A lifetime ago, toward the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I preached a series of sermons
about the ancient Israelite exile in Babylon. The Israelite nation was conquered and destroyed
around 580 BCE and many of its people were forcibly moved to Babylon. The book of
Lamentations describes this devastation pretty brutally. Some of the Psalms speak of the anger
and sorrow of the exile. Jeremiah speaks of tending to the welfare of the city even by those who
are alien to it. Isaiah speaks of holding steadfastly to God’s vision of a new and transformed
social structure, a new world that God has in store for the Israelites. If only they have faith. If
only they will cleave their lives to God’s life and ways.
In addition to what is clear in the texts, modern biblical scholarship has come to the general
conclusion that the exile in Babylon was not only a crisis and a scourge for the ancient Israelites.
During 60-80 years in exile, Israelite priests and scribes wrote down scripture that had largely
been oral tradition. During the exile, they edited and organized records of their history and faith
and covenant and relationship to God. They organized worshipful ways of gathering apart from
the prior focus on the now-destroyed temple in Jerusalem. The leaders of the nation in exile
decided to preserve and transform their life together as a people rather than let the empire erase
their life and memory. The exile became a source of strengthened identity.
Today’s scripture comes from a time near the end of this exile. The emperor Cyrus is preparing
to let the Israelites that want to, to return to Jerusalem. Many in the community remained inp
Babylon, comfortably established in the empire’s ways of exploitation and greed. Others,
seeking to remain faithful, prepared to return. During this time of anticipation, the prophet
speaks: Come to the waters. Share in God’s abundance. Leave behind the slavery and
structures of empire that ask you to pay for basic needs. Leave behind what you know, what you
have grown comfortable with. Leave behind the scarcity mindset. In God’s economy, what you
need is freely available. Without price. Listen so that you may live.
Certainly the last 16 months have been incredibly challenging for us as a nation, and for us as a
church. The death and suffering within the country’s boundaries has been devastating for
millions of people who mourn, who struggle with lost jobs and lost homes, who still face
evictions and healthcare bills, whose networks of friends and family have shattered, whose
tenuous faith in social institutions has disappeared.
In the meantime, the forces of authoritarian corporatism have grown…income for the wealthy
among us has skyrocketed. State legislatures continue to pass laws limiting voting. Or
criminalizing protest. Or denying healthcare. Or valuing profits more than people and planet.
Hate crimes and racialized violence proliferate…
…and still, other voices encourage us to use this moment in history to envision and build better
alternatives. To abandon building more oil infrastructure and pursue less suicidal energy
sources, for example. To plant trees. To focus on childcare and education. To truly challenge
the racism at the core of our culture. To remember the vast numbers of people in the U.S. and
world-wide without access to the vaccine or other resources needed to recover from the
Such voices echo the spirit of Isaiah. Leave behind the cultural assumptions and economic
violence you’re accustomed to. Come to the waters. Leave behind the notion of scarcity and
the pursuit of ultimately unsatisfying goals. Listen.
I hope that many of us will pay heed to, and support, such voices. Voices of hope. Voices of
vision. Voices of the prophets. Otherwise, we are choosing to remain in the empire, ignoring the
ways of the God known by the prophets and shown by Jesus.
This passage is also very pertinent to our life as the body of Christ gathered in this congregation.
Rumors fly about that the pandemic is becoming manageable. Hopes rise for a return to seeing
those we love, those we miss, those we long to talk to or hug or hang out with. During the
pandemic, Skyridge has taken steps that could alter our life as a congregation significantly.
Under the present organizational structure individuals are offered the opportunity (and challenge)
to engage others in ministry efforts—a one-time shot or a long-term effort. We are all asked to
be mindful of the needs for care, the desires for celebration, the call to mutual aid, and the
witness we bear to the community. The hope of our current structure is to encourage call to
ministry among us so that we may thrive in new ways, rather then relying upon the work and
cajoling of committees to maintain what we know.
As we emerge from the exile and isolation of pandemic, the leaders among us are also in a new
circumstance. Ever since this congregation was organized, Council members have been
responsible for committees. Under the new structure we have, the purpose and identity of the
Council has an opportunity to shift. Leadership can choose to begin considering our overall
context, casting vision, focusing new paths into the future, and nurturing a well-integrated and
As we individually begin to emerge from the exile and isolation of pandemic, we can also make
this an opportunity. The disruptions we have experienced can also become opportunities to let
ourselves be changed. Or continue to nurture healthful changes that have begun. Time alone
can grow into time in prayer and meditation. Time spent learning more technology can grow into
learning and exposure to new understandings of ourselves, our spirituality, our world. Time
spent learning to grow food or knit or build models or…whatever…can grow into a gift to be
offered. Time spent in grief and care for friends and family can eventually grow into compassion
and insight that serves others…
We can let the transformations and challenges of the exile of pandemic change us and move us
toward new ways of being. Or we can attempt to remain in the realm of the old empire.
Isaiah makes it clear what the Holy One desires. The word does not come as suggestion or
invitation, really. It lands on faithful peoples’ ears as an imperative. Come. Eat. Listen. Delight. See.
In these days, and in the days to come, may we step toward the realm of God today’s scripture
beckons us toward…may we engage a new life together as a source of thriving for ourselves and
a witness to others. A life that rejects the notions of profit and loss, tit for tat. A life not driven by
anxiety and fear and habit. A life of trust. A life of openness. A life that pursues the truly
satisfying. A life of seeing possibility and God’s abundance. A life that overflows in God’s love
and generosity and compassion.
May we listen. So that we may live.
-Rev. Ruth Moerdyk, from Isaiah 55:1-5