Be Careful Who You Hate, It May Be Someone You Love

November 26, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Isaiah 64:1-9       

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains would tremble before you!

As when fire sets twigs ablaze

and causes water to boil,

come down to make your name known to your enemies

and cause the nations to quake before you!

For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,

you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

Since ancient times no one has heard,

no ear has perceived,

no eye has seen any God besides you,

who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.

You come to the help of those who gladly do right,

who remember your ways.

But when we continued to sin against them,

you were angry.

How then can we be saved?

All of us have become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

No one calls on your name

or strives to lay hold of you;

for you have hidden your face from us

and have given us over to[b] our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;

do not remember our sins forever.

Oh, look on us, we pray,

for we are all your people.

CCI: Certainty regarding who is in and who is out will evaporate as we grow to know God and God’s ways.

Intro: Today we are beginning a journey. It is a journey that is familiar, but it also new. As we begin the journey of Advent, we will be traveling through time and emotion. The journey of Advent begins with God’s promise to restore creation and so it is a journey that continues to this day. It is a familiar journey as we walk with prophets and angels and Joseph and Mary. But the journey is also new as we look at these elements with new eyes and in new ways.

      We can speak of the story with certainty. And we like certainty. We like to know who God is and how God acts. We want to know for certain that God is for us. We want to know how God will respond to our prayers. We want certainty about what love means and that the promises are real. We want to know who is in (meaning us) and who is out (meaning them). We want certainty.

The passage of scripture from the prophet that we read this morning begins with a loud declaration of certainty. 3rd Isaiah knew who was in and who was out and wanted God to bring judgement down on those who were out!

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,

that the mountains would tremble before you!

As when fire sets twigs ablaze

and causes water to boil,

come down to make your name known to your enemies

and cause the nations to quake before you!

What is the prophet asking here? What is calling upon God to do? He wants God to take out his enemies. Rend the sky, that is a violent image, rip it open! Make yourself known and set ablaze everything in your path, let your anger boil over against your (and our) enemies.

The prophet knew who he hated and the prophet was certain that God hated the same people. This part of Isaiah was written after the return from Babylon. That time of the return was a time filled with hope and promise. God was restoring the people to the land and finally the days of sorrow were going to end. But then, as they arrived, they found that still there was sorrow.  Their homeland had been devastated and now they had to rebuild. Those who had destroyed the land deserved to be destroyed themselves. And so the prophet is calling on God to exact revenge on the evil people. He understood God and he understood God’s ways. But he was mislead.

Even today, certainty that we understand God and God’s ways, can mislead us. It has been that way from the beginning. When God created humans, the temptation that they faced was a temptation to know good and evil with certainty. God’s desire was that people would trust him, but people wanted to Know. You see, the certainty that they people sought, was the opposite of trust. In a recent book Peter Enns, a professor of Biblical studies at Eastern University, wrote, “The need for certainty is sin because it works off of fear and limits God to our mental images.” Certainty, the idea that we can know that we know that we know, replaces trust in an eternal God with correct thinking about God. That is we when we determine who deserves God’s punishment, when we are certain of what God hates, who is in and who is out, and what God is like, we are creating God in our own image.

That seems to be what happened to the prophet, he knew who he hated, and he was sure God agreed with him. But a strange thing happened on the way to Judgement. While the Prophet wanted God to judge those who were evil, when he spoke of evil, as he described the people God hated, it slowly began to dawn on him that he and his people were the ones

Who continued to sin against the oppressed,

And you, God, were angry.

So, can we be saved?

All of us have become like one who is unclean,

and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

we all shrivel up like a leaf,

and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Suddenly, the hatred that seemed so pure, so righteous; the hatred that said, “I hate the sin, but love the sinner” was turned around on them. All of us are sinners, all of us are in need of your grace, all of us need redemption. The hatred and desire for judgement melted away as the prophet began to connect with his own sinfulness. As he continued to look at his own condition and the condition of the people he loved he declared,

No one calls on your name

or strives to lay hold of you;

He was sinful, just as the people he hated were sinful. His only recourse was to repent of his own sin. He came to recognize that the center of our faith is trust in God, not being certain about his thoughts about God. He had to face the music.

Earlier this week I ran across a promotional product from the United Church of Christ, it was a t-shirt that said, “Be Careful who you hate, I Could be Someone You Love.” The phrase struck me, because it seemed to fit this passage, and it fits our culture today.

Over the last nine years, it has become OK to express our hatred for people who are different from us. Racist slurs and attacks have crawled out of hiding; hatred of people of different religions whether Jews, or Muslims, even fundamentalist Christian bodies has been expressed freely;  attacks on homosexuals and others in the LGBTQ community have become common place. Often our hatred has been shrouded in our certainty that we know who is in God’s good favor and who is out.

When we are certain we know God’s will and ways, we are capable of terrible things. The system of apartheid in South Africa, a sophisticated but oppressive structure of racism that reigned for decades, was based in large part on theological doctrines that were formed at Stellenbosch University in the 1930s and 1940s. The Afrikaner nationalism and distorted Christian theology that came from Stellenbosch’s Seminary fueled many Afrikaner’s belief that they were God’s chosen people. They saw themselves as biologically superior to other races. Therefore, they felt called to create a new segregated society that would allow them to civilize other people while not tainting themselves with the “darkness and barbarism” of those inferior groups.

These doctrines gave the white South Africans religious justification for horrific crimes against their countrymen and women. More than 3.5 million black, Indian, and biracial people were removed from their homes in what was one of the largest mass removals in modern history. Nonwhite political representation was obliterated. Black South Africans were denied citizenship and relegated to the slums called “bantustans.” The government segregated education, medical care, beaches, and other public services, providing black, Indian, and other “colored” people with significantly inferior services. The result was a segregated society where people were dehumanized based on beliefs that were supported by bad theology, bad thoughts about who God is and what God does.

But as time passed, these very people began to discover that the God they had created, who hated the same people they hated, was actually a god created in their own image.

So what do we do when we make the same discovery that Isaiah made? What do we do when we discover that the people we hate are also the people we love. What do we do when we discover that the homosexuals we hate are our daughters and sons and neighbors? What do we do when we find that the people we condemn because they have had abortions, are actually our mothers and sisters and daughters? What do we do when the God we worship, loves those we hate?

When our eyes are finally opened to these truths and many others, our only response is the response of the Prophet:

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.

We are the clay, you are the potter;

we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;

do not remember our sins forever.

Oh, look on us, we pray,

for we are all your people.

Did you hear that? We first acknowledge that God is the one who forms us. Then we confess our sins and rest in God’s mercy. And finally, to be free of the hatred, we must recognize that we are all the work of God’s hands and we are all God’s people: formed from the same clay, made by the same potter.

Jesus ministry, from the beginning to the end, broke down barriers. Rather than calling God’s judgement on his enemies, Jesus showed mercy. Rather than destroying his enemies, Jesus called on his disciples to love their enemies.

   We must be very careful – The people we hate, are probably people we love. And even more, while there may not be much of which we can be certain, we can be certain that the people we hate are beloved by our God.