• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Small Change Now, or Big Change Later?

Fall, a three-week season of sermons for the Fall, preached Nov 13, 2022 at the 9:30am Worship


Context

Isaiah is remembered as one of the great prophets. But that recognition only came later. When he was speaking and warning, he was ridiculed and rejected. Only after his warnings came true did people believe him, and write down what he once told them.


Today, we read from the end of Isaiah, the next to last chapter.


Let’s pray, and listen for the word of the Lord from


Prayer


Scripture Isaiah 65:17–25

(Isaiah imagines God speaking these words to God’s people)

17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;

the former things shall not be honored or even come to mind.

18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating,

for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight.


19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and delight in my people;

no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days

or an old person who does not live out a lifetime,

for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,

and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered unlucky.


21 They shall build houses and live in them;

they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit.

22 They shall not build and have someone else live there;

they shall not garden and have someone else eat,

for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,

and my chosen shall long enjoy the fruit of their hands.

23 They will not labor in vain or bear children for tragedy, [c]

for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well.

24 Before they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will already hear.


25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together;

the lion shall eat straw like the ox,

but the serpent—its food shall be dust.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.


This is the word of the Lord. (Thanks be to God)


Sermon Small Change Now, or Big Change Later?

There’s a cool show on Netflix called Queer Eye. Each episode, there’s a person who is stuck, unable to grow or bloom or launch. A friend or family member nominates them to be visited by fives guys on the show who each have a unique talent. The five arrive and begin making changes in the nominee’s life.


The first guy changes their physical appearance with a new hairstyle and skin care routine. The second guy changes their outward appearance with new clothing that fits their body and is modern. The third changes their eating habits, with new grocery shopping and cooking routines. The fourth guy changes their space, with a remodel and redecorating of their home or business. The fifth guy tries to change how they think and feel about themselves, to give them new self-language that is loving, forgiving, and hopeful.


There’s a rhythm to the show. The possibility of change is surprising, and then welcomed. “Wow, help has arrived! Yay! This will be great.” Then, the changes become real, and the person, who needs the help and just a few moments ago seemed ready to be helped, shivers. The scissors are at the hair, and the face looks so afraid. The sledgehammers are about to knock out Mom’s cabinets, and the person covers their face with their hands. The favorite cargo shorts and flip flops are thrown into the garbage and linen slacks and leather slip-ons are offered, and a scowl of disapproval appears.


Why is good change, healthy change so hard?


In today’s scripture, the people of God, once upon a time, were rocking and rolling, with an amazing city, plenty of freedom and power and resources. But there was a problem. Isaiah said God is going to change all of this because it isn’t working for everyone. It isn’t fair and just. Some have big houses, and some have no houses. Some eat more than they need, and others have nothing to eat. Some have closets full of clothes, and other don’t have a change of clothes. The widows, the orphans, and the aliens are not being taken care of generously. So Isaiah warns them, they could lose it all if they don’t change.


Lots of folk didn’t like Isaiah and his message of change very much. They ignored him, or ridiculed and laughed at him, or insulted him, just to keep from having to change. Even the ones who at first seemed excited with the concept of just and loving change began to squirm once that change hits their lives.


This story didn’t have five guys show up to make the change happen anyway. Isaiah tries, but his words are rejected, and so a harder, harsher change fell upon them. They lost it all, their city, their homes, their traditions, their routines. It crumbled around them, and they were put out into a strange new wilderness. Only then were Isaiah’s words remembered and written down as holy.


The change Isaiah has suggested was to be more equal, loving, and generous. Isaiah wanted them to take extra special care of the oldest, the youngest, and the strangers among them. If they would bend their habits and resources and preferences now, share a little more, give up some of what they have and what they want, so others could have more of what they need, then all could be well for all. That was a big change, for sure. But it was so much smaller than the really big change of losing it all if they didn’t do it.


A married couple knows they need to stop fighting and arguing over the same recurring topics. They need to sit with one another, and a counselor, and make some new promises and compromises with one another so they can do marriage, parenting, finances better together. That change feels so hard, until the bigger change of a divorce finally lands on them.


A family knows by looking at their genetic disposition and some lab results they need to change their diet and exercise. They’ve fallen into a rut of eating too much unhealthy food, and it’s costing them quality of life, and perhaps longevity. That change feels so hard, until the bigger change of a major health scare finally lands on them.


A community can measure the number of good jobs with benefits, the test scores of children, equity of income, access to healthcare, how the homeless are cared for, how immigrants are welcomed and treated, the affordability of elder care services, and can know if that community is fair and just. If not, someone is probably trying to push for changes that would help the community grow to be more fair and just, and is probably being opposed, because those changes are hard, until the bigger change becomes a reality. The population shrinks as people move away. The ones left behind cannot maintain the infrastructure, and the town begins to crumble.


When God invites us to change, it will feel hard for some. It will be something new and different. Some won’t feel ready for it. Some won’t trust it. Some won’t be sure it will work, or if we will like it. Some won’t be as comfortable in the change as we were in the old way. But the changes God prescribes are always better for the whole of us. Some will experience those changes as loss, while others will experience those same changes as gifts. And the wider the gap is between the way some people feel change and other people feel the same change only reveals how urgently we need to make that change.


Isaiah is telling us about God’s next big change. God is going to change the heavens and the earth. The old ways and traditions, they will be gone, and we won’t even miss them. When God’s next big change happens, we will all be glad it happened, and we will celebrate the new. No one will have to scream even louder to get the help they need, because God will hear their cries before they are spoken, and we will respond together to what is needed before its expressed. Births will be healthy, and lives will last long. Everyone will have housing. Everyone will have food. No one will take from others, but everyone will share with each other. We will work together to build and grown things, but never fight with one another to kill or destroy. Enemies will be friends. Competitors will be cooperators. And this will be the way all things are, across all of God’s community.


That’s the next big change Isaiah is saying Gods wills for us. Will we ignore it, or mock it? Will we avoid it, or even work against it? Or, as children of God, will we take a deep breath, face our fear, and work with God to make that change come true for all God’s people anyway?


At the end of each episode, there’s usually a party, some big event that shows off all the changes in the nominee’s life. They are surrounded by family and friends who are so proud of the person’s ability to change. They are toasts, and smiles, and usually a few tears of joy. Change is hard, but good change for the good of all, embraced early, is so much better than harsh change that lands on us because we were too selfish or afraid to try. May we boldly embrace God’s new creation, and enjoy building it and sharing it all our days.


To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.


Charge


Benediction

Now blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow, be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.

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