“No-one Has the Right to Give Up”*

[*From—Marian Wright Edelman, 21st century
“Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?”]

Walter Brueggemann, the Old Testament scholar, presents the context for this Isaiah passage, in which he describes God’s intention for Israel. (Theology of the Old Testament).

Israel’s elite where finding their way back to their homeland after having been exiled in Babylon for approximately 60 years.

King Cyrus of Babylon had a change of heart and allowed the Jews to return to their land, their spiritual and cultural womb, from whence they came.

But post-exile Israel returned to a place of rubble. Brueggeman reminds us that Israel must have felt “overwhelmed and threatened…”

Israel worried about its children and lamented their deaths as well as the wasted lives of those who worked so hard and sacrificed so much, only to see it taken away from them.

Imagine for a moment we had lost the cold war and the Soviets invaded and conquered us. As almost all conquerors do, they took our best engineers, doctors, scientists and our most gifted artists and entrepreneurs and plonked them in the Soviet Union, ordering them to work for their new masters.

In the meantime, the least skilled and most vulnerable people where left behind and they had to contend with the destruction of the infrastructure of the country. Communications systems were down, water and sewer non-existent, the education system in ruins and law and order corrupt and predatorial.

And now, after many decades, our people are told they are free to return to what is left of their beloved homeland. They arrive here and face the misery and hopelessness of those who had remained, and everybody is stunned by the suffering.

It was into in these “despair-inducing circumstances that God’s prophets spoke.”

Brueggemann writes: “Ours is not an empty world of machinery where we get what we have coming to us. No! Caring, healing communication is still possible. Life is not a driven or anxious monologue. The Lord is findable….And that is the song of the promises and the image of the poets, the voices of Moses and of Jesus, that a new world is about to be given, and we can trust ourselves to it and live as though in it”

Imagine the people hearing these words at that time;

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.

We may nothing about the destruction of our homeland. We may not be able to even imagine the pain and trauma Israel experienced.

But at times our systems fail us and we feel overwhelmed. Our politicians fail us and we feel leaderless. Our church fails us and we don’t know whom to turn to.

We too, know about grief and tragedy.

We face the decline of the environment. The ocean is changing, we are losing our birds, and frogs and bees and bats and plants.

We too live under the constant strain of a political system that seems to be splitting at the seems as friends turn against each other in these hotly contested times. Spouses who can no longer respect each other because they interpret the world differently.

What are we to say to one another when we feel how cynicism and fear creeps into our daily life?

Well, into this world God’s prophets step in and announce, “take heart, don’t give up.”

The activist, Marian Wright Edelman, asked this question:

“Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?”

The prophet Isaiah says to these demoralized and traumatized people, “we have no right to give up.”

And he backs it up with a reminder that God continues to move among us and through us.

No one can build a future based upon defeatism.

“Remember the dream!” Isaiah is saying. God is still calling us forward into the future to rebuild our broken Jerusalems, our ruined expectations, our deepest challenges and disappointments.

Its not over! It will never be “over”!

Within us burns an indistinguishable light that we have been gifted with. It is called “hope”.

It calls us to rebuild our ruined dreams and it encourages us to renew our commitment to God’s dream. The dream that Moses and Jesus, Isaiah and Martin Luther King, worked for and even died for.

No, it is true that we might never see the “lamb and lion”, to quote Isaiah, lying down in a peaceful space. The lion (those who have power) and the lamb (those with no power) might never be reconciled for we will always have injustice: but that gives us no right to give up on justice. That gives us no right to trivialize the successes we have along the way.

Your life, dear friend, is never lived in vain. Not even in the worst of your experiences.

When my godmother’s lost her daughter to suicide and he husband to a freak accident, I expected her decline. Instead she survived these tragedies and lived a full life.

When I asked her how she coped she would simply say, she finds strength in her faith.

When she herself died I was reminded of the words in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

“Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?”

Let us fight the good fight and finish the race. May we always keep the faith. Amen.

 

Isaiah 65:17-25

For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
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;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
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;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
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.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent-its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.