Several weeks ago I decided that there was no way I was watching and waiting for the election returns at home, alone, except for my dog. I invited some neighbors over to watch and wait with me on Tuesday night. Monday evening, the night before the election returns, I made lots of munchies—some mushroom/cream cheese pastry puff thingies and some dates wrapped in bacon. Better chewing on those than on finger nails, right?
I invited eight people. But numbers dwindled quickly. One of my neighbors begged off —she had to have some tests run at the hospital early on Wednesday morning, so she needed to get to bed early. A couple down the block never DID surface, or e-mail or call-in an excuse. Don’t know what was up with that. The male half of the couple who lives next door ran over at about 9:30 in the evening Tuesday night.—that is, well after the analysis of returns was underway. He said breathlessly, “Kelly can’t pull herself away from the TV. So sorry. Catch up later! This is going to be close!” Or something like that. Then he leapt off my front porch, sprinted across my lawn, and just cleared my hedge as he made his way back to his own house. His name is Ralph. Endearing soul.
If you follow my sermons you know about another of my less-friendly, less endearing neighbors who was NOT invited to the watch and wait party. Last year he dumped a truck load of mulch on his front lawn, which is now mulch, mud and a few tall weeds. Everyone in the neighborhood suspects that the neighbor with the mulch, mud and weed front lawn is making an anti-lawn-mowing-ordinance-statement. Charlottesville fines people who don’t keep their lawns mowed—which he didn’t and now he doesn’t have to (I’ll show them, hah!)
Dear Ralph endearing Ralph is the neighbor who suggested that perhaps the man is not making an anti-ordinance statement after all—he’s just growing white asparagus. In his front yard. Ralph is Swedish. I guess Swedes must grow a lot of white asparagus.
So there we sat, just the four of us—My guests had each brought something to eat, so besides the munchies I had prepared, we had fruit, and a cake with whipped cream icing. We sat around my coffee table. It groaned and growled under the weight of all that food. Sadly, three of us, though, were too nervous to eat—or drink, or do anything much for five hours, except utter sentence fragments—“What the?...Can you believe…” as we looked at election results on TV through splayed fingers. I say three of us—because the fourth member of our little coffee-table klatch, ate continuously and robustly. “I always eat when I am nervous,” she complained. Good thing, for you! Otherwise you might be eating left overs after worship today!
As most of you know, probably, my candidate did not win. And I am stunned by that. Can’t really fathom how this could have happened, when news reports had prepared us for a different outcome. But like you, I suspect, no matter how I voted and who our next President is, I will remain American, remain faithful to our country and its core principles, and hope for the best.
Faith and hope. We often talk about faith and hope in a religious context. In fact, faith and hope are more often used in the religious realm than in the political realm. We have faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. We have faith in God. We have this hope that God is with us no matter what, and that God is leading us into a good and godly future. But religion and politics often get tangled up in our hearts and heads, don’t they? And so sometimes our political values take on an almost religious cast.
In fact, Jesus knew how difficult it was for us to separate the one from the other. That is why he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” That little line is repeated in three of our gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. It’s important. What is Caesar’s is temporary, and not so very important, in the final analysis; what is God’s, lasts forever and is at the foundation of all that is. And it’s true. I mean really, where is Caesar now?
We have to remember that moving forward. The political landscape has changed, but “God is still in God’s heaven and all’s right with the world.” That’s a line from a poem by Robert Browning “God’s in God’s heaven, all’s right with the world.” I memorized that as a child. It was in a children’s book of poems. On the page with that line, there was a picture of a little girl—swinging on a rope tree swing. It’s hard for some of us to embrace, “All’s right with the world” at the moment, though. And we are not children, after all. We don’t have our parents to protect us anymore. But even though the words may seem naïve, they ARE true. God is still God, All is still basically right with the world. Still, many of us are fearful of what lies ahead.
Just like some of us, so the people in Judah were fearful, when Isaiah wrote the words we are studying today. Our scripture passage takes us back to the 8th century BC—. The Jews’ political issue at that time was Assyrian aggression. Assyria was to the North and East of Judah. It had moved into Samaria, and flattened it. Assyria threatened to move into Judah, next. Assyria had demanded tribute from Judah—a kind of extortion. Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, had paid the tribute, but funds were dwindling. And Assyria asked for still MORE in the way of tribute. Even if Judah paid more, the Judeans had no assurance that Assyria would NOT go ahead and attack anyway.
And so they turned to their prophet Isaiah. And, Isaiah let them have it.
He blamed Judah for its suffering. They were worshiping other Gods not the one true God of Israel. Their suffering, he claimed, was divine punishment. "Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts is the land darkened, and the people shall be as the fuel of the fire," said Isaiah. Fuel of the fire. The Judeans were like firewood—kindling to God.
So…So the people of Judah listened to what Isaiah said, and their King, King Hezekiah listened, too. The king put on sack cloth, as a sign of his sincere repentance. He demanded that all the idols in Jerusalem be destroyed. He insisted that the whole nation worship the one true God.
And then, even though Assyria was still a threat and it looked like little Judah would be attacked and destroyed, Isaiah had the nerve, the audacity, to suggest to God’s repentant people, Surely it is God who saves us….
Sing together: Surely it is God who saves us….
The words that Isaiah wrote, are in the format of a Psalm. Psalms are meant to be sung, which is why we are singing them today. In his day, Isaiah’s words would have been sung at the temple in Jerusalem during worship. These words then, by their very format, were meant to unite people in the faith. As the Judeans’ gathered in their temple, their voices blended and became as one, and the sound reverberated on the walls of the temple and wafted upward--so, too, did their spirits waft upward…
Sing: Surely it is God who saves us.
The Assyrian army approached, which everyone in Judah suspected it would. Instead of complaining, though, or giving up. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, “This is YOUR fault.” Instead of asking each other and their prophet Isaiah, “Where is God NOW?” Everyone got busy. The first thing they did was dig a tunnel. The tunnel was dug from inside Jerusalem’s walls to an underground spring outside Jerusalem’s walls. And that same tunnel was dug from the spring outside Jerusalem’s walls to inside Jerusalem’s walls. Two groups of tunnel diggers, one outside, one inside, and they met in the middle. Archeologists know that’s how they dug it, because they can see the pic ax marks on the walls of the tunnel—a tunnel that still exists.
While the tunnel was under construction, other Judeans scoured the area outside the city walls. They plugged all outside water sources, except the water from that one under ground spring. Finally, as the ground began to shake from the vibration of so many Assyrian soldiers marching, marching toward the city, Hezekiah ordered his people: “Build up the walls! Build up the walls!” So the people of Jerusalem reinforced the city walls. They took bricks and stones from their own houses. And there’s archeological evidence for that, too.
The Assyrians arrived. An emissary from the invading troops was sent to the city to try to convince the people to surrender. According to Isaiah the emissary said to the people of Jerusalem, “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the Lord when we says, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us; ... Has the God of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria?’”
And then Isaiah continues, “But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply because King Hezekiah had commanded them, ‘Do not answer him.’”
So, the Assyrian army laid siege to Jerusalem just as everyone in Judah suspected it would. The food inside the city got scarce, but they had plenty of fresh drinking water! We can imagine that the people in Jerusalem continued in their worship. They prayed. They sang Psalms including “Surely it is God who saves us.” And guess what? Isaiah reports, finally, finally “An angel of the Lord brought death to 185 thousand Assyrians.” Probably that’s an exaggerated number, but still. Best guess today is that the Assyrian army contracted cholera from drinking stagnant water.
Little Jerusalem withstood the siege of powerful Assyria? Amazing!
Sing: Surely it is God who saves us. We will look to him and not be afraid.
Back to our current situation. A new President, with a new vision for this country. I don’t have a crystal ball. I am certainly not a prophet, like Isaiah. But I know, in my heart and in my soul that God is with us, now, as God has always been with us. We wait together, Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, for God to do the next thing; and together as Christians, and as people of faith, we remain ready to do God’s bidding. We have faith and hope that God is still and will always be, our salvation. Amen