For you shall go out in joyIsaiah 55:12 (NRSVUE)
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Today’s reading was a short and sweet invitation to a joy-filled life. For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. It sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it, with mountains singing and trees clapping their hands as people dance around filled with joy? But believe it or not, these words were not written for people who were filled with joy and living peace-filled lives. At this point in the book of Isaiah, God’s people have been completely disobedient. They have turned away from God and are making some pretty poor choices. That’s why the prophet Isaiah is talking to them. He is trying to get them to change their ways and turn back to God. Because the good news, as we know, is that God is a God of grace and compassion, so God continued to love them (like God loves us) just as they were (and as we are). And over and over again, God continues to invite them (and us) to choose lives of joy, peace, and abundance.
Friends, God never wants us to live lives of lack and limitation, but the choice is always ours. It is up to us to spend our money and our energy according to where we place our faith and our creative focus. We choose, through our thoughts and actions, what we experience in our lives. We can choose fear and lack, and that’s what we will experience. But we can also choose to embrace the presence and promise of God, and in so doing, our lives are filled with joy and love.
Folks, God’s mercy, love, and abundance are not about what happens to us someday when we die; it’s here and now! We simply need to choose it. “For you shall go out in joy, and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” What an amazing promise!
But did you notice, in that very short and sweet scripture reading, that the mountains, the hills, and the trees were working together to cheer everyone on? We didn’t hear, “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace, BUT while the mountains and hills break forth into singing, and the trees of the field clap their hands, the squirrels will argue, and the bunnies will judge those who have done wrong.” No! It took everyone sharing a sense of joy and peace together, and that is where we come in because it is up to all of us to do our part too.
There are many stories in the bible about people who have been sick or struggled in different situations, and each time Jesus steps in to help or heal them, he usually leaves them with these words, “Go in Peace.” Now we often dismiss those simple words, “Go in Peace,” but they actually make a big difference, not only in the life of that individual but in the world around them. Because peace, just like joy and kindness, is catchy. And the choices we make, and the things we do, can change the world!
There is a story about an old man who lived out in the country. Old Joe, as most people knew him, lived way out in the countryside, and he had one good neighbor. They’d been friends all their lives. And now that their spouses had died, and their children had grown and moved away, all they had left were their farms and each other.
Well, one day, for the first time ever, they had an argument. It was over a young calf that was found on Joe’s neighbor’s land, and so he claimed it as his own. But Old Joe said, “No, that calf has the same markings as my favorite cow, and it has to be mine.” Well, as you can probably imagine, they were both a bit stubborn; so instead of trying to work it out, they just stopped talking to each other.
Suddenly, it seemed as though a dark cloud had settled over Old Joe’s farm. The days were very long. Old Joe felt lonely and sad, and he started missing his wife and kids even more. He began to complain about the world. After all, he could only see the bad things, and he blamed everyone and everything for his own pain.
One day there came a knock on his door. Now, he wasn’t expecting anybody that morning, so he muttered and complained as he walked to the door. “It’s probably someone that wants something from me,” he muttered to himself. As he opened the door, he saw a young woman who had a box of tools on her shoulder. She had a kind voice and dark, deep eyes. She said, “I’m a carpenter, and I’m looking for a bit of work. I was wondering if maybe you’d have a few small jobs that I could help with.” Her kindness made Old Joe smile, and it warmed his heart, so he asked her if she was hungry. When she replied yes, he invited her into the kitchen, and gave her some stew, that he had on the back of the stove. There was also some home-cooked bread, fresh churned butter, and homemade jam.
While they were eating and talking, Joe decided that he liked this young carpenter, and he said, “I do have a job for you. Look through my kitchen window. See that farm over there? That’s my neighbor’s place. And you see that creek running right down there between our property lines? That creek, it wasn’t there last week. My neighbor did that to spite me. He took his plow up there, and he dug a big old furrow from the upper pond and flooded it. Well, I want you to do one better. Since he wants us divided that way, I want you to go out there and build me a fence. A big, tall fence so I won’t even have to see his place anymore!”
The carpenter listened carefully to the story and then said, “Well, if you have the lumber and the nails, I’ve got my tools, and I’ll be able to build something that I think you’ll like.” Joe had to go to town to get some supplies, so he hitched up the wagon and showed the carpenter where everything was in the barn. The carpenter carried everything she needed down to the creek and started to work.
The carpenter’s work went smooth and fast. She measured, sawed, and nailed. It was about sunset when Old Joe returned, and the carpenter had finished her work. When Old Joe pulled up in that wagon, his eyes opened wide, and his mouth fell open. There wasn’t a fence there at all. It was a bridge, going from one side of the creek to the other! It had handrails and all, a fine piece of work.
Joe ran down to the bridge to give the carpenter a piece of his mind when suddenly his neighbor walked down and started to cross the bridge with his hand stuck out. He said, “Joe, you’re quite a fellow to build this bridge. I’d have never been able to do that. I’m so glad we’re going to be friends again!” And Joe, he put his arms around his neighbor and said, “Oh, that calf is yours. I’ve known it all the time. I just want to be your friend, too.”
About that time, the carpenter started putting her tools in the box and then hoisted it onto her shoulder and started to walk away. And Joe said, “Wait, come on back. I want you to stay on. I got lots of projects for you.” The carpenter just smiled and said, “I’d like to stay on, Joe, but you see, I can’t. I got more bridges to build.” And she walked on down the road.
Friend, when we go out into the world in peace, we not only feel that peace within ourselves, but we have the ability to share that peace with others, often changing the world around us.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead. Take some time to think about what you put your time, your money, and your energy towards. Then think about the things that bring you the most peace in your life. Do they match up? If they don’t, it’s never too late to start making changes or building bridges. For it is only then that you will be able to go out in joy and be led back in peace; and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll even hear the mountains and the hills burst into song, and the trees of the field clap their hands. My prayer for all of you is that no matter where you are now or where you are going, you might always Go in peace!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!