Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Advent 2, Sunday 4 December 2016

Sermon by Fr Peter Wolton, United Benefice of Holland Park, Advent 2, Sunday 4 December 2016

One Sentence Test: The new ruler shall rule with righteousness and justice. How might today’s world become more righteous and just.

We have just lit the second candle of our Advent wreath to signify the message of the Prophets, foretelling the birth of Christ.
Perhaps the greatest prophetic writings are to be found in the book of Isaiah. Each Sunday in Advent and on Christmas Day, the Old Testament reading comes from Isaiah and today I would like us to reflect on the wonderful passage we have just heard.
I want consider two things.
First: when was it written
Second : what message might God want us to hear from it today
And I will conclude briefly with what we might be being asked to do when we leave here.
1.     When was it written?
The book of Isaiah is thought to have been written over a period of almost 200 years. So unsurprisingly, it has more than one writer.
The early chapters (which may have been amended later) coincide with the rise of the Assyrian empire and date from the late 8th century BC.
Up until that point the kingdoms of Judah and Israel had both experienced relative stability with the long reigns of Uzziah in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel.
Jeroboam’s reign was followed by a period of chaos. Five kings in just over twenty years and in 721 BC the Northern kingdoms allied with their sworn enemy Syria, to throw off the yoke of Assyria. Part of their plan was to induce Judah to join them. Judah declined and became a vassal of Assyria, ultimately with disastrous consequences for itself and all the kingdoms of Israel. Suspicion and division between Judah and Israel would continue to the time of Jesus.
So by 700BC the twelve tribes of Israel are in danger of being wiped from the map.
Isaiah prophesies of better times when a king shall rule with righteousness and justice, a king who will come from the root of Jesse –  Jesses was the father of King David who had ruled almost 300 years before.
The qualities of this foretold kingship echo the gift requested by Solomon who had asked for the Lord to “give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3. 9).
That’s a gift that we can all hope for in our lives – an understanding mind.
In the Near East at that time there was a deep and primal conviction that the royal government was to be the “Equaliser,” a king to intervene on behalf of the poor and vulnerable – widows and orphans.
The ruler is a judge and has sanctions; and will curb the ambitions of the wicked who violate the vision of social good, who prey on the poor and meek.

In summary, Isaiah was writing in uncertain times of the need for a ruler who would rule with justice and righteousness. We too live in uncertain times which has yielded unexpected ballot results in 2016 and this brings me on to my second question:
2.     What message might God want us to hear today from this reading?

As we look towards Christmas and the joy we receive from the gift of Christ within our hearts, we can see Isaiah is foretelling of the coming rule of Jesus, and events that will lead to the universal church with the prophet foretelling in verse 10 “the root of Jesses shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall enquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”
Isaiah also provides us with a glorious vision of animals living in harmony – as I read the passage preparing this sermon I find myself drawn to listen to a recording of Bach’s “The sheep may safely graze.” What a joy to be alive!
But to return to the rule of Jesus, it is precisely because his vision of social possibility threatened the social order that he was crucified.
Isaiah’s vision of kingship, to govern with justice and righteousness, to protect the weak and vulnerable, calls Christians to consider the current state of our world.
Enormous progress is being made in so many fields both in research but also in how we behave towards each other.
This kindness is echoed in what a friend who has been paralysed for the last year from the neck downwards, wrote this week:
“We are made aware on a daily basis of man’s cruelty to man. But as I look back on this year, the principal thing I notice, is man’s kindness to man. Or at least, and I don’t want to sound self-centred, how kind everyone has been to me.”
There is much to give thanks for. But as we gird ourselves with the belt of righteousness and faithfulness, we should also seek to shape the world around us. We can do that by trying to anticipate and looking to secure the best outcomes. While earth rolls onwards in light, so it becomes the place where people can be the people God wishes them to be.

Relating this to the workplace, we are probably only at the early stage of the revolution in connectivity that smartphones and their applications are bringing about.
Just one example is vehicles; given the rise of Uber and recognition that many cars sit unused for most of the day, the question arises whether the current vison of individual ownership is suitable. Are we making too many vehicles?
Driverless vehicles are also on the horizon. What will happen to van and truck drivers?
Or take the field of restaurants. Will we need staff to take our orders, or will we just enter them onto smartpads at our table?
A key question for policy makers is how the gap between those with and without the skills and wealth to participate in the digital revolution can be best addressed?
Policy makers and other leaders are thinking about this. Warren Buffett is becoming a more vocal proponent of Earned Income Tax credit and James Anderson of Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust, another legendary investor is calling for more work to be done on a universal living wage. These two men are showing deep concern for the least well off. Mr Buffett is one of the world’s wealthiest men who is giving away his wealth to worthy causes and plans to give away virtually all his wealth in his life time.
They are asking that the losers in the world of technological change are protected.

The message from today’s lesson from Isaiah is, I suggest, that it is only with engagement and the call to shape, the world will grow to be more just and righteous.
3.     What are we called to do when we leave here?
I think there are two things:
As St. Paul says in our Romans reading, the God of hope fills us with all joy and peace with believing, because through the gift of Christ, we are enabled to change things for good, both at our daily level by being kind, as my paralysed friend has reminded us, but also looking prayerfully at how the world moves forward.
Second, the writings of Isaiah and the prayerful inspiration provided by the example of God’s son dwelling among us, means the Christian voice has key role in finding answers to the leading questions of the day.
Abounding in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit, lets us pray that the benefits of the technological revolution may be spread with righteousness and justice.

Fr. Peter Wolton
Holland Park Benefice