For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. –Isaiah 62:1-5
I was raised in a home where conversations around justice and equality were as common as conversations about how we were doing in school or what was happening in the world that week. That’s what happens when your dad, a United Methodist clergyman was active in the underground anti-Marcos movement in the Philippines while in seminary, and believes that the church has always had a prophetic voice to speak for those who could not. Liberation theology was, and still is a well used, but not worn out phrase in our family. How many elementary school-aged children do you know who knew the name Gustavo Gutiérrez?
Having been raised with seven siblings by a single mother, widowed from the war, I’m sure he had his share of feeling and being cast off. Their family was poor, he was the youngest sibling and he spent time living in a United Methodist orphanage because his mother couldn’t afford to have one more to feed and clothe. It was the United Methodist Church who reached out to his family.
I can’t say I understand what that must have been like. Though I was born overseas in Papua New Guinea, where my parents were serving as missionaries, I was raised here in the United States. I acknowledge the privilege that comes with that. Other than minor financial struggles in elementary and junior high while dad was in school, we had a modest but comfortable life. My sisters and I all finished college and went on to pursue advanced degrees. We have full time employment and roofs over our heads. We are in positions of privilege and favor, some might say.
But we are in the minority. Most in this room probably are. We do not live as the other half lives.
We are not counted in the 900 million people who do not have access to clean water. We have not experienced a drought like those 13 million living in the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia that comprise the Horn of Africa. We are not of the 12.3 million adults and children in forced or bonded labor working in agriculture fields, factories and streets in the United States. We are not told, you are not welcome here, you are not whole, you are not enough, you do not have the same privileges, because you choose to love someone of the same sex. We are not the cast off. We are not the forgotten. We are not the voiceless.
One of the dominant themes of Isaiah’s writing is liberation from captivity. Isaiah reminds the forgetful people of God time and time again of God’s saving acts in the exodus–a reminder to trust God’s promises and that God would act similarly in their present situation. A reminder for us, even today. A reminder that has fueled many liberation movements in our time, from the Puritans to the Civil Rights movement to the current struggle for equality and affirmation of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. In recalling God’s redemption of Israel, we are reminded that God’s redemption is for all, equally and without distinction, but most especially for God’s preferred: the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, those being pushed and waiting in the margins.God desires justice in this world, not only salvation in the next. And we are called to usher in the kingdom of God by attending to these preferred in this life. Liberation promises that those who benefit from injustice will lose power, and so this is where we find ourselves in today’s reading of Isaiah: Israel’s vindication.
We don’t know if this the speaker is a prophet or God, though prophets are oftentimes seen as God’s mouthpiece, speaking when everyone else thinks that God is silent. Things are about to change, not because of anything the people can do, but because of what God will do, stemming from God’s love for God’s people. I cannot imagine the desolation, the isolation and the forgottennes Israel must have experienced for generations, wondering when God would step in and rescue them. But that time is approaching. In this season of epiphany, what a revelation of good news that in the midst of brokennes and war and hunger and strife and violence, our God is near. Our God will not keep silent. Our God will not relent.
This God. Our God of the poor, of the afflicted, the enslaved, the abused, the outcast tells Israel–tells us today, of our chosennes. That not in spite of, but because of the poverty, affliction, enslavement, second-class status in our lives, we are singled out and selected. Called God’s own. God’s preferred. God’s delight.
It is easy to feel removed from the tragedies of our brothers and sisters in this world, isn’t it? But we were reminded in December, when we gathered food and health items for the homeless, that we’re very close to hunger and poverty here in Nashville. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Though some of you may have read something about modern day slaves sold into forced labor, those stories will slowly move to the back of your mind as the year continues. But I invite you in this moment, to think about those cast off. Who are they in our midst? Who are the silenced, the marginalized? What do they look like?
Make no mistake that it is by any of our work that they will be saved. It is and always will be God’s consistent love. But we are, as God’s people and agents of change, called to be prophets in our time. We are called to sing those songs and issue those invitations to wholeness and God’s grace. To God’s shalom, until they can be redeemed. It is our responsibility. It is our charge to continue raising our voices for those who are not here, who haven’t found their place at the table, maybe for those who haven’t even been born but will be born into a world not ready to receive them.
Poet and activist, Audre Lorde, wrote:
I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood…
She believed that our silence would not protect us; would not save us. She spent her life calling marginalized people, from the outskirts and closets to come and speak out and share the truth and the racism in feminist thought of her day. Our silence will not save us.
Larry Hollon, General Secretary of United Methodist Communications and chief executive officer of the communications agency of The United Methodist Church, speaks of this silence in the context of the absence of the voice of the mainline church regarding issues of justice and openness and inclusiveness. Clearly, we have abdicated our responsibility to participate in the conversation where it is taking place, he writes in his book, We Must Speak. We have left this conversation to someone else. We have been silent.
Our silence doesn’t let us off the hook, either. If we don’t speak, the problems that plague our world and our church will not go away, for we are called to be the standard bearers of God’s justice and mercy, not those who settle for what’s convenient. And when we are working for justice, it will almost always seem inconvenient.
Those who have been cast off will be brought back. They will be given a new name and a new identity. Beloved. God’s delight.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people; but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people. As we go forth as people called and chosen, may we also remember to continue to call others out from the closets and margins and hiding places where they find themselves or where they have been placed, reminding them that God is a God of love who will not keep silent. Who will not rest until all God’s people have found a sense of belonging and their hope restored. Amen.