for our congregation through the New Beginnings process.  And we have had some dreams that our wonderful Moderator has mentioned over the course of these last three months.  Some of these visions and dreams seem doable, while other visions may seem impossible - but God, who is working in us, can accomplish these things.  And I know there are some who are scared or frightened of the work ahead, but here is the beauty of God’s transforming activities: Using the example of Isaiah’s audience, God equipped certain persons with precise skills to accomplish specific ministries of care.  Not everyone was called to build a house, for example, and not everyone was called to sit and spend time listening to someone in need, and not everyone was called to mail an invitation to a neighbor - but some were - and when these specific skills are combined they resulted in a marvelous transformation.


This transformation improved the world and it happened because God was in control, and God was hands-on helping bring forth that which could only be accomplished through God.  And it took place because God gave a dream to the Judeans, and to us. 


The dream may seem fantastic, but through God we can live into the vision given.  Further, we may have some dreams and visions that are beginning to fade or are threatened, however, as God’s people, dreams never truly die; they are simply resurrected by God at the right time and the right place so that we are encouraged to live into the vision and help those who feel defeated or believe their dreams have been scattered to the winds.  Our faith and our hope in God’s abilities, no matter how removed from reality they are, informs us that through us, God will bring the world harmony and peace.


God helps us restore hope for each other so that we can dream dreams together, and when God breaks through our chaos, we can say, “this is truly a dream come true.”

[1] Perhaps we have other dreams?  What do you desire?

[2] This region is known as Mesopotamia and refers to the region now occupied by modern Iraq, eastern Syria and southeastern Turkey.  The toponym comes from the Gree workds μέσος "between" andποταμός "river," referring to the basins of the Euprhates and the Tigris rivers and the are between.  

[3] Bob Kaylor,  “The Dream Machine," Homiletics, November 14, 2004.

[4] Martha Sterne, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, p. 291.

[5] Onleilove Alston, lives in Harlem and serves as the Executive Director of PiCO Faith in NY an affiliate of 70 congregations dedicated to building the beloved city. She also serves on the Sojourners Board of Directors and founded Prophetic Whirlwind: Uncovering the Black Biblical Destiny. https://sojo.net/articles/through-chaos-bring-shalom


[6] David Argo, “The kingdom in a hospice room,” Walking in the Word: UM Connection, November 7, 2001.

[7] Johann Christoph Arnold, Escape Routes: For People Who Feel Trapped in Life’s Hells.