The Rev. Fran Holliday
All Saints’ Episcopal Church
Sunday November 17, 2013
“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; For I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.”
These are the words spoken by the Prophet Isaiah, Words that proclaim hope and hold up a vision of restoration and new life for Jerusalem. In order to truly grasp the radical nature of Isaiah’s vision here I believe it is helpful to take at least a cursory look at at the context in which these verses were written and where they fall in the scheme of things.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah is a collection of Hebrew writings which scholars often divide into three different books. The first book of Isaiah is believed to have been written by Isaiah of Jerusalem in the second half of the eight century B.C. E. This book contains the Prophets call story and is punctuated by the “Judgment oracles” against Judah and Jerusalem for their unfaithfulness to God.
Second Isaiah, is written by a an anonymous poet in the 6th century and it captures the period when the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. Babylon is about to fall and the author writes with great anticipation and hope that exiled Judah can return to Palestine.
The final book” Isaiah Three” also written in the sixth century by an anonymous author contains the verses we just heard. This book concerns itself with the return of the exiles and the restoration of Jerusalem. Babylon has fallen, Persia is now in power and they are allowing those in exile to return home. However home is not the same. Those who return find it fraught with challenges. Foreigners have moved in and now occupy their land. Life is hard The land is desolate, food and resources are scarce. The temple is destroyed. Everything lay in ruins.
It is here in the midst of this despair and desolation as they stand in the smoldering rubble, that the word of the prophet breaks in and calls forth a new reality. Remember the Prophets don’t predict the future rather they speak on God’s behalf about what God is doing now. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth.”
This is not a promise about what is to come but a declaration by God that God is rebuilding Jerusalem into something new and the foundation for this new creation is the broken shattered remnants of their former city and their upended devastated lives. The radical vision of restoration that lies in this final book of Isaiah is not just that God will restore the Israelites but that God will do it with the very stuff of their current reality. God will gather up the shattered rubble, the parched land and their broken dreams to form and to create new life. It is here amongst the desolation and wreckage that God can and will create something new.
It is not a restoration of their former life- It is an entirely new creation. The creation of something new out of rubble is more familiar and tangible to us when we are talking about physical structures. We can visibly see what has been rebuilt in New Orleans, and what physically needs to be recreated in the Philippines. But how do you rebuild and recreate new life in the midst of personal loss, and emotional devastation? How do you rise up from the rubble of personal tragedy?
It does not seem logical that one would or could create something new on the bedrock of total devastation and yet there are people who miraculously accomplish this and when they do it reminds us That with God All things are possible. One stunning example of this is a woman named Jeanne Bishop. Some of you may know her story as it has been in the news over the years.
Bishop is a Cook County public defender. She fought against the death penalty here in Illinois for many years. Her commitment to transforming the justice system has always been fueled by her deep seated Christian faith. Her commitment to the cause became deeply personal in 1990 when her sister Nancy, brother law Richard and their unborn child were senselessly murdered in their Winnetka home.
An intruder entered their home and waited for them. He then took them to the basement and shot them both. Bishop’s sister Nancy scrawled a heart and a U in her Own blood as she lay dying on that basement floor. Bishop said in a 2011 Chicago Tribune article, That, “This was a sign that her sister was thinking about love, in her dying moments and not about revenge.” It was one of the things that helped her to transform her anger into forgiveness.
This tragic turn of events not only strengthened her opposition to the death penalty it also plunged her into a personal faith journey where she began to live out in a very real way what she calls “radical forgiveness.” She had always felt that the killer David Biro should live because He was after all another human being, He was “somebody’s son,” and he was only 16 at the time of the crimes.
However for 21 years she did not speak his name until she visited her sisters grave on Easter Sunday in 2011. As she prayed for her sister she also prayed for Biro who had just turned 37 and is serving a three life term sentences. Bishop explained that “She felt a stone had been Rolled away from her heart.” “Easter “she says, “Is always such a reminder that violence and death do not have the last word.”
This 23 year journey of transformation that Bishop has experienced did not end with praying for Biro. Last month Bishop did another interview for the Chicago Tribune where she continued to describe her Journey now toward strengthening her belief in reconciliation and redemption. It started when she read a passage in a meditation book Which read, “All Christians have the responsibility to Forgive those who have wronged them.”
She began to realize that although she had forgiven Biro and has flown all of the world to talk about forgiveness she never told Biro herself that he was forgiven. She did this recently in the form of a letter, which led Biro to write her back ,and for the first time confess to the crimes. Following this Bishop felt that maybe just maybe he could possibly redeem himself. She is not certain that he should ever be let out of jail. Following her meetings with him she said It is unclear to her if he is ready.
But bishop has in recent years found herself working on cases to overturn mandatory life sentences for Juveniles offenders. A supreme court ruling in 2012 has opened the door for the possibility of Biro having a chance at resentencing. Bishop said she still uncertain about how she would feel about Biro having his sentence changed. She wants to continue to try to understand, She is still putting all the pieces together on this journey.
Bishop continues to grapple with her faith as she works to see Biro as redeemable. She ends her Tribune interview saying, “If I really believe that nothing is impossible for God, then I cannot give up on him.” She has with God’s help used the tragic death of her family members as a means for taking a life long faith journey that few of us would dare embark upon. Out of this devastating event and in the midst of overwhelming anger, despair and grief Bishop has found new life. She herself has been transformed. “For I am creating new heavens and a new earth.”