Isaiah 66.10-14; Psalm 66.1-9; Galatians 6.7-16; Luke 10.1-11, 16-20
Today’s reading from Isaiah comes as a word of promise to a people in a world of pain. The Israelites had been exiled from the promised land, from their home, for about 40 years, which then was easily two generations. They had returned, expecting a joyful reunion with their city Jerusalem, with their home, with the temple where God lived. Instead they found no temple and a city destroyed. There was famine, contentiousness and conflict with the people who had remained and amongst themselves, and struggles between those who had much and those who had little.
The book of Isaiah in general is filled with condemnation and lament as the Israelites struggled to re-make their home in this familiar but different place. And into that profound pain, the last two chapters of Isaiah come with a word of promise. A word that is God’s response to all the lament and judgement. God’s response is a promise.
There is talk of prosperity, but what may be more important is how that wealth and prosperity is used. In today’s reading, we meet a comforting mother, caring for ALL her children, working so that the entire community might flourish. There is abundant food and lots of play (did you catch that part about dandling on her knee?). The promise is care, comfort, and joy. God may be bound to God’s people through promise, but God is also energized by a parental delight in Jerusalem.
We have met another energized character these last few weeks as we’ve read most of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. His letter to them is much more stern than most of his others. The Galatians are being led astray by other missionaries who are preaching that new Gentile/non-Jewish converts to Christianity need to be circumcised and to be following all of the Jewish laws.
So in Galatians we encounter the pain of a community in conflict. We also encounter the pain and frustration of Paul himself. It’s pretty obvious here at the last part of his letter, which he writes in his own hand. It was typical of letters in that time and place for the author to have someone else transcribing the letter, but ‘sign off’ at the end in his own hand. Often Paul would sign off with a word of peace to the community - not here! He emphasizes again how upset he is that the people were getting distracted from God’s grace and instead focusing on earthly, cultural things that didn’t matter in the long run or bigger picture.
The promise that Paul is emphasizing here is NEW CREATION. Most translations find a way to smooth it out, but in verse 15, the part that reads in the NRSV “but a new creation is everything” is really just Paul blurting out NEW CREATION at the end of that sentence. It isn’t grammatically smooth like the translations deal with it. He is so excited, so passionate about this promise of new creation from God, he can’t hold it in, the rules of grammar no longer apply.
And this new creation is not about what happens to an individual person, it is a universal truth. It’s not “you are a new creation”, but instead “there is a new creation.” It’s not about renewing our lives or transforming ourselves, it is about God doing something completely different for all of creation. And how God accomplishes this is exactly why Paul is so worked up - the new creation is not a dream or vision, but instead is lived out in reality within community. A community’s life together testifies to the reconciling power of the gospel. Paul is desperate for the Galatians to be living out that reality, rather than getting mired in the petty arguments about things that could never affect the outpouring of God’s love for us.
So what do these stories mean for us today? While we may not be returning from exile, while we may not be fighting about circumcision, pain and conflict are still a part of everyone’s life. On every level of our lives we can find it - from our daily lives to huge world issues. From our relationships with our significant others to the state of our country’s politics. Just as the Israelites, the Galatians, and Paul needed them, we too need the promises of God in the midst of our pain and conflict.
God’s promise of comfort is a relief to our weary souls. God’s promise of new creation reminds us that God is bigger than the chaos that swirls around us. Bigger than Trump vs. Clinton, or Brexit. Bigger than violence, terrorism and hate crimes. Bigger than divorce, cancer, bankruptcy.
God’s promise of comfort is real every time people reach out in love, kindness and gentleness. God’s promise of new creation is real every time we as human communities work for good and walk the hard journey of reconciliation together. New creation as lived out in community should profoundly change our lives, especially in the way that we talk about and treat others.
Since the news of Elie Wiesel’s death this weekend, I’ve been thinking about his live and looking at his words. He sums it up well when he says “Look, if I were alone in the world, I would have the right to choose despair, solitude and self-fulfillment. But I am not alone.”
We are not alone. God’s new creation being a community also means that we never go alone. Just as Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs, we too can have a partner in the Gospel at our side, Jesus’s word at our back, and reminders of God’s promises every time we see a rainbow, a new baby, or an empty cross.