December 3, 2023. Sermon Title: Can We Still Believe It?

First Mennonite Church

December 3, 2023

Can We Still Believe It?

Text: Isaiah 2:1-5

During Isaiah’s times, Yahweh came with strong words of judgment for Judah and Jerusalem. But along with God’s word of judgment came words of promise, which is always the way God operates. Judgment and promise go hand in hand in God’s modus operandi.

We Christians share the very same theological convictions the Prophet Isaiah speaks about in this passage. You see, the faith God has deposited in us through his grace and the hope it affords us in light of God’s promises, all comes down to the concreteness of daily life. Let me explain what I mean. Our faith in God leads us to believe that He will provide for our needs, right? So, in concrete terms, that means we believe God will provide food on our table, which is proof that the land had produced abundantly, which also indicates there was rain or water to raise the crops that make our meals. The belief that God will provide also means that, somehow, we will be able to pay our monthly bills and that we will have a house above our heads to keep us to shelter us from the elements. It also means that we will have the health and strength to earn a living, as much as we can. Therefore, faith is made palpable in our daily lives. So, we bow our heads to give thanks to God for the bounty of the fields every time before we eat our meal. So again, at the end of the month, we not only give a sigh of relief that we manage to pay the gas bill and others, but we rejoice and celebrate God’s faithful goodness. Yet again, the Lord has promised that he will watch over us. We trust God will protect us as we go out. And when we come home, we bow in prayers of thanksgiving to the Lord for guiding and protecting us from the dangers on the roads and even from those we never knew about. And still, once more, God has promised that he will be with us because Christ is the Immanuel and the Holy Spirit now lives in us. The proof of this is the non-anxious life we live is because God’s peace sustains our hearts and minds. God gives us peace and strength as we face life’s challenges or when we get sick or see our loved ones come to the end of their lives. We know that God holds us in his arms, in life or death and beyond. Our belief in a faithful God is proven in the concreteness of our daily lives.

Therefore, we live with the conviction beautifully articulated by the apostle Paul, “If God is with us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31, 32). We live with the conviction that God will renew, not only our spirit but the world itself. On that day, mourning will be no more. Death will disappear and God’s goodness will reign. Yes, God promises us a world and life conditions that sound impossible to exist because the realities of today engrave in our being what is only temporal, ugly, painful, disappointing, and dying.

Indeed, the reality around us is much the opposite of what we believe God can do or will do. Even when many things have made the world a better place to live, yet, in many ways also, there are aspects of the human condition that have remained the same, and sometimes we think of them as having worsened. Wars have only gotten more deadly and destructive, engulfing not only those directly engaged in them. Therefore, many innocent people who have nothing to do with these wars also die. The world has become a global village, thus anything that happens in one corner of the globe has repercussions everywhere. Sadly, the pandemic is one good example of that. Another example of that is the world of finances and trade. When there is trouble in the Middle East or the Gulf Coast, we feel the pinch when pumping gas. The war between Russia and Ukraine affected the global wheat market; thus, some places in the world are seeing price increases in flour and its by-products. Even in this country, people are dying because of the passion that arises from the war between Israel and Hamas.

Injustice, violence, and death continue trudging around the world, leaving behind a wake of unspeakable suffering for many. And it is in the face of all these troublesome realities that we still hold onto God’s promises of a better world, a world of peace and harmony. We still believe that God continues to speak words of judgment and promise.

That was exactly the very same situation during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry. In Isaiah chapter one, God says Israel is worse than a donkey or an ox because the ox and donkey know their master. But as for Israel, she lacks knowledge and understanding of God, despite every effort God was making through his prophets. God calls Israel, “children given to corruption who persist in rebellion.” Therefore, God rejects Israel and her lip service to him, to the point of detesting their solemn gathering and sacrifices. Religion was a mockery of God. The city and its people were rotting away, not only spiritually, and morally, but also physically (v. 5, 6). God called the people of Judah and their leaders, “rulers of Gomorrah and Sodom.” “The faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice and where righteousness used to dwell—is now the dwelling place of murderers! Says the prophet (1:21).

 Therefore, in light of such a terrible situation, both people and their institutions, the promise the Lord makes in chapter two seems an almost impossible proposition. According to God’s promise, the temple would become the highest place on earth. This holy tower of a city would rise above all mountains and beckon the nations to flow into it. This city that was dripping with iniquity, would become the platform from where God would teach his ways to the nations. Jerusalem, which at the time of Isaiah’s ministry was corrupt and ridden with injustice would become God’s judicial hall from where He would issue justice and settle disputes. The city whose dweller’s hands were filled with blood would become a sanctuary of peace to the world.

On that day, the Lord promised

 “Afterward you will be called
    the City of Righteousness,
    the Faithful City.”

It was very likely that Israel had difficulty envisioning a world of such beauty, peace, and glory as the Lord was promising.  

To envision the world that God promises us is also difficult to envision in light of the current realities. The thought that there will be a time when peace will rule the world is hard to envision. The idea that one day Jesus will come for a second time seems an almost impossible proposition if it will ever happen. The Christian claim that we will rise from the dead one day can sound naïve in light of death’s unrelenting grip. The promise that pain and suffering will one day come to an end and that God will wipe away the tears from every eye can sound like an unrealistic dream. But, can we still believe in God’s promises? Yes, we can.

As we enter the Advent Season, let us remember that the coming of Jesus as a baby set in motion God’s many promises. In Jesus, every promise of God drew closer to its fulfillment. His gift of faith empowers us to believe that God is true and will never lie. So, we hope for what we do not yet have, and we wait for it patiently, as Paul says in Romans. May the Spirit of the Lord grant us the power to hold fast to this faith that sustains our hope ground in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Amen!

Pastor Romero