The Strength of Tenderness

Isaiah 65: 17-25

[Watch sermon here.]

God proclaims,
I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth!

This is a vision of salvation!

People often think of salvation as being personal,
as related just to them.

Here, what is a salve,
what is salvific relates to the community.

What does wholeness look like for the community?

Isaiah responds to this question, writing,
No more shall there be … an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime.

For Isaiah, wholeness looks like
being concerned about the infant mortality rate;
it looks like caring for infants, and nurturing our elders.

Isaiah depicts this whole community, proclaiming,
no more will people build and someone else inhabits;
no more will one person plant and another eats.

This is about fair labor practices!
No more will someone be a migrant farm worker and not be able to eat.
No more will one person work on your house
and not be able to afford housing.
Each person who labors will get to benefit
from the fruit of their labor.

This is the communal vision for wholeness.

The people need this vision.

Some people of Judah had been displaced
by a conquering empire.

Colonizing powers have forced them
to move to Babylon.

After decades,
the people are allowed to return home.

When they return,
life does not pan out how they expected.

The remnant who had stayed back
has a different vision than the exiles who return.

Two distinct groups now exist
with differing views of their country’s future.
The different groups have hardened their perspectives
about their country’s best interests.

Isaiah addresses this growing division
by envisioning a new community for everyone.

Isaiah pointedly writes,
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

Isaiah suggests that some people
have had wolf-like and lion-like tendencies.

God addresses this, declaring,
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.

In Isaiah’s vision
what endures calamity is softness.

Softness endures in God’s concern for
infants, elders, and exploited workers.

Wolves and lambs now exist side by side,
with neither species harmed.

The tender way God tends to us,
the hunger we have to make things better,
this is the eternal kernel that lives within us.

In Isaiah’s vision, harm halts. Harm passes away.
The defensive shield of our ego is no more.
Our prickly exterior fades away until we are left with truth.

The lion itself becomes a vegetarian, eating straw.
The lion is still there
but the defensive, bristling part of the lion passes away.
The part of the lion that hurts others is gone.

This vision disarms.

I thrill at a view of the world without violence.

For our own part, we do not know how to remove ourselves
from the cycles of violence and aggression that plague us.

This is why God gives us this vision.

What disarms aggression is tenderness.

This is the salve God gives to us today.
In the passage, God is not being hard on us,
demanding we be soft with others.
Rather, God is being soft on us,
as God spreads salve on the places where we hurt.

This gentle experience transforms us.
When we receive it, when we are open to it,
it is strong enough to change our approach to others.

There is a strength to tenderness.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
God declares.
The lion shall eat straw like the ox.

We may think it takes a stronger more aggressive wolf
to beat the lesser wolves that plague us.

That is not how it works, Isaiah tells us.
What happens is not that God out wolves the wolf.
Rather, God removes the predatory instinct from us,
so there will be no more exploitation of others.
No more will one person turn a huge profit as others get pennies.

It is a vision of a commonwealth of blessing.

It is not assertiveness that God is wiping out.
It is aggressiveness. Preying on the other.

The former things will not be remembered or come to mind, God says.

There will be no more retribution.
No more cycles of revenge.
These things will be done away with.

Tenderness is wise and fierce.

Isaiah recognizes tenderness as supremely powerful.
Tenderness is not powerful in the way that people think about power.
It is powerful because it connects us to truth.

When we operate from gentleness, we are living in truth.
We are not living in a way that is reactive,
always based on the other person.
You can be tender when you are grounded.
You can be soft
when you know how to set boundaries
so you will not be resentful.

There is a strength to tenderness.

Tenderness is strong because it invites us to be assertive.

To practice saying to people,
I will not let you talk to me this way.

We can set a boundary to require people to be tender with us.

If you are screaming, I will not continue the conversation.
This is tender. This is non-violent.

Because it is requiring tenderness from both participants.

Tenderness is respecting everyone’s right to dignity,
everyone’s right to not be treated with aggression.
Everyone has a right to softness!

We can be firm, fierce, on fire about that right!

Fierce and soft.
That paradox works in the divine economy.

Those gifts are available to you today. Now. If you want them.


Gentleness is appetizing like a warm soup
on a cold autumn day, hot and soothing;
it melts in your mouth.

We do not want these hard cold bitter pieces in us;
they do not bring us joy.
We want the hot soothing fire and soup,
and the cozy socks of God.

It’s a gift.

Relax and receive.

Well, not quite.

Be fierce in your protection of dignity.
And then be soft, and receive all this warm love.

Poured out for you.

God is fierce and soft for you.

So you can be fierce and soft
for yourself
and for others.

Have the hot soup
and put away the hammer.

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