For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent,
For Jerusalem, I will not rest,
Until God’s liberation shines like the dawn,
God’s salvation like a burning torch.
Even though these words were written well over 2000 years,
it feels like they could have been written yesterday.
I will not keep silent.
I will not rest.
These words have a power to them.
The prophet who is speaking is saying, “I refuse to allow isolation and hopeless to be the last word in people’s life. I refuse to believe in the way things are and I will continue to envision and proclaim how things should be until it becomes a bright, brilliant, shining reality.”
The prophet Isaiah will not keep silent and will not rest because he knows what he and his people (the Israelites) have been through – they have known what it is to experience pain, to have dreams shattered, to have trust broken.
Isaiah writes this passage knowing that the Israelites have been through a war firsthand with the Babylonian empire and they had lost. They had experience loss in terms of life but also in terms of land and what was familiar. Forced into refugee status, the empire had forced them to leave behind everything new and resettle in their captor’s land.
In this part of Isaiah, they are only now returning home to Jerusalem and the surrounding land. Worship was a big part of their life and they are returning home to a temple in Jerusalem that has been completely ruined, to a Jerusalem that has crumbled, and to a future that was uncertain.
They return home wondering, “How will we rebuild our lives in the face of such destruction? How will we rebuild our trust in others and in God after living captive so long?”
Just like the Israelites, we to have big questions these days, questions like – what do we do in the face of the war in Syria? What do we do in light of all the refugees without homes, possessions, or even a way to survive on their own? What do we do about terrorism? What do we do about the pervasive sense of fear in our nation? What do we do about racism? Or death by guns? What will do we in the face of the difficulties in our everyday lives?
We too, just like the Israelites, want to rebuild our lives and our sense of trust in the face of the destruction going on around us and we too wonder where to start.
When I have faced big questions before, I can remember people saying to me, “You have to start somewhere.”
You have to start somewhere.
In the passage today, Isaiah starts out by refusing to be quieted. Isaiah can see the future to which God calls us – a future of wholeness and liberation – and will not be silenced until it becomes a reality for the people.
Isaiah urges all of us not to be silence, not to rest.
Justice. Peace. Healing. Will be had.
Isaiah’s words … his insistence on speaking up …remind me so much of words spoken by the author Marianne Williamson. Williamson writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. …
We were born to manifest the glory of God within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Our deepest fear, Williamson says, is that we are powerful beyond all measure.
What Williamson is saying, and Isaiah, is that:
The ways we let our light shine,
The ways we speak up,
The ways we show up,
Do you know that? Do you remember that?
A few weeks ago, I traveled home to Rochester, NY on vacation to visit my family. While I was there, I found myself thinking about all those who had died by terrorism and by gun violence this past year and wondering what I could do about it.
While I was pondering, my mother told me that the American Baptist church that I had grown up in – Lake Avenue Baptist – had started waging peace. “Oh yeah?” I said, “How are they doing that?”
“Well,” My mother replied, “Every week we get together and sit in silence & prayer for 30 minutes every Wednesday at 6 p.m. We started to do it immediately after the San Bernardino shooting in December. In the face of all the violence, we said we are going to do something and we are going to show up every week to pray and make peace a reality. So that’s what we do.”
“Do you want to come?” She asked.
Do I want to come to a gathering where people yearn for God’s healing and peace as much as I do?
“Of course,” I said.
And so I showed up and together a small group of us sat in silence for thirty minutes.
And I have to say, it gave me so much hope, that here in this world of violence people are still gathering, still showing up, still working for peace.
Here are people building God’s kin-dom.
It may a small act but they started somewhere and maybe this “waging peace” group is not a good example of “not being silent” but they do show us what it looks like to not rest until God’s liberation shine like the dawn, and salvation and love like a burning torch.
And they testify to the truth that what we do matters.
We will not be silent; we will not rest. God’s kin-dom is a-comin’!
Brother Roger, an ordinary person who started the monastery of Taize which now hosts thousands of people a week, went to Poland many years ago and put it this way to the Polish people: “Not one of you Polish workers thinks you have an influence on the development of the human race. I want to tell you that the contrary is true. It is not those who appear to be in the front ranks that bring about changes in the world.
Look at the Virgin Mary. Neither did she think that her life was essential for the future of the human family. Like the Mother of God, you are the humble people of this world who are preparing the way that leads to a future for everybody. Your faithful waiting on God is carrying forward many other people throughout the world.”
Brother Roger’s words invoke in me a sense of gratitude for all those who show up, all those who speak up, all those who are restless for God’s kin-dom, which is a-comin’, because what we do matters. What you do matters.
At the end of the “waging peace” event, I shared a poem called “Blessed are You who Bear the Light” written by Jan Richardson. I shared it thinking of the church I had grown up in and thinking of this congregation and so others who have touched my life.
I found myself so grateful for you who bear the light.
Do you know that you bear light, each one of you?
Do you know that your light is felt and treasured by others?
Do you know that it is felt and treasured by me?
Even if you a stranger, your courage in showing up (or reading this post!) inspires me and bears light in my life.
And so this poem is for you.
The poem starts,
“Blessed are you
Who bear the light
in unbearable times
who testify to its endurance
amid the unendurable
who bear witness to its persistence
in shadow and in grief.”
I would add – “Blessed are you pray even when it’s hard. You who speak up or meditate on peace even in the face of violence. Blessed are you who show up. Blessed are you who don’t always know what to do but try to start somewhere. Blessed are you who yearn for healing and wholeness. Blessed are you who are restless. Blessed are you who cry out that all God’s children deserve peace and justice. Blessed are you who cry. Blessed are you who love. Blessed are you who bear the light.”
You are blessed and you’re a blessing and I give thanks to God for you. Truly.
So, go forth beloved of God, shining, showing up, praying, speaking up, being restless, embodying peace because even when our actions are small God’s love and light come bursting forth. Because just like us, God will not keep silent; God will not rest; God goes forth shouting about each one of us, “This is my bright, brilliant, beloved child who is beautiful to behold” and God will not stop until all of creation is enfolded in love, in peace, in grace, and in life made new.
Thanks be to God!