New Names For You And Your Land
Imagine that for some reason or other the city in which you live had to be evacuated. And imagine that for fifty years the buildings and streets were simply left to the ravages of wind and rain and heat and cold. And imagine, then, thatyour children and grandchildren who had settled with you as refugees in other places came back to rebuild their lives in the city you had left. Imagine the incredulous questions of people in those other areas where you had gone to live. "You mean you are going back to that God-forsaken place?! From what I hear it is a picture of desolation--streets broken and overgrown, no public services, houses and buildings which have fallen in. You have gotta be crazy!" Imagine how those who returned would wonder if the name of their city would ever again be one of which they could be proud. And imagine that some member of the community began to encourage and inspire them with a vision of a new day when the city would be stronger and more vital and more desirable than ever before.
If you can imagine that scenario, you will be close to the situation in which the words of Isaiah 62 were written and delivered. You will be close to understanding Isaiah's role. He knew himself to be called by God to renew the vision and hopes of God's people as they confronted the disheartening reality of the city and land to which they had returned after fifty years in exile.
The first thing he says to them is, "Look up!...SMile!...You are going to be new people. You may think of yourself now as God-forsaken; but you are soon going to think of yourself as the apple of God's eye. Your city and land may remind you now of a wife who has been battered and abandoned. Soon it is going to seem to you that this place is as beautiful as a young bride and is cherished by God the way a bride is cherished with delight by her bridegroom."
And now you ought to be beginning to hear in these words God's word to you and to us in our own times and places. It is a word of promise, a word of change. The change of names in Isaiah 62:4 and 5 signifies a change of circumstances, an inauguration of new things.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken... But you shall be called My delight is in her.
Kenny spent his first two Christmases in the Harlem hospital where his mother abandoned him. He was kept with other children who also had AIDS. He spent his third Christmas in a children's home in Albany, NY. If anybody could have been called "Forsaken," it was Kenny. If anybody's place could be called "Desolate," his could. But there in Albany he was found by Gertrude Lewis, a 47 year-old city bus driver who lived alone, and never been married and had no family of her own. "I saw this boy with these beautiful eyes just looking up and smiling," she remembers. She prepared Kenny a room in her house, as well as in her heart, a room where desolation was dispelled by merry pictures and stuffed animals. "It is going to be hard to lose him," Gertrude]said. But Kenny could no longer be called "Forsaken," because "her delight was in him," and he knew it. He had a new name and a new place...forever.
Ruth Brinker was a 66 year-old grandmother who, in 1985, established Open Hands, a volunteer food service ministry to San Francisco victims of AIDS who are no longer able adequately to provide for themselves. It was a ministry which grew by leaps and bounds and became noteworthy for the loving attitude with which it transformed people and their places. On New Years Eve of 1987, two men who were recipients of care from Open Hands were sitting alone together, sick together, forsaken together in front of the TV set in their rundown apartment. They were struggling to stay awake when a volunteer from Open Hands showed up in this place of desolation, not with the balanced evening mean which had meant so much to the men on a daily basis, but with a box decorated with streamers and balloons. It contained champagne, cheese, truffles, a hat and a noisemaker, those things with which we celebrate on New Years Eve the new future which is dawning upon us. The men broke down and cried. Man shall not live by balanced meals alone! Where there is no vision, where there is no hope, men perish! These two men were given a gift which affirmed them and their life and embraced them with all of us who were celebrating the new year, a gift which enabled them to know that they also had a future, no mater what. Before the delivery of the gift their name was "Forsaken," and their place was "Desolate." Then, the grace of God, communicated convincingly through New Year's Eve prophets, gave them a new name--not "Our pity is with you," not "Our concern is for you," but "Our New Year's Eve delight is in you."
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a community of Christians who are experiencing some desolation, along with United Methodists and Episcopalians in particular. Membership has been declining. Our influence in society at large has been declining. We mainliners have become something of an object of derision to those whose churches are growing by leaps and bounds. The prevailing diagnosis is that our denominations are being forsaken because they are out in left field. The people are leaving, the argument goes, because our mainline churches persist in hanging on to a God-forsaken liberalism.
Critics gave, as one illustration, the stubborn determination of the Episcopal Church to elevate Barbara Harris in the church hierarchy in spite of the fact that she had three names, not one, which should have disqualified her: Divorced, Black and Female. Maybe the critics were right. Maybe God does not delight in prophets such as Harris. I believe otherwise. I believe that people like her have been disenfranchised and desolate longer than God has wanted them to be and that it was God's Spirit which sustained the beleaguered church which gave Barbara Harris a nw name: Bishop.
I think that on the big issues of our time the mainline churches have taken positions which reflect a deep and true understanding of God's revelation in Scripture. They may feel forsaken now, and they may show some signs of desolation; but I believe that, if they have the courage and stamina to remain true to their convictions, the Lord will take some delight in them and will renew their name and their place.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate but you shall be called My delight is in her...
Shift your attention to more personal applications. Think of the names you have been harshly or tactlessly given, names which have left you feeling alone and desolate. You gave to the students you teach the best you had to give, and they called you "an old witch." You showed no taste for fighting when you were a little boy, and they called you "Coward" or "Sissy." you were as affectionate to your husband as you knew how to be, and he called you "Inhibited." You wondered what was wrong with your child, and then one day they labeled him "Schizophrenic." There was an economic downturn or a change in management, and you suddenly had a terrifying new name: "Unemployed." The cruel names you were given turned the landscape of your life to desolation and left you feeling forsaken.
Can you believe it is God's intention in Christ to give you a new name which will make all of the old names bearable, a name which affirms you and reassures you, a name like "God's delight is in you"? In the Bible, this is God's repeated work. He takes Jacob, whose name means "deceiver," and makes him Israel, "one who strives with God." He takes Simon, the Coward and renames him Peter, the Rock. He takes Saul, the persecutor of the church, and turns him into Paul, the greatest missionary of the church.
I is the purpose of God in this life to give you a name like "My delight is in you" and to raise you up from the desolation of old names.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Jesus said; because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Lk 4:18-19)
In this life it is the purpose of God to give you a name which will sustain you. In the life to come it is the intention of God to give you a name which will never need changing. John had a marvelous vision of that life. He described it in the book of Revelation. Here is the very end of John's description of that life which hope embraces and which faith affirms.
Then (the angel) showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they shall need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever.
J. Harold McKeithen, Jr. Newport News, Virginia