The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
November 13, 2022
A cartoon showed a pastor, shoulders slumped in discouragement, standing at the front door of the church as the last person left worship. A man wearing an usher’s badge was patting the pastor’s arm consolingly and saying, “Your stewardship sermons are improving. Still not much money, but a lot more IOU’s!”
Actually, on Pledge Sunday, we hope for a lot of IOU’s, for a pledge card is in effect an IOU made out to God – though God, unlike vendors in these hard financial times, never goes after those who don’t pay up!
A pledge is a faith promise an individual or a couple makes to God in response to the promises God has sworn to fulfill and to those He’s already fulfilled.
When our love for God is perfect, we praise and thank God for who He is in Himself apart from what He does for us. But in the meantime, it is natural and right to praise and thank Him for all His gracious gifts of the past and in the present and for the future.
Last Sunday we reflected on how God is calling us today to rebuild this house of His, just as God called our spiritual ancestors to rebuild His house in Jerusalem back in Haggai’s day. We also reflected on how we must build His house blindly because we don’t yet know the extent and process of the reconstruction project He has in mind.
This Sunday our scripture elaborates God’s promise to make things in the end fantastically good for the faithful, which inspires the faithful to build His house in such a way that it embodies here and now something of that great end that is yet to come.
Isaiah 65 paints a picture of that great end. It does so by detailing its specific impact on Jerusalem and by describing its extraordinary blessings in terms of the ordinary blessings the people in Isaiah’s day hoped for.
In the end, Isaiah here prophesies, God will create a new earth; and its joys will be so great that all will forget their past troubles. There’ll no longer be the sound of weeping or of distress. In a once war-ravaged land full of the graves of the young, people will enjoy full and long lives. Mothers will deliver babies without worry about bringing them into a world of calamity; and people will build houses and plant vineyards without worry about a foreign army taking them over and using them up for itself. Why, in the end, animals as well as human beings will live in peace with each another, and no one shall hurt or destroy on God’s holy mountain – that is, on Mt. Zion at the very heart of Jerusalem.
Yes, this great end is made vivid by its specific impact upon one particular people, but their blessing only exemplifies a world-wide blessing. As Isaiah makes abundantly clear in many other prophecies, people of all the nations of earth will be among those who enter into the happiness and harmony of this promised great end.
Now, when we really believe that this end is our promised end, we don’t need, in order to be glad of heart and whole, as much of the world’s blessings as we used to. With both good cheer and deep serenity, we endure the hard knocks and deprivations this world can bring, even as we voluntarily sacrifice some blessings we could enjoy to do what is right: what is just, compassionate and true. Even if we have to deny ourselves some nice things so that others can have essential things, we still radiate joy and peace. For we so appreciate God’s wild generosity to us, even in this world, that we delight in being wildly generous in building God’s house to bless and serve all people.
If we can believe in God’s promises to form a perfect world for the faithful in the end, and if we experience some of the deep inner benefits God bestows on the way to that perfect world, will we not be extravagantly grateful and thus extravagantly generous?
We might even become as generous as Cathie Gephardt’s three-year-old son, Timmy. Timmy had “helped” his mother as she, for their community’s Christmas toy drive, collected donations for “kids that don’t have anything to play with”.
When Christmas Day came, Timmy received his much-wanted Sesame Street Play House. After he had played with it all day, Cathie found him trying to rewrap it. When she asked what he was doing, he said, “I want to give this to one of the kids that doesn’t have anything to play with because, if I didn’t have any toys, this is what I’d want.”
Because of the bountiful blessings God has promised us in the end, and because of the foretastes of them God has been giving us in the present, let us make the most generous faith promise we can to help build this house of God, a house set on blessing children of all ages, and with the same generosity with which it has been blessed.