The Vision

A sermon preached by Christopher L. Webber at St. Andrew’s Church, Kent, Connecticut, on November 14, 2010.

With the election just over and fighting still raging in Afghanistan and terrorism thriving it’s wonderful to have Isaiah hold up a vision of a different world:

I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. . . .  They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; . . . The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox . . . They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

I wish I had heard a candidate in the election hold up a vision like that. I wish I had heard someone talk about real moral values, I wish I had heard someone talk about a really transformed society, about beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, about learning war no more.  I am very tired of hearing politicians avoiding the real issues, offering no solution to the real needs of the world, slandering each other and treating us like self-centered, simple-minded children who can’t be trusted to make intelligent, informed decisions.

This is a democracy. We the people are in charge. But how can we make wise choices unless we are offered wise choices and candidates who appeal to the best that is in us, not the worst.  Why doesn’t somebody nominate Isaiah? Let me ask you now, with no elections for at least two years, to begin to take Isaiah seriously, take the Bible seriously, take the vision seriously.  The Bible holds up a better world for us to envision. Why don’t we take it seriously?

Well, the first reason we don’t take it seriously is that we’ve been taught to consider visions – well, visionary. A visionary is somebody unrealistic, right?  Would you hire a visionary to work for you? Do you want a visionary doing your investments, driving the school bus? Do you want a visionary as your doctor or teaching your children?  No.  Of course not.  Right?  It wouldn’t be practical.  It won’t work in the real world. Isn’t that the problem?

But think about that for a minute. “A visionary won’t work in the real world.”  But are you really sure that the real world is the best standard to set? Is the real world, the world you see on the evening news, the world you really want to preserve?  Given a choice between the world of the evening news and the world of Isaiah’s vision, would you really opt for the world we have? Do we really have no choice?  Is there really no way to get from here to there?  Well, no, there isn’t if we accept the conventional wisdom. But as Christians, we have in theory at least committed ourselves to change, change in ourselves, change in the world.

We just celebrated the festival of All Saints.  We gave thanks for the lives of men and women who did not accept the world as it was. Think, for one, of Harriet Beecher Stowe who grew up in a world in which white people could own black people, whip them, mutilate them, and black people had no vote, no rights.  She held up a vision of another world, or actually, she showed people the world as it was and said, “Isn’t that dreadful. Isn’t it time we changed?”  And the world did change. It took one of the bloodiest wars in history and a hundred years after that to get somewhere close to the vision of a world of equal right for all but the point is, she didn’t say, “That’s unrealistic; nothing can be done.” She had a vision, and in spite of ferocious and tenacious resistance the world was changed.  And that’s the point.

It’s visionaries who change the world, not realists. We’ve got too many realists out there.  Where are the visionaries?  This country has a higher percentage of active Christians than any other in the world.  But where are the Christians who are holding up the vision, who are reading their Bibles and finding something more to inspire us with that a condemnation of abortion and homosexual unions and higher taxes? I have a vision of a world without abortion too but anger and condemnation won’t get us there, and I want to preserve families also but what’s the vision that will get us there?  It’s here.  It’s in the Bible. It’s in Isaiah and the Sermon on the Mount and the Revelation of John: a new heaven and a new earth where there are no tears and no mourning, where no one thinks first of self, where love of God and love of neighbor is primary, where love is the the power that motivates and inspires and transforms and creates.

They say it’s discouraging that so few people vote in an off-year election. I think it’s wonderful that so many people voted when no one held up a transforming vision or challenged us to change the world.  What was it that brought out those who did vote?  Was it anger or fear or self-interest or a narrow agenda without a vision?  Or was it a sense of duty, that I ought to vote even if there’s no one who seems to hold up the values and vision I would like to find?  What I know is this: if there is no vision, we will not make any progress toward it.  If there’s no one with ideals, we will continue to be immersed in the same “real world” we have always known and continue to dismiss Isaiah’s vision as impractical dreams.

So let me not be a visionary this morning;  let me suggest some very practical steps that you and I can take now that will make a difference.

First – first and always – know the vision.  Read the Bible, pay attention when it’s read in church, ask yourself, What does this say to me?  What is God showing me about my life on the one hand and God’s purposes on the other?

Second, pray for the vision: pray for guidance in reaching it, pray for a transformed world, a new heaven and a new earth “where suffering and pain are no more . . . where “they will not hurt or destroy” any more.

And third, know that the vision is real and the evening news is not. What they show you there is not God’s purpose, not what we are called to work for and at last to experience.  It’s the vision that is real.  God shows us through the prophets what will be, what will be, and we build our lives on sand if we commit ourselves to anything else.

God has not promised this will be easy.  Read the gospel today for that. Nor are we promised that everyone will ever see it our way. Jesus used the analogy of a mustard seed and yeast – something small but powerful, a tiny thing that can transform the whole.  That’s us: the yeast that makes the bread. The yeast that is lost in the dough but without which there is no bread: a transforming minor element in the whole.  So I challenge you to become part of a new moral minority that really understands, really sees the vision, and is willing to work slowly and patiently in a sometimes hostile, often indifferent world to serve God’s purpose and make the vision real.

1 Comment

LibbyNovember 15th, 2010 at 1:16 am

I got to read this passage in church today–thanks for giving me more to think about with it.

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