A few weeks ago, the route was different. The disciples brought Jesus a borrowed donkey and he descended from the Mount of Olives into the Holy City. The prophet Zechariah had laid out the path for the expected Messiah’s arrival and he followed it.
Now, instead of entering Jerusalem, they’re leaving it. Now, instead of descending from the Mount of Olives, they climb it. They retrace their steps. And now, instead of the Messiah arriving, the Messiah will — could this be right? — withdraw and depart.
November 7, 2021
Dr. Todd R. Wright
I’ve just finished taking part in a book study led by Ed Thompson. We discussed Quietly Courageous by Gil Rendle. Rendle analyzes the situation of the modern church and asks the provocative question: What if where we are now is not the product of things gone wrong, but of a world grown different?
He spells out the situation with a few numbers:[i]
In 1945 Americans spent $26 million on sacred architecture; just 5 years later, in 1950 it was $409 million; in 1960 the figure was $1 billion! We are sitting in part of that trend!
A building boom was necessitated by membership growth that out-paced population growth!
Then in 1965 the mainline churches began posting membership losses. It has continued for more than 50 years. Congregations have gotten older. Fewer people are joining – not just churches but all organizations. Those who remain are tired.
The temptation is to blame leadership or policies; to work harder; to do what we’ve always done, but do it better so we can get back to where we were!
But what if the place we are trying to get back to no longer exists?
What if there is no going back, only forward?
That is the situation our passage addresses. Isaiah is writing to a people in exile who long to go home. But the Jerusalem of their memories was destroyed. There were no walls to protect them, no Temple in which to worship, none of the infrastructure of a functioning city.
The work of rebuilding would be exhausting. Even imagining it required energy.
Isaiah begins by reminding the people that God is the Creator!
Our passage starts with the question, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth!”
It is true, of course, but they may have wondered why he was bringing up ancient history.
In the verses leading up to our few, Isaiah harkens back to the images of Genesis to remind them that God sets boundaries and keeps chaos at bay; the Lord makes a home for all God’s creatures, providing for them and protecting them; and this God, who spoke creation into existence with a word, is more powerful than all the kings of the earth (including their oppressor, Babylon) or any threatening enemy to come.
This God of theirs, Isaiah reminds them, the one they have been singing psalms about for generations, will not grow weary. And better yet, this God who has promised to be their God, delights in giving power to the powerless!
Power to mount up with wings like eagles; to run and not be weary; to walk and not faint!
You see the point, don’t you?
Creation is not a one-time act. When things break down; when people are tired; when the way forward is unclear, the Lord promises to pour creative energy into God’s people.
God will make a new creation!
In The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle told us, “Every five hundred years, the Church cleans out its attic and has a giant rummage sale.”
Some 500 years ago, that new creation was called the Reformation;
500 years before that was the Great Schism that divided the Eastern and Western Church;
500 years before that, early Church Fathers spoke into the chaos of the Roman Empire’s fall;
go back another 500 years and the first church councils were defining Christianity;
and we are living in such a time.
Each time, God created something new out of the mess, the confusion, the brokenness!
The Lord will not abandon us.
The community of faith is not slowly dying. It wasn’t in Isaiah’s day. It is not now. Instead, it is being re-created by a powerful and loving God.
Have you not heard? Do you not know? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth! Amen
[i] from pages 20-21