New Heavens and a New Earth: Small and Beautiful

Proper 28C / Ordinary 33C / Pentecost +26
November 1
7, 2013

Isaiah 65:17-25

Isaiah 12

Luke 21:5-19

The Kazuri Bead workshop

The Kazuri Bead workshop

In the hills of Kenya, on the edges of what was once the Karen Blixen estate (portrayed in the movie “Out of Africa”), a small enterprise was started in 1975 making beads out of the Kenyan clay, employing two local women in a pottery shed.  The enterprise was named “Kazuri“, which is Swahili for “small and beautiful”.  The situation of women in Kenya was (and still is) very difficult.  Widows are often cheated out of their lands and thrown out of their houses by their relatives.  In the advent of AIDS, many women have also been left to care for AIDS orphans (totaling 1.2 million children in 2011).  800,000 Kenyan women are themselves living with the HIV virus, and 150,000 people die every year from AIDS in Kenya (UNICEF).  When women dealing with these conditions have little education, it is very difficult for them to find employment and support their families (unemployment runs anywhere from 65-90%) – and Kenya has the second highest food prices in the world, next to Pakistan.

Some a Kazuri's beautiful beads

Some a Kazuri’s beautiful beads

At present, 350 women are employed by Kazuri Beads, which prioritizes the employment of single mothers and widows and pays three times the going wage in Kenya.  The Kazuri workshops are equipped with a medical clinic, providing free medical care for employees and their families.  Kazuri is also a member of the World Fair Trade Federation (WFTF), which promotes the payment of a living wage to workers who create products for export.  The company produces 5 million “small and beautiful” beads per year, and exports to over 30 countries worldwide, including distributors over the Internet.

In the Hebrew Bible reading for this week, which comes from “Third Isaiah” (chapters 56-66), the prophet addresses the situation of a restored Jerusalem upon the return of the exiles.  In the first chapter of Isaiah, the prophet makes clear that Jerusalem – among its many sins – will be punished for its treatment of the orphaned and the widowed: “Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves.  Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts.  They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them” (Isaiah 1:23).  While the leaders of Jerusalem also abandoned YHWH for the worship of other gods, their faithlessness was borne out in their treatment of the most vulnerable members of society, who are protected by YHWH.

Native Drawing in the style of a map of Jerusalem, 2011

Native Drawing in the style of a map of Jerusalem, 2011

After exile, upon the return of the “righteous remnant” to Jerusalem, YHWH declares that the new city will be a part of an entire renewed cosmos, in which people will be able to enjoy work that is not taken from them by invaders: “They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit … for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.  They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity” (65:21-23).  In order for the people to enjoy the work of their hands, they must live in a kingdom that is ruled in Covenant with YHWH, where the Lord’s commandments concerning the orphans and the widows are respected.  When the Covenant with YHWH is broken, war, poverty and the mistreatment of the vulnerable are the results.

The work of Kazuri, seemingly small on a global scale, mirrors the vision of Isaiah for a Jerusalem that has been re-created as a part of “new heavens and a new earth” (vv.17).  When the situation of the most vulnerable of society is placed at the center of our economic institutions, Jerusalem is re-created in our world “as a joy … No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime” (vv.18-19).  When we live in accordance with YWHW’s shalom, the Kingdom of God begins to break through into our world before our eyes, in ways that are “small and beautiful”.

One thought on “New Heavens and a New Earth: Small and Beautiful

  1. Something few people realize is historical Israel and Jews are only “a prophetic type” or symbol of the people to make the transition from this material civilization into the spiritual one. The Isaiah 65:17-25 reading is talking about the termination of this material civilization {also Revelation 21} and life in the new one.

    Here today, especially in these United States of America where the abundance can provide for every person the earth over, our political system cares nothing for the poor, only the taxes from the middle class and gives all concern for the rich {who pays less taxes than those working for them while reaping most of the benefit from the taxes} is a prime example of what Isaiah is talking about. The opening verse of Isaiah’s reading is suggesting the same thing Revelation 17:8 is talking about concerning these United States, her destruction is going only to leave a short memory {until civilization terminates in or before CE year 2028} and will ultimately be completely forgotten by the time of the 7000 year transition between civilizations is completed.

    That reading in Isaiah is specifically for our nation and time. The name Jerusalem me ands “foundation of peace” and the new civilization will be a completely new foundation which brings 84,000 years of peace before the events of Genesis chapters 1 thru 10 restores this civilization with all of its corruption as a deviant from YHWH’s way of governing.

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