A Vision for the Nation from Isaiah
This sermon was preached by the Rev. William C. Snyder, a member of LAMPa’s policy council, at the start of the council’s December meeting, reflecting on the divisiveness of the recent election and looking ahead to the task of governing together.
Thursday, December 1, Isaiah 2:1-5, Week of Advent 1
Having met friends for breakfast on Friday morning at a wonderful little bistro in the art’s district of Lancaster we walked up Prince Street where a friend of mine has his art gallery. He was in. His current show is artwork inspired by Cathedrals, Trees and Music. One such piece hangs in my dining room. Amidst this collection was a piece entitled “The Table”, which Freiman does not often have on display. There are actually a couple tables in an impressionistic setting suggesting a backyard or outdoor gathering space, perhaps a café, with evening lanterns lit and darkness at the edges. Chairs are clustered around for cozy conversation and community, and all the chairs are different, a collection of diverse seating, all waiting empty for the diverse people who may occupy them. The table in the foreground has a runner, suggesting a parament of sorts and along with cheese and fruit is a hearty loaf of bread and cup, and a jug of wine. There is also a basin and pitcher, if you get the drift…
After gazing at the painting for a time Freiman said to me that he has not had it in the gallery for some time. And I told him his timing in hanging it now was impeccable, that it is just what we need, and we spoke of community and hope amid darkness.
For me, the painting was the perfect evocation of Isaiah’s words. The nations, the peoples will stream to the holy mountain, God’s mountain, to learn the ways of the Lord. That we may walk in the instruction of Zion without pride and arrogance, but with regard for one another. Let plowshares and pruning hooks abound. Let us build community in the name of Jesus. Let us walk in the light of the Lord.
There is little evidence that Constantine did the church a favor when he took it from being illegal to established, and faith became religion. There is a lot of evidence to the contrary, but here we are. In the former Roman times Christians knew where they stood, that they were “in, not of” the world. As we heard in the words of Paul on Sunday, “let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us live honorably as in the day.” For the works of darkness, in the brutality of the Empire, were plainly evident and all around them. Much was at stake.
Darkness too encroaches on us. And many of us are perplexed at the claims made about America, about others in the world, and our neighbors. I have friends who voted for each of the major candidates in this deeply troubling election. I have friends who genuinely fear for themselves and others. And I have friends who voted out of self-interest or who made what was for them a choice for the lesser of two evils. I can also list the litany of works of darkness emerging from every rock and hiding place. Much damage has already been done.
I am convinced that the hope for the nations, and this nation, is the love of God for all people, and that we are called so compellingly, in this Advent season to believe the words of the prophet Isaiah. We are called to live into them. My friend Freiman said that community cannot depend on who is in or out of power but must depend on us. His painting is an open invitation to building such community. The Church and Polis are often at odds. The church depends not on the polis for its life, but only on the one who continually breathes the life of the Spirit into us and among us. In his Blog, the night of the election, without a clear outcome yet in sight (who knew?) Richard Harwood noted that we are a deeply divided, even horrifically divided, people. And that we must, if we are to continue, begin to listen to one another and understand one another. He writes, the morning after “we can no longer afford to point fingers of blame, cast aspersions and question one another’s motivations. It’s time to get to serious work.” I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s perspective that all such conversation and work begins with prayer and seeking Christ as our center.
For us that work begins with God’s word and call to us, and responding to the vision of Isaiah, not for a Great America, but for all nations to walk in the light of the Lord. And a place for all people at “The Table.”