[Sermon preached December 13, 2020 at Avenue United Methodist Church. You can listen to the sermon on our website or watch on Youtube.]
One Christmas in the mid-1980’s, my parents got my sister and I a cardboard space shuttle. My memory says it was about six feet long and looked like the Challenger or the Endeavor. In reality, it was a souped-up box that sat on the floor and required a kid to use their imagination that they were flying through space. It was not flashy. It was simple. It was great.
For four days.
We hosted a family New Year’s Eve party at our house where my mom’s family would come over. It was always the highlight of the season to have my cousins and a lot of food at the party. It was the one time of the year where we would rent a VCR in order to watch some movies. (If you don’t understand that, ask your parents). Somehow, over the course of the evening, our cardboard spaceship got wrecked beyond repair. Four days of imagination. Four days of use. Four days of joy. When it was no longer able to be useful, it went in the garbage.
Broken things cannot do what they were intended to do.
As parents, we have consumed a large amount of children’s programming over the years. We even have our favorites that we do not mind watching. There are other shows, I’m looking at you Calliou, that are permanently banned in our house. One show that the girls like was the Disney show, Doc McStuffin. Doc was a young girl whose toys came to life for her when no one was around. They had wonderful adventures together. Inevitably, a toy would get broken and Doc would take out her medical kit and repair what was broken. When Doc is around, there was hope for the broken toy.
As you read through the Major Prophets, today’s reading from Isaiah being one, you quickly have the understanding that Israel- as the people of God- are broken. The sin that infiltrated the world in Genesis two has become widespread. In the Book of Judges, we are told that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The emphasis is on the fact that they did not do what God desires for them to do. Israel talked a good game about worshiping God, but they oppress the poor and take advantage of the fatherless and the widow. The say there are the people of God without living like the people of God.
In chapter one of Isaiah, God brings complaints against Israel. Israel is compared to a prostitute by being unfaithful to God by worshipping other deities. Idolatry, the worship of other things other than the one True God, is a major theme throughout the OT when it comes to Israel. God says that Israel was once full of justice, but that it is now filled with murderers. Lastly, they have failed to defend the fatherless and the widow. God says that Israel has become like a dying oak tree with fading leaves.
Dead. Fruitless. Only good for tinder.
Twenty years into Isaiah’s ministry, Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire and later they were led off into captivity for 70 years in Babylon. These losses for Israel were seen as divine judgment for the nation’s sins as they had lost their way. Israel had forgotten their purpose and calling to worship God and be a blessing to the nations. Like an oak fed to the fire, Israel crumbled and was defeated leaving the people and the nation broken and hopeless.
Over the last several weeks, we have been acknowledging the hopelessness that we feel in the world today. Some of this hopelessness comes from sources outside of ourselves. We see the poverty, the suffering, and the darkness that is in the world. Violence, systemic racism, famine, natural disasters and the list could on. We could easily include the pandemic as we deal with isolation, anxiety, fear, sickness and death of friends and loved ones. We see how sin continues to infect our world and our lives.
Some of our hopelessness and darkness in our lives comes from within us as we choose to live opposed to God. Our own sinful choices plunge us in hopelessness. We live with a sense of darkness and brokenness that comes from our sin and our distance from God. We have been created to live in relationship with God; we have been created with a purpose to be Image Bearers of God to the world, yet our sin keeps us from fully bearing God’s image.
Whether we are talking about Israel in the book of Isaiah or each of us today- we cannot escape the hopelessness and the darkness of the world on our own. There is Hope in Isaiah as God is going to do for Israel what they cannot do for themselves.
The easiest way to understand what happens in Isaiah 61 is that God is making a new way for Israel. God promises One who is anointed by the Spirit to proclaim Good News to the poor; put back together the brokenhearted; freedom for the captives; releasing prisoners; to comfort those who mourn; and turning mourning into joy.
At the end of verse three- God says:
“They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”Isaiah 61:3
At the beginning of Isaiah, God’s complaint against Israel was that they were a dying, worthless, oak tree that was only good for the fire. Here- there is hope for the broken as they will be called an Oak of Righteousness- displaying God’s splendor.
There is a great reversal here. Mourning is turned to joy. Ashes turned into a crown of beauty. It is the night being pushed away by dawn breaking on the horizon. Darkness is turned into hope as God puts back together the things that are broken.
Where does this Hope for the broken come from?
In Luke 4, Jesus went to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth and stood up to read the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. He unrolled it and read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,Luke 4:18-19
Because he has anointed me
To proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To set the oppressed free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus then rolled the scroll up and looked at those who were gathered there. His parent’s friends. The people who had watched him grow up. Those who may have knew of his scandalous birth. He said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Some people were amazed at Jesus’ words while others were furious and tried to kill him.
The Hope in the Darkness; the Hope for the hopelessness; the Joy for the Grieving; the life that is truly life is not a king. It is not a President. It is not a political party. It is not a lifestyle. It is not a philosophy. It is a person. It is Jesus. Jesus is the hope for the broken. Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Jesus overcomes our sin. Jesus restores our lives. Jesus brings healing to the broken places.
The Good News that Jesus brings, the healing that Jesus brings is not just for us. This good news is not something that we can keep to ourselves. It is for the world. It is for all people. If it is not good news for ALL PEOPLE then it is not GOOD NEWS.
Jesus Christ is good news for the poor. Jesus is good news for the brokenhearted. Jesus is good news for the oppressed, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, marginalized, the aged, the young, the immigrant, the criminal, the wrongfully accused, the addict, the confused, the anxious, the grieving, fatherless, and the widow.
Jesus takes the sin and the brokenness in our lives because of our own choices, and takes the brokenness in our lives because of the decisions of others and begins to heal them through the Cross and the resurrection. Jesus came to earth anointed to bring Hope to the hopeless and to heal the broken. God’s love for each of us through Jesus restores and heals what is broken in us and in the world. Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
This is where you and I have been called. As Image Bearers, we are to do the work of Jesus in the world. We are to bring Hope to the Hopeless. We are to work to bind up with brokenhearted. We are to feed the hungry and visit the sick. Why? Because Jesus did that for us. The Hope that Jesus brings must be hope for everyone or else it is not good news. When do do this, we will be like Mighty Oaks because God will work through us. A failure to do so will leave us as dying trees with fading leaves.
There is a lot of brokenness in our community. There are wounds that need healing and scars that tell the stories of brokenness of ourselves and our neighbors. Each place of brokenness we see and know of is an opportunity to share the Hope that we have in Jesus. In January, we will be have a 20 Day Fast and Prayer Time to lift up our church and our community as we ask God to help us see the brokenness and to hear how Avenue is being called to stand in the gap. There will be opportunities to pray together, share vision together, and to organize around our passions and callings of how we can take Jesus to Milford and the world. On Sunday, January 24th– we will gather in-person or virtually for worship and a time of visioning for the church. While Jesus is the one who heals, Jesus calls you and I to be active in the world as agents of healing. Even though we are in a pandemic, we have hope that the end is near. It is time to engage, to train, to disciple, and to release a church filled with the Spirit out into the world. I will be providing more information as the time draws near.
This week, and in the weeks to come, what opportunities do you have to share the Hope of Jesus? Are there ways that you can offer Christ to those who are broken? Have you invited Christ to heal the brokenness in our own life?