Rebuilding Ruins

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.
Christmas Under Construction: Rebuilding Ruins
Isaiah 61:1-4;8-11
December 17, 2017

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

When I heard Isaiah speaking to people whose lives had been shattered, he used an image that is powerful to me,
“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities…”

It is a vision to people whose lives had been ruined by political and personal events. They had lost their independence as a nation… and had been one of many victims to Babylon who years earlier had sieged, starved out, slaughtered and deported those who lived in Jerusalem. The city devastated, burned to the ground… Imagine Washington, DC burned to the ground. Then there was THE Temple, the architectural masterpiece that could be seen for miles, built by King Solomon in the good old days… When Israel was great! The temple, where God was said to live… now, reduced to rubble. Imagine the Vatican… no more.

People’s lives were shattered: The best and brightest were deported… families torn apart… all those things that happen when you live in a war zone. Lives ruined.

But in our text today, something has shifted… Cyrus the Great has come to power and has allowed the Jews to return home. Which sounds really good until you actually see what home looks like now: rubble and remains. All you can do now is go home and comb through the ruins like a family looking through the ashes of a burnt home… looking for something of their memories… And you wonder, how will you recover from such devastation. Their lives in ruins.

History you know is full of the ruins of once great and ancient civilizations…

For the last 7 years or so, I’ve been grateful to have traveled to Turkey and to Israel… where part of the visit is to go from ruin to ruin… There are LOTS of ruins!

I’ve been to Ephesus twice… once a great city…with a thriving economy… a great library… a great amphitheater… advanced water and sewer systems… It once was a cosmopolitan and educated town … that today, lay in ruins…

Throughout Israel you visit lots of ancient ruins… there is Caesarea Maritima, the home of Pontius Pilate on the coast of the Mediterranean… a hippodrome (sort of like one of our stadiums)… another amphitheater where you could enjoy great plays… a great port… It must have been something. I doubt they ever imagined that the great cities they lived in would ever be no more than archaeological site…

I could go on… I’ve seen ruins in Samaria… Masada… Jericho… many of the places we read about in Scripture, now are basically ruins… Time, international politics… wars… a combination has left them in ruins.

So it is a powerful image to me when I hear the Lord talk about rebuilding the ancient ruins… and of course my mind thinks God is talking not only about sticks and stones… but whatever you may perceive what lay in ruins in your own life.

For some it could be a marriage that has fallen apart… for others… it could be families where the tension is so high, you wonder when it will all break apart… you may not even be speaking to some family members… and all the talk of family for the holidays… all the Hallmark movies make it worse. It could be an illness like that dreaded word, “Cancer” that ruins your day and years… For some, it is not so dramatic, but life did not turn out as you expected… with your job, your dreams for family or career or friendship… and if feels like you are mainly walking among rubble.

And let’s acknowledge that for some, faith itself is in ruins… a spiritual crisis… you are disillusioned with God, with the Church… or the people who represent the church… personally or publically… the hypocrisy is enough to leave your faith in ruins… It’s easier to become one of the “Nones”

It’s a powerful image, “ruins”… but equally powerful for me is the image of the God who sends a servant to speak to any and all who find their lives in the ruins.

To them God says he is sending a servant…
to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… to comfort all who mourn…to give them a garland instead of ashes… “

Isaiah hears God anointing him to tell anyone whose lives are in ruins… that this is not the end of the story. How did the Hotel manager in the Marigold movie say it?
Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”…

That’s the message of Isaiah. It was also the message of Jesus.

I find it interesting that in Luke’s gospel that when Jesus is asked to preach in the synagogue, of all the texts he could have chosen for his first sermon, he chose this text from Isaiah… of how God had anointed him to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.”

This message of Isaiah was front and center in the message of Jesus. Jesus came to rebuild ruin lives.

Which then becomes our message as well, does it not? Are we not now the ones who are God’s servants, anointed with the same message of Isaiah that was literally fleshed out in the person and life and message and ministry of Jesus Christ?
What is the church for but to be a part of God’s great rebuilding project among those whose lives are in ruins…

Some of you have been doing this through family ties and a number of other ways you volunteer and give to help people who are struggling to pick up the pieces of their lives.

One of the great symbols of God’s rebuilding project stands today in Coventry, England. There lies one set of ruins I’d like to visit one day. It is the place where in November of 1940, this industrial city was bombed endlessly by the Germans… 30,000 bombs turned the city into a blazing inferno.

The staff and members of Coventry Cathedral tried to prepare themselves for this. They removed and put into storage 15th century stained glass windows and tried to fireproof the cathedral. But the bombing was too much. On November 14, 1940, the cathedral roof caught fire and spread through the building.

When the bombing was over, somehow the 300 foot Gothic tower built in the 1400s survived, as did the outer walls of the cathedral. Everything else was rubble.

The next day, standing in the ruins of the cathedral, Richard Howard, the Cathedrals’ provost, wrote on one of the remaining walls these two words.. he wrote them on the blackened wall of the sanctuary: “Father Forgive”.

In the days following the bombing, a member of the firefighting team pulled from the ruins tow of the charred great oak beams which had supported the roof and put them together in the form of a cross. Within weeks, they set the cross and also created a stone altar from the rubble to form an altar. It was their way of saying, “God can and will redeem this disaster!”

Today services continue to be held in the ruins. I’m told that if you visit today, you will see a new modern cathedral built next to the old one.

It is hallowed ground. You can still see the charred cross… and the words, “Father forgive” inscribed on the wall… maybe speaking to those who listen a message that says if they can forgive such death and destruction, how can we not forgive?”

There is a chapel on the grounds where Christians from all denominations are invited to come together to pray for reconciliation… for justice, for peace… in other words, for God to build up the ancient ruins and repair the devastations… That’s the call isn’t it? For you and me as followers of Jesus: To be the ones in our time and place who God will use to bring comfort and good news, and healing and freedom to any and all whose lives are in ruins? To be the servant of the Lord, seeking to bring peace to a broken and busted world?

Six weeks after the bombing, on Christmas Day, 1940, Provost Howard spoke to the nation on the radio, and declared that when the war was over, he would work with those who had been enemies to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world.”

Let us offer our lives to God, commit ourselves to be God’s servants … that the Lord might work with us and through us “to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world”

I like the way one quote ( Steve Maraboli), says it that has been going around facebook:

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

In other words, “Want to keep Christ in Christmas?” then join Christ, in his work of rebuilding and redemption. May we commit ourselves to building a more “kinder, more Christ-like” world.