First Mennonite Church
June 21, 2020
Texts: Isaiah 65:17-25; John 16:25-33
In the Bible, the human story begins in the Garden of Eden. The picture of the Garden of Eden and human life in it look perfect and idyllic. God was personally involved in everything and human relationship was perfect. The whole was a perfect world. What is striking, is that when Jesus spoke about the quality and stability of the relationship between husband and wife, he referred to God’s way in the beginning (Matthew 19:3-5). Again, when God was re-assuring his people about his care and love for them, God promised them a reimagined version of an edenic place, as we see in the Isaiah passage. Jerusalem would be a city of joy, child mortality would be completely eradicated, longevity would be the norm for life, the forest, lush and green, and water sources abundant and pure. The land would become a renewed and enlarged Garden of Eden. Much later in the Bible during John’s exile in Patmos, he was given a glorious vision of a new heaven and a new earth, which exceeds Eden. In the New Jerusalem, descended from heaven, God promises to be the light. Tears, pain, and death will be things of the past. God would, once again, be in person with his people.
Throughout the Bible we find God’s comforting words for his people. Obviously, when people are comfortable and everything is going well, comforting words are meaningless. Comforting words, not only become uplifting to the down trodden, but are desperately needed in times of distress. The words of restoration we find in Isaiah came during a time considered the most challenging of times in the life of Israel. It was during the Babylonian captivity. The exile forced Israel to reconsider its understanding of God and Yahweh’s relationship with them, as his chosen people. The Exile proved to be a time of crisis, of soul searching, and about the implications of what it meant to be the people of God.
Where was God when the Babylonians killed, destroyed and carried away his people? How could the Mighty Warrior, the God of the Hosts allow his sacred place be sacked and defiled? Why did God not come in defense of his chosen ones? And then, how could Israel sing a new song to Yahweh in a foreign land?
The Israelites could not really understand what had happened to them. They were captives in a foreign land, with foreign customs, gods, and were far away from their homeland. It was in this context that Isaiah brought the word of the Lord in such promising ways. God promised that they will return to their homeland and there will be peace, abundance and life, more than they have ever had before their captivity.
A few weeks after we entered into the stay-at-home order, Dennis and I were talking about the situation. I told him that in some way, we might feel a little like those who were taken into exile. It would not be surprising if some begin to feel sort of inner sense of dislocation. The world, as we knew it, was not the same. We could not visit one another, could not gather to worship, and the very basic ways of expressing joy and love were no longer possible without putting our health at risk. We cannot sing in group; we cannot hug one another, not even shake hands.
This year has been a remarkably difficult one in many ways. And without having to rehearse it, we know how difficult it has been. We have had to make changes and still continue to make adjustments in many ways unforeseen at the beginning of the year. Yet for hundreds of thousands, their lives were completely changed forever.
In chapter 16 of John, Jesus explicitly tells anxious disciples what will happen to him soon. “In a little while, you will see me no more. . . .” (16:16). “You will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices. You will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy” (16:20). In our passage from John, Jesus tells his disciples that from then on he was going to speak to them plainly about what was going to happen. The time has come for Jesus to return to the Father. The disciples will abandon Jesus and after his death, things will only get worse. In the world, the disciple will themselves feel abandoned and will face persecution. But it is here where Jesus then tells them something: But take courage; I have conquered the world!”
Just as Jesus confronted the cross, trusting in the righteousness of the Father that he will abandon Jesus, he also assures his disciples that they will not be abandoned. Just as Jesus was victorious over death, through his resurrection, the disciples are also included in that victory. Take courage; I have conquered the world and death.
I believe there is no one who is immune to the event that have occurred and are still occurring today. I tell you, there are days when I do not care watching the evening news. It has become so depressing. Our society is extremely polarized. There seem not to be any neutral or common grounds on issues. You are either for or against this or that. It is not difficult to understand why many whose lives have been directly affected by the events and issues of today get involved in activism. Frustration, resentment, and even violence are direct result of the mental, emotional, and even spiritual impact these events have on our society. I am not justifying these feelings or reactions. I am simple describing how people are responding.
Dear people of the Lord, I am speaking especially to those of us at FMC, here is a word of warning: What has happened and is still happening has not directly nor deeply impacted us. No one from our fellowship has gotten sick from the pandemic. None from our fellowship has experienced in the flesh the deep wounds of racism and racial profiling. No one from amongst us have lost either loved ones to the pandemic or suffered economic loss due to the riots. Therefore, if and when we comment about these things, let us be mindful that we only do so from the stand point of the observer. Thus, it is extremely important for us to try understanding those who have been affected directly by these things. By walking in the shoes of those who have been affected, will not only make more informed if or when we say something, but it will also help us be more empathetic with those who have been directly affected.
As followers of Christ, we certainly have been afflicted in our spirit by the things that are happening today. Affliction in the heart can either lead us to be sympathetic or make us resentful. The dictionary defines resentment as having negative or bitter feelings about someone or something. There will be many things and possibly even people who will not measure up to our expectations. The great philosopher Nietzsche says, “Resentments are deadly – literally. Nothing on earth consumes a person more quickly than the passion of resentment.”
Let us remember the words of Jesus: In the world you will have trouble. But take courage; I have conquered the world!
The promise of sharing in Jesus’ victory opens up for us some amazing possibilities. We should make his victories our own. That doesn’t mean we will be trouble-free. It means that despite the troubles we are confronted by, we remain trusting that the Lord will be by our side to give us the wisdom, courage, and grace to deal with them. Take courage; I have conquered the world, the Lord says to us today. Amen!