Monday, December 30, 2013

The Exiled King (Isaiah 62)

Once upon a time, there was a great King, who was just and fair and humble.  The motto of his Kingdom was: LOVE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.  He taught his people how to live well.  The King helped his people really love each.  He taught them that everyone is connected, that one person’s success is a victory for all of us, and that another person’s suffering is a wound in all our hearts.  He taught people to live with kindness and mercy – helping the weak, befriending the lonely, hugging the children, celebrating with joy, and encouraging the good in all to flourish and grow.  His Kingdom grew, and his people prospered.
However, as is often the case, some powerful people wanted more power.  They didn’t like this love and justice philosophy.  They believed in the survival of the fittest.  They believed that everyone gets what they deserve.  The strong should get stronger, and the weak … Well, who cares about them anyway.
This group of power-hungry Powerfuls led a coup d’etat.  In a quiet revolt, they sent the King into exile and imposed a new government. Their motto was: FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS FOR ALL.  They filled the streets with their propaganda: “Let us throw off those ancient social norms.  Let us rid ourselves of the shackles of concern for others.  Live free.  Pursue happiness above all else.  If you want it, do it.  If you like it, buy it.  If you can’t afford it, work for it and work some more.  Anyone can have anything they want if they only work hard enough or smart enough.”
Most people gladly accepted this new government and their message about life.  It is not easy always being concerned about others.  Often that means putting aside what we want – at least for a while.  This new way of life was much easier.  It was such a relief simply to be concerned about yourself.  There was a time of celebrating and revelry in the streets.  Wine and women moved freely.
But carnival cannot last forever – especially not a carnival set on the philosophy of survival of the fittest.  Some people are simply not as strong.  They are pushed out of the way with reckless disregard for where they land.  Some people want to hold on to the bottle instead of passing it around.  Some people want to collect all the bottles for themselves.  A powerful fist or a thieving hand is glad to get the bottles moving again.
After the carnival fades, the System sets in. 
Life continues with the same philosophy under more civilized circumstances.  Carefree abandon in the streets transitions to divorce in the courtrooms with alimony and child support.  Fist fights transition to office manipulation with gossip and crafty maneuvers.  Wild drunken revelry transitions to a trip to travel agent who can help us escape all our troubles for a weekend on the beach.  Brute force transitions to the all-out pursuit of knowledge.  Education = power = wealth = happiness.  Everything is more civilized, but it is still the lawless party in the streets.
On the national scale, the Powerfuls begin diverting the government’s resources to benefit the businesses of the Powerfuls.  The government seems to have two primary jobs: to make the rich richer and to keep everyone else under control.  Oil and gas and mining become the industries of choice.  Social programs, assistance to the needy, and common infrastructure are pushed lower and lower on the priority list.
The glossy image of the government’s propaganda begins to fade and crack.  FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS FOR ALL has really become “freedom for some and happiness just out of reach for everyone.”  Society begins to break down.  Careless independence breaks apart families.  As executives take what they want when they want it, businesses find their resources wasted and their morale low.  As frustration mounts, hope fades into shadows.  Violence increases.  Body guards and security systems become a must for all who can afford them.  The nation becomes an armed society – arming themselves against themselves.
Countless hours are spent solving unnecessary problems.  Unlimited resources are invested in curing preventable illnesses and injuries.  Vast amounts of energy are sucked up by relational conflicts and home-life drama.  Creativity is clouded out by the frustrations of dysfunction.  National productivity falls.  Every indicator shows declines.  Exports are down.  GDP is down.  Per capita income is down.  Consumer confidence is down.  The only thing going up is inflation.  A national depression takes over the economy, the family, and the individual.
Other nations recognize their moment of opportunity.  First, the foreign investors come.  They buy up the struggling farms and businesses.  Next come the foreign armies.  They put to rest any resistance to foreign rule.  The coup d’etat government actually welcomes them as their last chance to stay in power and to milk the nation for its remaining resources.  They work out a power-sharing agreement to stay in power as long as they pass along the best of the nation’s resources, products, and people.  
This once-great-nation has become a land of desolation and scorn.  The destruction of the natural environment is a mirror image of the destruction of the people: forests chopped down, rivers polluted, fields turned into concrete jungles and smoking factories.  They become the butt of jokes: “Where is your King now?  Did he find a prettier, younger bride somewhere else?  That’s your house?!! Oh, I thought it was the chicken coup!!”  Nationally and individually, they were rejected and ruined.

Everyone knew that the true King was in exile.  However, they didn’t know that the King had not given up on his kingdom.  He still loved his people and his land.  In fact, some of his last public words were amazing promises – promises that seemed a little foolish for a king being pushed into exile: 
There is no other King but me.  I am the only righteous King and Savior.  Let all the world look to me for salvation!  I am the King, the only King there is, the one and only.  I promise you this in my own name:  Every knee will bend to me.   Everyone will pledge allegiance to me: “Yes! Salvation, and goodness, and strength are in the true King!"  Everyone who rejects me now will be ashamed of themselves then.  Everyone who maintains faith in me will be proved right and will be filled with joy through me.  (See Isaiah 45:21-25.)

Small groups of people here and there stayed loyal to the King.  They secretly maintained communication with the King through letters and messengers.  He always encouraged them to maintain his Way of Life.  He urged resist the propaganda of the System to put their own desires first.  The King encouraged them to seek out those who were squeezed and crushed by the ruling System of pleasure and greed.  The King reminded them often of his motto: LOVE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.  And, the King reminded them of his promises:
At just the right time, I will come to you. On the day of salvation I will help you.  I will protect you and form you and use you to help the people reconnect with me.  You will be proof of my promise to them.  I will use you to make things right, to restore families again.  I will tell prisoners, 'Come on out. You're free!'   I’ll shout to those huddled in fear, 'It's all right. It's safe now.'  There will be food stands along all the roads as people come back to me, picnics on all the hills along the way — nobody hungry, nobody thirsty, shade from the sun, shelter from the wind.  For the Compassionate King will guide them home.  (See Isaiah 49:8-10.)

The King’s loyal subjects also sent messages to the King:  “Come save us!  Come back and rule as King again.  Kick out these unjust leaders and heal our land.  O King, things are really terrible here.  Don’t you see our suffering?  Don’t you care?  Hurry!  Come quickly, King!  Come fix this!”
The King explained that he felt their pain and that every tear and every wound cut straight to his heart.   He hurt when they hurt.   He cried when they cried.  
However, the King also explained that he must consider the whole picture – the whole nation.  If he were to return immediately, the great majority of his kingdom would be destroyed.  So many people still rejected his rule that there would be outright war.  Although the True King would surely win, a civil war would ruin his land and his people.
Instead, the King called his loyal subjects to form a counter-movement, an underground resistance movement.  He called them to live within the System, but to live against the System.  
He called them to be like termites eating away at the foundations of the System with their counter-cultural lives.  The System was built on the foundation of pursuit of pleasure and survival of the fittest.  They could poor acid on the roots of that tree by living the King’s counter-principle: LOVE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.  By caring for the weak, by limiting their own pursuit for stuff and pleasure, by living with genuine love and being concerned about others, they could undermine the System without ever using a weapon or going to war.
They were to prepare the way for the King to return by preparing the people for the King.  “Prepare the way by preparing the hearts,” he said.  By lifting up the weak and by seeking LOVE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL, they would prove that the way of the King is viable and valuable.  They would be living proof against the System’s propaganda that the King’s way is obsolete and impossible.  Through their lives, they would entice people into believing that maybe – just maybe – the King’s Way is the path to the life we all really want.

So the people studied the King’s letters.  They poured over them, reading them again and again, analyzing every word.  They dreamed about his letters, imagined how wonderful it will be when the King finally returns.  For months and years and generations, they studied the King’s letters.  They sang songs celebrating the King’s goodness.  They sent the King letters thanking him for his promises.  
And they continued to live within the System as regular members of the System.  They worked; they played; they took vacations; they stored up their resources for a rainy day.   The only difference was that once a week, they got together with the King’s followers and remembered the True King’s Kingdom.  Once a week, they studied, sang, and talked about the True King.  They really enjoyed these meetings with the King’s followers.  Those weekly gatherings made them feel special and different before they went back to their normal lives within the System.

And so the King sent more messages: 
It is good that you are studying and singing and meeting.  But if you love my Kingdom, you will not keep still.  If your heart yearns for me, you will not be able to stay silent.  If you love my Kingdom, you will call on me for help until the goodness of my Way and my People shines like the dawn.  You will get involved in my work until the healing work I do shines like a torch around the world.  Then, your reputation will change.  You will never again be called the dead and dying place.  You will be called the place full of joy and life.  People will stop talking about how many people are leaving you, and everyone will be amazed at how many people are committing to you with joy and zeal.  (See Isaiah 62:1-5.)

And the people said, “Oh, this is good.  Let us study more.  We must understand this more deeply.  Let’s form a study group so that we can understand exactly what the King means with this message.”  
Some said, “Ahh, what wonderful words!”  And they made a beautiful song using the King’s words to sing whenever the King’s people meet together.  
Others said, “This is true.  This is the absolute truth.  I believe it with all my heart.  We must surely believe this.  All who disagree are wrong.”  
And they continued to return to their normal lives as normal citizens of the ruling System - except for their weekly meetings to sing, to celebrate, and to encourage one another.

The King sent another message:
My people, the time is urgent, but you seem to be sleeping.  Turn on your alarm clocks.  Stop the music that lulls you to sleep.  Call out to me day and night until I come to you.  Do not let me forget my promises to you.  This is enough of pleasant singing and celebrating.  Now is the time for redemption.  
Now is the time for me to fulfill my promises to you. I have made a solemn promise – a promise I will surely keep: “My people will no longer be robbed and plundered.   All my people will work faithfully and earn the reward for their work.  They will work and be deeply satisfied as they celebrate together with the King.” 
Where are you, my partners?  Why are you silent?  Why are you sitting down?  Why aren’t you joining me in the work?  (See Isaiah 62:6-9.)

The people listened with joy to the King’s message: “Did you hear that?  One day, we will be safe from our enemies.  One day, we will all have our own gardens and vineyards.  We must surely study this more.  Let’s sing a song about the King, ‘Now is the time for action.’  I’ll think about that all week as I go about my life in the System of the System by the System.”

The King listened to what they were saying, and he sent another message with more urgency:
That’s all good.  There is nothing wrong with study or work or singing or relaxing, but now is the time to do what I have taught you.  Get up!  Get off the couch!  Prepare the way for my coming.  LOVE AND JUSTICE FOR ALL.  That is not so hard to understand.  Now is the time to live it.  Prepare the way.  Rescue the dying.  Befriend the lonely.  Live in quiet defiance of the system.  Prepare the way.  
Do not stop calling me to come until you find me among you, until your land is renewed by my love and justice.  Prepare the way with your subversive actions of love.  Clear away people’s objections to my rule through the grace and mercy in your lives.  
Tell me where I am needed most, and quietly I will go there.  Tell me where the people are ready for my aid, and I will meet you there.  You will see revolution rise as quietly as the dawn.  Call on me in the night, in the morning, in the afternoon, and I will appear among you.  
We will raise my flag of love and justice and my people will come to me.  From the north, from the south, from the east and the west, your children will return to the King of their forefathers.  They will commit to me and to their land, and together we will bring healing and new life.  Call to me, and prepare the way, and I will surely come.  Now is the time.  Do not wait!  Prepare the way, and claim your destiny as the people loved by the One True King.  (See Isaiah 62:10-12.)
And the people said, “What a wonderful promise!  Thank you King!  We will study this closely.  We will sing a song about preparing the way.  We will form a study group about action.  Next Sunday, O King, we will surely ... keep talking.”
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