We woke up on Wednesday morning in a new world.
We have a new president-elect, like it or not.
Those issues and ideals that we so tightly cling to and pray that a national leader will protect those values we hold so dear — well, what does that look like today?
If the candidate you voted for lost, you might be feeling anxious.
And if the candidate who you voted for won, you still might be feeling a little anxious.
If that describes you, well, you’re not alone.
In The Atlantic Monthly earlier this year, some of the nation’s leading psychologists weighed in on the increased level of anxiety that this presidential election was causing their patients.
It was unprecedented.
And equally unprecedented was the fact that there has never been an election that was so divisive, so harsh, so full of hate and rage, so stress-inducing as this one.
We have seen riots — in some cases violent — in major cities around the country all week long.
The morning after the election, social media, blogs and news sites reflected the anxiety:
“What will I tell my children?” some asked.
“I have lost faith in humanity,” others wrote.
“Where is God?” was a common response.
And for those who felt their candidate won, there was the usual banter and gloating, but there also were messages to those who lost that the only way good prevails is through unity.
And, unfortunately, there was hate.
This election has spilled over into all facets of the American life and consciousness. Families fought. Friendships were broken.
One psychologist quoted in The Atlantic, Stephen Holland, who has practiced in Washington, D.C., for more than 25 years — that’s through six presidential elections — said he’s seen a huge increase in patients coming to his practice struggling and suffering with anxiety caused by this election.
An increase of “two-thirds to three-quarters” of his patients, he told The Atlantic.
His facility treats on average 300 patients a week.
The anxiety is very real.
And so we woke up this morning to a new world. An uncertain world. A world that we have no choice but to put our faith in, if we do want to create a better future and a better now.
The anxiety of change
Even though this election goes beyond fear of change, we still have to face the fact that as human beings, we don’t like change. Or maybe we should say it this way: We like change only on our terms.
We like to think we live a life that’s open to spontaneity and serendipity, but if we’re being honest, we would most likely control the situation, the outcome, the destination…
In fact, the only time that we embrace change happening to us is when we’re at the bottom of some pit, when the situation is hopeless, when any change has to be better than the situation we’re in.
And it is there that change is received more openly.
So how do we face such change in tumultuous times? That’s the question I’d like us to consider this morning.
When we look at our reading today in Isaiah 65.17-25, we find the Israelites in a time of great change and trepidation.
In 586 BCE, the Jewish people woke up to a new world. Actually, they awoke to a nightmare.
The Babylonians had sacked Jerusalem and taken over all of Israel.
The Jews were sent into Babylonian exile and captivity.
Their identity was crushed. Their families torn apart. Everything they knew and loved was gone.
Even God had seemed to have abandoned them.
The prophetic book is broken into three sections, and it tells of:
* The sinfulness of the Israelites against God, which the authors describe as the reason God turned from the chosen people;
* God’s revenge and then promise of redemption; and
* The prophecy of a return from exile.
And this is where our reading takes place today: the return.
In this reading, we can ask what future were the Israelites waking up to?
A change had been made. The tone shifts.
Listen to the prophecy: “…no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in (the new creation), or the cry of distress” (verse 19).
If we heard this prophecy today, no matter what world we awoke to, would it not assuage our anxiety and calm our fears?
Listen: “They shall be offspring blessed by the Lord — and their descendants as well” (verse 23).
The Israelites hear these prophetic words, and they are pulled from under their thick blanket of hopelessness.
They are able to open the blinds and again see and feel the great promise of a new day., like sunlight upon our faces.
They will return to their land, to their homes, and hopefully be reunited with their friends and family.
And, most importantly, they will be reunited with God.
And just like that, the anxiety begins to vanish.
Hope replaces fear.
The fire of faith is rekindled.
The horizon brightens.
Sometimes we feel as if we’re exiled from God.
It’s not through the captivity of others. And it’s not because of God’s back is turning toward us or God’s hand against us.
No, our exile comes as a result of us putting our faith in the things of this world and not in the providence of God.
We’re exiled from God by our belief in the things we want to control, by the people and ideals we choose to surround ourselves with and invest in — by the blind hope in political leaders and party systems.
And when those things fall away — the ideals are breached, people fail us, and those systems break — we are thrust from the safety and comfort of the “homes” we once knew.
We find ourselves in a strange, inhospitable and very foreign place.
And we stop hearing God’s voice.
We ask “Where is God in this?”
What we forget, and make no mistake: We exile ourselves.
How would this not make us anxious?
Is this the world we’ve woken up to today?
Is this the world that we choose to live in today?
‘Glorious New Creation’
The prophecy of Isaiah 65 is titled Glorious New Creation.
It speaks of a new creation — a new heaven and a new earth (verse 17).
Free of pain. Free of fear. Free of war. Free of hostility. Free of anxiety.
It’s a promise of hope, trust, love, health, return, abundance, beauty…
In other words, a return to God.
God, who doesn’t abandon us because of who we choose to be our king.
God, who doesn’t abandon us when we give up.
God, who doesn’t turn from us when we turn against others.
God, who doesn’t turn from us when we turn against God.
God never gives up.
The truth is that this is the world we awake to each day.
But we just don’t see it from the darkness of our rooms and under the blankets of anxiety we’ve buried ourselves in.
From our own exiles.
Out of the darkness
What does the future look like for you? Is it full of fear and trepidation, or is it exciting?
Listen: It depends on what world we choose to live in, in whom we put our trust, and it even depends on how we view worship.
Are we living in the past, or are we future people?
Are we here to simply talk about what Jesus did for us without doing for others what Jesus did for us?
Do we memorize verse and hold Bible studies solely to talk about what has happened, or do we take what we learn and plant seeds?
Because if we’re doing the former, then we’re not being the body, the people, the very church Jesus calls us to be.
We’re living as exiled people, pining for the past, and not looking toward the future.
Holed up in our darkness.
After all, that’s what anxiety is: It’s a fear of what the future holds for us, whether it be immediate or distant.
The prophet has called to us. God has called to us.
There is a choice: What voice are we listening to?
We have been called out of that darkness.
We have been called out of that exile.
We have been called to put our faith in the one true promise.
Living into the promise
How do we live into that promise?
We have a choice: We can look at all the problems in the world, and we can listen to and then follow the throngs of the faithless into exile.
We can even remain there forever.
Or we can live in this world, conscious of the problems and evil that are in it and work to change it.
We can write a card to a prisoner.
We can visit a shut-in.
We can join a ministry and work toward a better world, one day, one step at a time.
We can delve into the Word and pray a whole lot more.
We can stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters as Christ called us to.
We can speak of promise and truth, not of poison and pain.
We can look at all the new technology, medicines, and efforts that are helping to cure a sick world.
We can learn of the new and exciting ways of reaching our brothers and sisters around the world who need to hear the Good News — and then go out and share it.
We can live like people brought back from exile.
And celebrate it.
Celebrate our individuality as brothers and sisters while celebrating our identity as a child of God.
And celebrate God’s promise:
“Before they call I will answer,” we read in Isaiah, verse 24, “while they are yet speaking I will hear.”
Hear us, Oh God.
We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit. We are empowered by the blood of Jesus Christ. We are empowered by God’s words.
God promises the Israelites that he will do many things: He is creating a new world.
But we have work to do, too, we read in Isaiah. The author doesn’t say only what God will do, but what we will do.
Eight times, verses begin with the words “They shall…”
They shall: build houses, they shall inhabit, they shall plant vineyards, they shall eat, they shall call and I will answer, they shall not labor in vain, they shall not bear children for calamity, they shall not hurt or destroy…
They have a responsibility. They have agency.
Each and every day, God’s promise rises like the sun.
Each day we have a new opportunity — no matter what strange land or situation we find ourselves in — to reap the abundant life of God’s promise.
Isaiah teaches us, though, that it doesn’t just rain down upon us.
That someone is going to come and lift us out from the dark blankets.
That just sitting still and hoping will be enough to change the world.
No. They shall, he says. They shall.
And we shall, too.
In this way, we shall witness God’s great promise in the love and grace that is manifest within us by the Holy Spirit.
We shall know the love for our brothers and sisters and stand in solidarity with them.
We shall see a Glorious New Creation.
Celebrating this life
Earlier today in this service, we witnessed an amazing celebration of this life.
We heard of the efforts the United Methodist Women have been making — not just here on our community, but all around the world.
Last year, during services just like this one all around the world, the United Methodist Women raised nearly $2 billion through World Thank Offering for mission with women and children worldwide.
This is what it means to live beyond the exile — in the Glorious New Creation.
We can choose to see and fear the pain and heartache. That’s the exile.
Or we can choose to become a part of the solution.
Because that’s what Christ calls us to do.
Not to suffer in the exile of anxiety; but to live in the celebration of the Glorious New Creation.