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  • Writer's pictureRev. Christopher Tweel

A stone of hope...

Recently in a Bible study that I was teaching we covered material from Isaiah chapter 25 which mentions as part of a period of rejoicing in the Mountain of Zion.

Part of what we discussed that day was that there is in this chapter a glad response to some of the troubling accusations in chapter 24. There is a movement from God relating to the people of Israel that there are consequences for acting outside of God's will and love for the world. Real consequences that have very specific effects for the people and the land. Namely, being scattered as the earth withers, as even the sun and the moon are dismayed.

I think of chapter 24, and the book of Isaiah as a whole, in the current climate of the newest deaths in the ongoing crisis in the Holy Land. It’s strange isn’t it? Three of the world's religions see this space as some of the most holy and most precious on earth. All three religions arguably follow the same God and are, at their core, committed to peace and wholeness. Yet, there has been no peace there since the end of World War II. How have our respective cultures so failed God that we have all allowed this to continue for more than a generation? I remember that Isaiah's words for the people of God are harsh, reminding them of the devastation that comes from not following God's heartfelt instance for how we human believers should treat one another and the world: bitterness, desolations, gloom and banishment. These are all among the words that Isaish uses to give perspective on how the world exists outside of God's justice.

There is a danger to imagine that what God wants is for a chosen few to destroy and demand obedience to their way of life. But that isn't what God wants.

Isaiah has a famous vision of a burning coal being brought towards him. From Isaiah's point of view, he fully believes that it will destroy him -- but instead it purifies him. It makes him ready for the work that is yet to take place.

Similarly, God reveals that destruction and the burning of the "stump" of what Israel was isn't meant to destroy, but to reshape. People and leaders who are empowered by God to overcome tyrants who destroy and kill. God's people, meant to foster the new Jerusalem which is a place of Justice and Peace for all nations. Not one nation. All nations. That is God's will and plan for the world. In the first few chapters we know that God intends to let the old ways of Jerusalem die out. Their way of rebellion and hubris and injustice, will be replaced.

God's plan has never been for the "right" side to kill the others. We imagine an Old Testament God ready to smite the world -- kill any who do not conform or obey. We imagine that armies that chant this mantra must be on God's side. But the truth is that war and death are the last resort for God who weeps over stubborn people. Instead, God wants every nation present in Jerusalem in peace and wholeness. In Shalom.

Which brings us back to chapter 25. The holy mountain of Zion that is listed there at this point in the book of Isaiah, has been a place of great weeping and war and death and is preparing for its future in this chapter as a place of life. The mountain becomes the place where God destroys the burial shroud that has enfolded "all peoples, all nations' and there God destroys death forever.

Not just for Israel. For all nations. For all time.

At the end of chapter 25, the people of earth then recognize that this is the action of a trustworthy and saving God, and they rejoice.

Famously, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King created the image of a hopeful stone. Nearing the end of his "I Have a Dream" speech, I think he pulls from these later chapters of Isaiah. I think he pictures this mountain in Jerusalem as he says that with faith, "we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope." When I see the latest killings in Palestinian Churches. Or the murders that Hammas inflicted on Israeli civilians. Or the injustice of the Israeli state punishing Palestinian children with a lack of food and water and shelter. Or terrorists bombing Israeli buses. Or Zionists stealing property from Palestinian farmers. As I look back at the history of this “holy” land in the last 80 years and see the tit-for-tat measures of hate and destruction and murder and death, I have to believe that we can still hew out a stone of hope from this mountain of despair that threatens to overwhelm us and the people of Israel and Palestine.

This is the faith that I have. This is the faith that, as Dr. King says, is responsible for the work of bringing hope from despair. Faith that lets us imagine a new Jerusalem for every nation. Faith that reminds us that God is not ready to destroy, but is teaching us what we will need next. Faith that is stronger than the death and suffering that we devise creating a grand vision of God's covenant promises. In that faith we pray, and act, and work to hew out the hope of that promised Kingdom.

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