December 16, 2012. No sermon audio available. See written manuscript below. Preached by Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
God Story: Part 15 of 37 Character: Third Isaiah
Title: The Good News of Deliverance
Or: “Deck Your Lives with Boughs of Prophetic Garland”
Today we finish our 3rd (of 5) chapters in the God Story. . . creation, fall, Israel…for the past several weeks we’ve been learning/re-learning/dwelling in the story of Israel, this chosen people, chosen by YHWH to be blessed so that the whole earth might be blessed through them. And this journey of blessing has been. . . .a mess, failed responses, failed missions, failed relationships, failed leaders, failed kingships. . . and yet story after story we read of a God who is on the move. . . in front of the scenes, behind the scenes, alongside this people who show glimpses of greatness/obedience but are always in need of God who. . . tips the scales towards grace instead of judgment.
What are the big sweeping themes that you have picked up over the past 14 weeks?
The important part of looking back at the God story in the first testament, is to carry the thoughts/dreams/images of this God into the 2nd testament. It’s not “bad God” back there, “good God” here. In the opening words of the Revelation, God declares: “I am the alpha and the omega. . . who is & who was & who is to come” (Rev. 1:8). And so today, as we take one more look at a first testament God story through the story of Isaiah, keep on remembering what we’ve learned as we enter the 4th phase of the GodStory. . . as we spend several weeks with the life of Jesus starting next Sunday and carrying us through to Easter.
Today’s story takes us to the 3rd & final part of Isaiah and some call this 3rd Isaiah in that Isaiah is a book that covers a large span of time. . . Ch. 1-39 written in the 700’s and then chapters 55-66 (where we find ourselves today) written post-exile [same era as prophet Joel from last week] , in the era of 500 BCE. In that 200 years, God’s people have been taken into exile by the Babylonian Empire, but the Babylonian Empire crumbled and God’s people returned to Jerusalem. And in the wake of their return it turns out that the sand is NOT always “beige-er” on the other side. God’s people find that things weren’t a great as they hoped they would be. . . and YHWH finds that his people aren’t as great as he hoped they would be.
Kind of sounds like Christmas day at about 2:15 pm huh? You’ve crossed that magical and enchanted line between Xmas Eve and Xmas Day and you look around the room at all the presents, all the wrapping paper strewn across the room. . . and perhaps you ask yourself. . . is it over already? ? All this stuff and it didn’t change the state of my soul!
And maybe that’s how it was for the people of God in post-exile. Is that it? ? Is this what we longed for, we wept for, we labored for? Is this it?
If we read back a few chapters, God’s people are still struggling with the same conflicts. . . inclusion VS exclusion in ch. 56. . . worship rules and arguing about “right practices” in ch. 58, some thinking that religious life has become to liberal, too free, while others thinking that religious life has become to conservative, too static. . . irrelevant. Hmmmmm.
And in the midst of yearning for a consoling word, a comforting word, a hopeful word. . . YHWH raises up the voice of 3rd Isaiah. . . what a God! In the midst of the bickering, the posturing, the debating, the angry e-mails (he-mails?. . . as in He-brew!?). . . . YHWH, raises up those who will speak of judgment, comfort and hope (the big 3 “cycling” themes of Isaiah). . . and once again YHWH tips the scales towards grace – – to a people who are always needing a words/word pictures of grace. . .
And the voice sounds like so . . .
The first character in today’s story speaks (vv. 1-7). . . these are not just flowery-live-happily-ever-after phrases that floated down from heaven and got written on a clay cooking pot. . . .imagine a poet/prophet who is in the lineage of Isaiah or a part of the Isaiah-nic prophets/poets group. For imagination’s sake, let’s call him Izoah (Isaiah 3.0?) . . . this poet prophet speaks forth the promises of God, the character of God, the economy of God, the great “reversal” of the way of YHWH – –
The spirit & breath of YHWH fills this prophet’s speech. . . speaking as God’s anointed, Izoah declares that in the midst of desolation, disappointment and sadness, there is “good news”. . .
You who are broken hearted, your wounds will be bound up and cared for
You who are captive in body, mind, or soul, you will find release and freedom
You who have been judged against harshly or unfairly, a just God is moving with vengeance to set things aright
You who mourn over losses and disappointment, your hopes will be restored and renewed
You who carry in your heart the lament of loss, the dust of death, you will receive a garland of praise and the oil of gladness
Izoah covers a lot of rough ground here doesn’t he? It seems to resonate with that ancient phrase that I have repeated over the past several months: “All of us are in the midst of a great struggle.”
And great struggles do not change just because times change…we too, know or experience a breaking of our hearts;
We read of those who are captive, who can’t find a way out;
We know of distressing stories around the globe of those who will die today without hope, without assurance;
Even this past Friday, we’ve heard of this tragic, senseless shooting in Conneticut. . .
And we think/say/ask/cry out: “How long, Lord, how long?”
How long until these ISAIAH 61 promises comes true?
And thus it’s important to realize that these words of prophetic/poetic promise… these words of good news are not a quick fix. . . .
As Izoah continues to declare YHWH’s good news of restoration and reversal, it will take time, and it will involve all kinds of people, not just religious folk.
Righteousness will grow by the planting of the Lord
Restoration will come by building up, raising up, repairing. . . but the devastation has taken generations and so will the restoration – –
And strangers will be be involved in the restoration, foreigners will till the land and dress the vines. . . this is not a time to be picky about who gets to be involved, many hands will bring about God’s restoring work – – it’s not just left to the experts! Outsiders will receive the same blessing as the insiders! Those who join in on God’s redeeming work will be called and named as the favoured ones of God when the only identities that they had know before were equated with words of shame and dishonor.
In YHWH’s great promises, they too, shall possess a double portion. . . they will know of everlasting joy.
And that’s not all! There’s another voice. . .
There’s another character who enters this story [prophetic poem] of good news and deliverance… it’s the voice of YHWH! As the Isaiah-nic prophets are proclaiming and penning these words, God speaks. . . in case you’re wondering by who’s authority and sovereignty this crazy plan comes to fruition. . . it’s all in the hands & timeline of YHWH.
In v. 8-9, YHWH tells of his way and character:
“I the Lord love justice”
“I hate wrongdoing”
“I am faithful. . . faithful to my covenant with Abraham, Noah, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, David, Jeremiah. . . ”
“I will see to it that my blessing will continue from generation to generation”
And in the final verses (v. 10-11), Izoah re-enters the story and talks of how encountering a living God provides everything God’s people need for the present and the future.
I love the imagery here. . . we stand alongside the prophet/poet and imagine ourselves – –
Clothed with the garments of salvation
Covered with robes of righteousness
Decked with a ring of garland around our necks
Adorned with beautiful jewelery
Can we pause with this image?
How did God’s people hear this 2500 years ago?
How do we hear this in December 2012?
How does the poor Bolivian hear this today in North Potosi?
How does the homeless one standing in line at the Mustard Seed/Marion Centre know of this promise?
How do our friends, families, neighbours receive or hear this?
The “how” is “Us”!
Today’s poetic conclusion in v. 11 reveals that it is US. . . God’s people who are the patient “bringers-forth” of this slow-growth movement that is renewed and re-born in us. . . that’s one of the renewal movements of Advent. . . that the living Christ might be born anew in us in these days and then empower us, enthuse us, to be a people who carry out and bear the promises of YHWH.
We read “The Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”
How are we sowing seeds of righteousness and praise?
What are we sowing today in this season of advent that we will reap in the days, weeks and months ahead?
Let us sow with our words and sow with our deeds.
This past week I was listening to a podcast devoted to the life and work of the Jewish Scholar and Justice-seeker: Abraham Joshua Heschel. . .
Heschel’s life was altered by the prophets…. The God who created heaven and earth cares about widows and orphans. Scandalous! The message of the prophets is that god needs us in some way. It’s not about god being perfect or in process…. The biblical prophets repeated over and over again …. God wants something from us, God “needs” us to help God make this world better.
We are called to sow seeds of good news. . . and if we are looking for words or actions that “inform” that proclamation, stand back and look at this whole chapter and ask God’s spirit to fall upon you, to anoint you…
May our words bind up rather than wound.
May we not hold each other captive, but release one another with words of forgiveness and grace.
May we offer comfort to those who mourn.
May we build up, raise up one another with words of love and encouragement.
The Epistles often offer us practical ways to bring these big themes of the GodStory to life. . .
Take the images of Isaiah 61 and “marry” them with Colossians 3 in the coming weeks.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
These verses also resonate with the 4th verse of that great Advent Hymn “O come, o come Emmanuel.”
“O Come Desire of Nations, bind
all peoples in one heart and mind;
bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.”
[paraphrase Is. 61:10-11]
For the Lord…has clothed US with the garments of salvation;
The Lord has covered US with robes of righteousness. . .
So the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before ALL the nations.
The “how” is the “us”!
Remember Isaiah 1.0 from a few weeks ago? Isaiah 6.
The community of God asks: Who will go for us?
And Isaiah blurts out the response: Here am I, send me!
Here we are, send us. As we continue to prepare our hearts, our homes, our lives for the arrival of the Christ-child. . . may we be “forth-tellers”, “proclaimers” and “seed-sowers” of God’s good news and good ways.
I don’t want to give you more burdensome “tasks” in Advent. . . but if the “how is the us”, then perhaps some more words from Heschel and Eisner might offer us insights…
[excerpt from Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast interview with Arnold Eisen]
Ms. Tippett: “Our life is the spelling of an answer,” I mean, what does that mean? I mean, it’s beautiful. And what is he saying there?
Mr. Eisen (Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary, NY):
I think there’s not a finite set of directives, but a set of principles by which one can live. Know that life is serious. Know that God is in our world. Know that God’s presence can be a factor in your life. Know that God wants something of you. Whatever religious tradition you belong to, find the “pattern for living” — Heschel’s words — prescribed by that tradition for bringing God into the world. God wants relief of the suffering of God’s creatures. God wants justice for all God’s creatures. There are marvelous things here to behold. Look at that sky; look at its stars. Look at these trees. Feast on the wonder all around you. And then go out there and make sure that human beings are able to eat and breathe and fight off disease and so appreciate God’s wonder in the world.
They are a set of directives, which I think are quite clear and applicable to all of us and just as applicable now as they ever were. It’s not a recipe. It’s not a set of detailed prescriptions, and yet there is a wisdom for life there.
Rabbi Heschel (sharing his thoughts to the younger generation during his last TV interview): I would say to young people a number of things, and I have only one minute. I would say, let them remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Let them be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power, and that we can do — every one — our share to redeem the world despite of all absurdities and all the frustration and all disappointments. And above all, remember that the meaning of life is to live life as it if were a work of art. You’re not a machine. When you are young, start working on this great work of art called your own existence.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news. . .
May God help us to be bearers of good news in these remaining days of Advent. . .