It was the alien ideas that did it.
Ideas alien to God that is.
The ideas are far from alien to us.
In fact, many of us hold these alien ideas precious to our hearts. The alien ideas go something like this: if you work long and hard you will be rewarded with a great feast that will allow to build your dream home, buy your dream car, get dream electronic gadgets to make your life better, take dream vacations, and enjoy it all with your dream family. The dream seems harmless enough. How could having a nice home and enjoying the pleasures of life with your family be harmful?
Yet, this drive to “get the nice things in life” is what sent men and women of the banking industry down the road of selling bad loans to people (without any regard as to whether or not the loan would eventually ruin that person’s life). It was an easy sell, because the person seeking the loan had the same dream of a great feast and all the fine things in life. And, as long as the sale of the loan could buy me a nice sports car, it couldn’t be all that bad could it? This idea of ambition and personal prosperity is foreign to God and always has been.
We are not the first country in the world to wreck on the road of ambition and personal prosperity. And we will not be the last either. If only we would have looked to history before speeding off. If only we would have just opened our Bibles to Isaiah, we would have recognized ourselves in the story.
If we had done so, we would have seen a city, Jerusalem, with great ambition and personal prosperity. We would have seen a ruling, wealthy class, driving itself toward something great; a great downfall. We would have read of their alien notions of personal wealth and enjoyment and we would have seen how God allowed them to be completely ruined because they failed to speak the same language of God. They spoke this alien language of personal prosperity, allowed it to pervade their whole city, and in response God made “the palace of aliens…a city no more, it will never be rebuilt.”
These people, leading an alien life, were warned of course. Isaiah warned them to start speaking the same language as God and the city will not be turned into ruins. But, the allure of the alien language of personal prosperity and greatness was much too loud. They wanted the feast for themselves.
Is the economic downturn we are currently in our own version of Jerusalem’s final ruin, or is it just the Prophet Isaiah coming to tell us to turn ourselves around before it is too late? Is the threat of global warming our own version of Jerusalem’s final ruin, or is it just the Prophet Isaiah standing in the doorway of the church shouting out to the world to listen and to start speaking God’s language which cares for all of God’s creation?
The language of personal gain and prosperity is extremely familiar to us, but it is not God’s language. If we were to talk to God in God’s language it would go something like this:
“O Lord…you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat…On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth…” (NRSV, Isaiah 25:4,6-8)
Apparently, when Jerusalem had forgotten to care for “the poor” and “the needy” of “all peoples” and “all nations” they had forgotten how to speak the language of God. How had they forgotten to speak God’s language? How has our culture forgotten to speak God’s language when we have the example of Christ living out God’s language coming at us from our pulpits and televisions all the time? We regularly hear how Christ fed the poor, healed the blind, took concern for the children, ate with the sinner, healed the broken-hearted, refused the alien notion of personal prosperity as he turned away the young rich man, and sacrificed his life on the cross for the sake of all. How easy it is to ignore God’s language of grace for the world.
Perhaps this is not the end. Perhaps, this is the prophet Isaiah shouting at us to start speaking the language of God.
I do know that the language is being spoken out there. Christ is at work out there. If you have been watching the travel channel the last two weeks you just might have seen an amazing commercial. The commercial starts out with waiters dressed in white smoothing the wrinkles out of fine table clothes and precisely setting the tables with fine china and crystal glasses. The head waiter signals the guests to come into the exquisite dining area and soon you see a group of poor and homeless individuals and families enter in to start their meal. In the soup bowl of the first course set before them, the bread make the shape of a cross and these words appear: "First course, dignity.” Click Here to see the add: Watch the ads. It is a commercial for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is not a pie in the sky representation of what we hope to be. It is a real ministry of a real church in Bismark, North Dakota who has not forgotten how to speak the language of God. This church serves dignity for all. This church is filled with the language of Christ and knows in its heart that the feast is for all.
I hope and pray that the language of God’s grace and care for all permeate all of our churches. I hope and pray that the language is so strong that it spills out of our doors and starts to drown out the alien language of prosperity. I hope and pray that our nation be filled with this language so that it spills out onto the world. God, may it be so.
All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.