In nomine Jesu!

If you remove the yoke from among you,
 the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
 and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
 and your gloom be like the noonday.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
 you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
 the restorer of streets to live in.

This is God's dream β€” God's vision β€” for life in that "city of the living God"β€” that "better country" described for us through the Letter to the Hebrews.

This is God's dream β€” and Jesus' dream too β€” for all who live in that "better country," because it is precisely to further this dream that Jesus heals the woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath who has suffered for eighteen years.

This is God's dream β€” and our Saint Peter's dream too β€” our mission for "life in the city" β€”
a mission for which we have committed ourselves, our time and our possessions in order to "creatively shape" that life;
–A mission because of which we care for hundreds of disenfranchised homeless; hundreds of discarded immigrants; hundreds of conveniently marginalized AIDS sufferers and thousands of seniors and others afflicted and addicted;
–A mission that is nothing less than a 21st Century restatement of this Isaiah's call in ancient times to be "repairer(s) of the breach" and "restorer(s) of streets."

This is God's dream and Jesus' dream and our dream; God's mission, Jesus' mission and our mission: a dream of a just, equitable, and peaceful community, "the city of the living God," where all needs are met; where no one is shamed and from which none are excluded. This is God's dream, Jesus' dream and our dream and yet it has always been opposed by a competing, polar-opposite vision; a vision that is insular and exclusive; a vision of "us" over "them"; a dream for those included; a nightmare for all the rest.

This Isaiah's version of God's dream was first proclaimed around 500 B.C.E. as God's people
began their long-awaited return home to Judah and Jerusalem after 70+ years of exile in Babylon. They were going back severely diminished in numbers, yet exultant β€” as those who had "sowed with tears": but expected now to "reap with joy;" as those who had been promised, by an earlier prophet Isaiah, that they and their city "had served her term, that h her penalty had been paid, that {they would} receive from the LORD's hands double for all their sins." They were coming back to build anew; to "creatively shape" their life and their city and prosper there in peace. They arrived to find ruins. They arrived to find others β€” foreigners, mongrels, Gentiles β€” vastly outnumbering them, living in those ruins. They intended to make Jerusalem great again... but they found themselves less affluent and they felt themselves besieged by their foreign, intrusive neighbors. They heard God's dream and shared God's vision of a just and inclusive society β€” a "better country" meant for all. Yet they chose that opposite vision of Jerusalem for Judeans and Judeans first.

If you read the books of Nehemiah and Ezra β€” which also come from this same period β€” you can see how this alternate vision, the polar-
opposite dream was worked out. The homes of the rich were built first. Then the city walls to protect them. Then the temple. And, if there was anything left, then the hovels for the poor. Foreigners, even those who had live there for over 8o years, were expelled and any Judean who married a foreigner was asked to leave. Everyone was suspect, which is what that language about "the pointing of fingers, the speaking of evil" is all about. Religious codes about racial purity, about "clean versus unclean," and about ritual observance such as keeping the Sabbath became more and more draconian.

Five hundred years later, it was these very practices that Jesus confronted when he healed the woman on the Sabbath in the synagogue after her eighteen years of suffering and faced the scorn of his well-positioned distractors. Two thousand years later, this same competing vision, this same polar-opposite dream, is being laid before us today which is why these readings proclaiming the fullness of God's dream and God's vision and this Gospel β€” in which Jesus acts to makes God's dream the woman's and his detractors and our reality β€” are so important for us to hear; which is why our mission "to creatively shape life in the city" is so important
for us to embrace and defend and do. Through the visionary words of this prophet Isaiah, God reminds us how life in God's "better country," that city of the living God" is meant to be.

And in Jesus β€” through his works of healing; in his proclamation and teaching; by confronting the proponents of exclusion and expulsion, of systemic racial intolerance and religious legalism, by his death β€” because of his confrontation work and healing and teaching β€” on the cross, Jesus has made God's dream of "a better country" "a city of the living God" come to be. At this table. Among us. At this Intersection. For the sake of the church and the city and the world.

How does the writer to the Hebrews describe where we are when we come here?

"You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word..."
Or as our liturgy puts it,
"... with all the choirs of angels, the church on earth, and the hosts of heaven."

Today, in the words of this prophet Isaiah and in the works of Jesus we are reminded again God's dream for "better country" and in Christ's presence at this meal β€” this "festal gathering," this "assembly of the firstborn" that "better country" is here among us. There is a competing vision; there are those who dream a polar-opposite dream. And we are called to dream God's dream, to speak that better word and so become the "repairers of the breach" and "restorers of the streets" God calls and equips and sends us out to be.

Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

August 21, 2016
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Saint Luke 13:10-17