You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ reflection, Those Who Dream… sow joy, HERE.
This is a fascinating place to begin a reflection on sowing joy. Great Hope immersed in God’s love.
Because in the reality of today’s Bible reading, Isaiah is standing in the ashes of Jerusalem. The city has been destroyed. The Temple torn down. Yet Isaiah’s poem is a wonderful blend of the joy… and lament… and faith… the people were experiencing as they returned to Jerusalem after nearly 50 years of exile in Babylon.
And in this emotional space of raw feelings, God issues a proclamation: A year of God’s favor. A jubilee.
Jubilee. This is not a word, or a responsive action, we talk about much in Protestant churches today. However, after just one year of living with the raging coronavirus and the ashes of our political processes, I don’t know about you—but I am soooo ready for a jubilee!
But what does that mean?
When Isaiah shouts out “God has sent me… to proclaim the year of God’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2) he is referring to this passage in Leviticus:
“You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud… 10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you…” (Lev. 25:8-10a)
Or, here is another vision of jubilee: Elva Solvang writes, “During the Jubilee property and people held as payment for debt were returned to the families to which they originally belonged (Leviticus 25:10) …Isaiah 61 is (thus) a clear indication that the liberty proclaimed is intended to be made permanent in new social and economic relationships within the community… Jubilee was a rare event — observed every fiftieth year — God’s anointed is sent to announce that liberation now.”
Standing in the ruins, this is poetry for the 8th century B.C.E., and for today. In a similar vein I offer you a modern take on Isaiah’s ancient words…
People of God: Look around. Listen up.
God has sent God’s Word into our midst.
To bring good news to the oppressed,
To mend the hearts of the grieving.
Not unlike Sister Helen Prejean,
giving witness this past week on death-row
as she sat with Brandon Bernard
In his final hours—before his state sanctioned murder.
For others—the women, men—imprisoned
During the pandemic
Not on death row
But dying behind bars due to COVID
God calls out for criminal justice reform.
In this time
What does “release to the prisoners” look like?
What does a year of God’s favor
A year of jubilee
Mean… as so many mourn in 2020?
So many have died during the pandemic
So many sit in the economic ashes
The Zoom doom and gloom
Where is this garland we are to hand out?
The relief? The hope? The love of neighbor?
Where do we get this oil of gladness
The prophet proclaims?
Let us pull out oaks of righteousness,
Hand lettered signs made by our children
Prophetic words written on cardboard
Vigils to Truth
Let us build up the ancient ruins,
Raise up the former devastations;
From the Doctrine of Discovery
To the indigenous people forced off their land
To the first shipload of enslave people from Africa
Arriving on these shores
To Jim Crow laws and mass incarceration
Let us repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
We have hired strangers feed flocks,
Foreigners to till the land and dress the vines
Work in our restaurants
Provide vital services
Yet they are shamed
Put into cages at the country’s southern border
Torn from their children
Dishonor proclaimed as their lot.
And God declares:
They shall receive a double portion of Good News
Everlasting joy shall be theirs.
For I, God, love justice,
I hate robbery and wrongdoing
People deprived of living wages
Access to healthcare
I will faithfully give them their reward
All who see them shall acknowledge
They are a people whom God has blessed.
This is the year of jubilee!
Rejoice in God.
As the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
A time of jubilee!
This past week I attended the Wisconsin Council of Churches’ Annual Meeting. I want to take a moment to lift up the amazing guidance they have provided to congregations during the pandemic. Their work has been indispensable to me as Memorial has responded to the health and safety concerns the coronavirus has challenged us with in 2020.
On Tuesday, the keynote speaker was Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, “a member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, an American Indian tribe located in central Wisconsin” and Program Director for Racial Justice with the Minnesota Council of Churches (you can watch his presentation HERE).
As we reflect on God’s call to jubilee and working towards liberation from oppressive social systems today, I was drawn to Jacob’s reference to the book of Matthew, chapter 5, as our primary call as Jesus’ disciples:
“… when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 23-24, NRSV).
Jacob notes these verses “recenter (us) around the act of worship… we need to reconcile with our brothers and sisters… we need to go and make that repair.”
And isn’t that the goal of jubilee? Pursuing healing and restoration? For…all? God’s liberating justice causing righteousness and praise to spring up. Now, Jacobs also talked about the difficult reality that for communities… and congregations… “there is no painless way to the healing of social justice” and that as followers of Jesus “we need to be about the work of repair.”
Which is why I am excited about the work Memorial’s newly formed Social Justice Task-Force. You may have already received a letter from them announcing the partnership Memorial is forming with The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness. Reading from the Task-Force’s letter, “This group is a local organization providing wellness education and advocacy for the Black community of Madison…” The Task-Force has challenged us to raise $10,000 a year for the Foundation over 5 years. While donations can be accepted now, the primary fundraising period will be during the season of Epiphany. To learn more, contact a member of the Social Justice Task Force: Kaitlin Young, Janine Bessemer, Jacquie Caravello, Steve Gorton, Bill and Kelly Jetzer, Becky Kuhl, Judy Lopez, Lisa Schoenwetter, Sonjia Short, Bonnie VanOverbeke, or Sue Webb. I thank them for their amazing work!
In light of whatever economic challenges the coronavirus pandemic brings to us as a congregation, actions such as this new initiative is what the work of the church is all about—reaching out to our community in God’s love. Reaching out to make reparations and repairs.
For this is where God sows joy. Heals humanity. Through our response to Jesus’ urgent call to reconcile with our sisters and brothers who are Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color.
So hear Isaiah call out again, “God has anointed me. God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…”
May that time of joy and jubilee be realized.
Reflection on Isaiah 61: 1-11 offered December 13, 2020
 Elna K. Solvang, “Commentary on Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary, accessed December 11, 2020, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/third-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-isaiah-611-4-8-11-5.
 “Who Tells the Story? A Native Response to Christian Supremacy with Jim Bear Jacobs,” Kaleo Center , January 14, 2020, http://kaleo.center/jimbear/.
 Jim Bear Jacobs, “Wisconsin Council of Churches Annual Meeting,” Wisconsin Council of Churches Annual Meeting, (December 8, 2020).