A Future to Look Forward To

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Isaiah 65:17-25

    Growing up my grandparents had two dogs, a little black Dachshund named Emmy and an enormous golden retriever called Butch.  They got them both around the same time as puppies, so the two dogs grew up together.  What was funny was that Emmy was totally the queen of the house.  Butch was more of an outdoor farm dog but when he would come inside, she would snip and bark at him to let him know she was in charge.  Despite him being 75 pounds larger, he was afraid of that little Dachshund, and she was not in the least afraid of him, having seemingly no awareness of her small size.  As much as she would yap at him during the day though, after we ate dinner and were watching the nightly news, they would curl up against one another in their “spot” in the corner and sleep peacefully together for the night.  Despite their (really Emmy’s) bickering, they loved each other.  It is this image that comes to mind when I think about our first reading from Isaiah, the wolf and the lamb feeding together, and God’s vision of people who once were enemies becoming friends in God’s new heaven and earth.  Love is possible, even in seemingly impossible situations.    
What do you imagine the future to be like in fifty years?  Do you first imagine the worst; an apocalyptic scene where there are wars, famines, plagues and earthquakes like Jesus warns us of in the gospel for this morning, even more so than there are now?  Or do you have a more hopeful vision of people coming together to alleviate climate change, reduce global hunger and poverty, live more peaceably with one another and so on, more like Isaiah’s vision in chapter 65?  It sure is easy to be cynical and get discouraged, isn’t it?  At first read, the picture Isaiah paints of the wolf lying down with the lamb and lions becoming vegetarian seems like wishful thinking, an impossible utopia, doesn’t it?  And yet, as people of faith, we know that God gives us hope for the future.  We know that God can do the impossible.  We know that even though the human need for vengeance and war is common, God can also bring people together – the end of apartheid in South Africa, the end of slavery in the United States, the end of World War II where Germany is now one of our greatest allies, the image of Butch and Emmy sleeping peacefully together.  
Jesus warns us to pay attention to signs that the end of the world as we know it is coming, but he also promises that through our endurance, we will gain our souls.  Jesus tells us not to trust in the many who say the time is near (there sure have been plenty of people throughout history who thought the end was near and were wrong!) Jesus tells us to not be terrified, because even though terrible things have happened and continue to happen in this world, these things are NOT the end of God’s story for us.  As people of faith, we know where we are headed, and that death and destruction are not God’s last word for us!  God gives us a future to look forward to, a new heaven and earth.
    So let’s return to Isaiah’s promise of a new heaven and earth to imagine a future worth looking forward to.  As people with Christ’s hope and peace living within us, Isaiah invites us to imagine the unimaginable.  We have survived another election season, and probably already dread somewhat what is coming with the 2024 presidential elections (at least I do).  I don’t watch a lot of TV but was bombarded in the little time I was watching as well as through the mail and email with political ads that were truly comical in terms of their dire warnings of what would happen if the other party or the other person won the midterms.  The division in this country among fellow Americans and fellow Christians is truly concerning.  Isaiah points us to a different vision that doesn’t align with any political system or party but rather points us back to God’s peace and God’s vision for humanity.  As people of faith, we need to resist giving into the fear of the future that is all around us, often manufactured for personal and political gain. It’s just not true.
     Keep in mind, the Lord is speaking through Isaiah to the people of Israel who have been divided into two kingdoms – the North and the South – at this time.  The people of Israel have experienced war and oppression of foreign rulers resulting in the death of people including children due to malnutrition, famine and violence.  In the midst of their division, suffering and pain, God gives them comfort and peace.  The Lord dares to set a vision for a new heavens and earth where the people will live as long as trees and one who dies at one hundred will be considered a youth.  Where people who once were enemies live peaceably in God’s peaceable kingdom – where none hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain.  In both the gospel and our first reading, the Lord assures us that our final destiny is not rejection, suffering, and hatred but rather comfort and peace.
    So we dare to imagine a world where the Make America Great Again and the Black Lives Matter folks come together and eat together, where the donkey and the elephant coexist peacefully, where Ukrainians and Russians are friends and people refuse to return evil for evil.  We heed Jesus’ words that breath-taking buildings, nations, Earth’s stability and political parties are temporary – all these things will be thrown down.  All these things will pass away, but God’s word will not pass away.  Christ’s salvation is eternal.  These other things can’t save us, but our faith in Christ can, because our faith in Christ endures AND our faith in Christ changes us for the better!  Our faith in Christ transforms us to be more hopeful and less cynical.  To be more loving and less vengeful.  To be more creative in imagining a future to look forward to, and less fearful and anxious about the future, no matter what comes.  To be more trusting in the power of resurrection to triumph over all the death-dealing forces of evil.
    We’re just two weeks from the season of Advent, and these words from Isaiah 65 may sound familiar, because Isaiah 11 (toward the beginning of the book) repeats these words almost verbatim.  Isaiah 11 adds the foretelling the coming of Christ as the root of Jesse, which we’ll hear in just a few weeks.  In addition to the wolf living with the lamb, Isaiah 11 adds the leopard lying down with a baby goat, a kid, and says that “a little child shall lead them.”  God sends a little child, Jesus the Christ, to give us hope for the future.  God sends Jesus the Christ to look death and destruction in the face on the cross and defeat them once and for all so that we might know that the end of our story is life, not death.  Yes, Jesus assures us that being a Christian is not always easy.  There will be persecutions, sufferings and rejections in our striving to follow him; many of us have already experienced this.  But in following him our lives are changed for the better so that we have a future not to dread, but rather a future to look forward to.  Amen.