The Good Steward Builds Isaiah’s Vision (Sermon) November 17, 2013

The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
Sermon – St. John’s Episcopal Church
November 17, 2013
Proper 28, Year C, Track 1

They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat.  Isaiah 65:21-22

Please Be Seated

This morning we are celebrating Native American Heritage Month.  I don’t know about you, as a child I had ambivalent feelings about people who were Native American.  Many of the TV shows I liked portrayed Native Americans as the enemy and out to kill me.  Shows like Wagon Train, especially.  There was also the train ride at Hershey Park, which involved an “Indian attack on the train, with a “rescue” by sheriffs.  There was the family legend that members of our family had come to Kentucky with Daniel Boone and had been killed by Indians.  I was terrified of Indians when I heard those stories. 

At the same time, my father and brothers were part of a YMCA program called Indian Guides and I was fascinated by some of their activities, including camping out and especially starting fires.  There was the Indian School in the nearby town of Carlisle where Jim Thorpe had attended.  And in fifth grade when I studied Pennsylvania history, I couldn’t reconcile the contradiction that William Penn founded Pennsylvania, because I knew there were people living here already.  Here is some of what I wrote:

“Long, long ago before America was found there lived people on the island of America.  There [sic] name was Indians.  The land that was there belonged to them until white people came….” And “The white people kept on taking land from the Indians.  The Indians were moved away from the land.  The government [sic] put them into reservations….  Now the Indians are put into reservations.  Some of the reservations we can see.  We can see and learn things that the Indians did.”

As a child it made no sense how you could discover something where people already existed. 

When I was 14, my family went on a trip to my birthplace in Ft. Smith Arkansas.  I was only six weeks old when we moved from there and my parents wanted to show me my birthplace.  While in Ft. Smith, my parents decided we’d take a trip to Tahlequah, Oklahoma.  This town was built in 1838 as the capital of the Cherokee Nation upon the Cherokee peoples’ forced removal from the east…a removal known as the Trail of Tears, because of all of the death and disease that occurred as a result. Yes, every time I examine a $20 bill, with the image of Andrew Jackson on it, I remember the Trail of Tears.

In Tahlequah I saw buildings of brick, much like the home I lived in.  There were schools.  It looked like any modern town.  At the Cherokee Heritage Center, I saw that the houses I assumed the people lived in were really lived in during the early history of the Cherokee nation.

In Tahlequah, I also saw the play which told the story of the Trail of Tears.  At Thanksgiving time when we studied “Indians” in school, I never heard of the Trail of Tears.  I didn’t know any “real” Indians.  I guess I assumed they’d been killed because they attacked the settlers.  At 14, I never really thought about or totally knew what had happened to annihilate much of the sovereign nations that had inhabited this land.

Now today, we read this passage from the end of Isaiah.  How interesting.  Isaiah is sharing a vision of what it will be like when the people can return to Israel from their exile in Babylon.  These ancient words, also tell us of the vision for our communities right now.  Listen again:

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth…
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD–
and their descendants as well.

What a vision.  You will inhabit the houses you build.  Your children will not be born to face calamity.  You will benefit from your work.  You will be able to eat the food you plant.  You will not be in servitude.  You will thrive.  You will be loosed from oppression to enjoy the riches of the land and people.

The native peoples of the United States, I believe, can most likely relate to the longing for the manifestation of that vision.  So much was taken from them or if not taken, at least denied them.  Read about or go to YouTube to learn more about the abuses of the Indian Boarding schools.  They were founded by Christians and  considered more humane than killing Indian people, but they forcibly removed children from their parents and tried to force the culture out of the children.  Read about the Episcopal church’s mixed history in serving Indian people.  So much done to destroy a people.  So much done in the name of the church and of Christ.

Yet much like the Israelites, the Indian people held on to the vision we see in Isaiah . . .a vision of a land where everyone thrives.  Where people can live out their days and have all they need for life – shelter, food, work, health. 

I have never forgotten that play, The Trail of Tears, because, you see, at the end, there was a powerful telling of the story of the phoenix and a stunning visual of the bird rising from the ashes.  There were drums and music and singing that the people would rise again.  The nation would be resurrected.

We must intentionally look at the history…as shameful and awful as it is.  Remember, the Bible doesn’t mince words, does it?  Because only then will we understand the joy and importance of this Isaiah Vision.  Only then can reconciliation occur.  Only then can relationships be restored.  And only then will we work to insure that people shall build houses and inhabit them; and that people shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

Ken and Shelia Phillips will share some reflections now, which may help us think about how reconciliation can occur.

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