November 17, 2013

November 17, 2013

November 17, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

GodStory, Act III: Israel
Key Event #11 of 37
Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7
Title: “Present and Future Promises: Too Good to Be True?”

Today’s prophetic passage takes me to….southern California…December 1995…listening to the soft, sultry, R & B sounds of Bebe & CeCe Winans….crooning their version of “For Unto Us A Child is Born”…600 square foot condo…clean, freshly painted, no children messing it up…ahhhhh, bliss….

Which just goes to show you how far we can be from the context of our Bible stories!

Isaiah was a prophet who did not have the privilege of living in North America. Instead he’s another no-name prophet in the lineage of Moses, Abraham, Elijah and even last week’s country-bumpkin prophet Amos…we don’t hear of a great family heritage and it’s quite possible that Isaiah was a janitor in the temple of the Lord before he got his first calling. [makes u feel like u could be a prophet too?]

Isaiah, therefore, doesn’t prophesy from a position of power (prestige, pedigree) expertise…this seems to be the context for the prophets…they operate from positions of despair and poverty.
Prophets always show up in times of calamity…and today’s setting is once again a time when God’s promises are in jeopardy!
The divided kingdoms of Israel & Judah continue to crumble. God’s people have disobeyed, fallen into disarray, been swept and swooned away by worshipping idols other than the one true God and in 740 BCE God’s people in the southern kingdom of Judah are being oppressed and abused by the “empire”…the Assyrians.
King Ahaz is a failed King and a failed leader for the people of God, he’s been warned of his wicked ways but ignores the rebuke of God and thus his people and his kingdom have “gone dark”….we read in the last part of Isaiah 8 that the people have consulted the “familiar spirits that chirp and mutter” and God’s judgment upon them is that surely a people like this will “have no dawn.”
“They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry, they will be enraged and will curse their king and their gods. They will turn their faces upward, see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness” (8:21-22).

This is the historical context of today’s salvation song…it seems a long cry away from my neat and tidy California condo doesn’t it? And now, almost 20 years later, today’s story feels a long ways away from my neat and tidy life in south Edmonton.

How do we as the hearers of today’s GodStory enter into this landscape of despair? This is not a quaint salvation song for a people who are bustling about, starting to think about our Christmas parties and shopping lists…this is a salvation song for a people in darkness and anguish.

What’s our proximity to places of darkness and anguish?
Perhaps you’re really close…in a gathering like this, there’s no doubt a tale or two of struggle and woe. And if we pause to ponder our place in this world, we all have certain amounts of sadness and sorrow swirling around in the midst of our seemingly happy lives. You’ve heard me use an ancient proverb in the past:
“Be kind…for everyone you meet is in the midst of a great struggle.”

Individually and corporately we know of those who are in seasons of oppression and despair. We think of the Typhoon in the Philippines, we think of bankrupt cities like Detroit, WE TOO HAVE BANKRUPT/BROKEN places…there are many in this congregation who work with or work to alleviate poverty right here in the city of Edmonton…for a downtown church, darkness and anguish are just a stairwell away from us.

A couple of weeks ago I noted that we as the people of God are in our own kind of darkness…the church is in exile! We’re in captivity! We no longer rule from the centre of society and the way that we speak to our culture and to our communities is not from positions of power and expertise, but from positions of humility and meekness.

So let us stand as outsiders with the outsider prophet Isaiah and hear anew the salvation song of this prophet, a song that highlights the repeating themes of Isaiah’s 65-chapter prophetic testament…themes of judgment, comfort and hope.

In the midst of the cries of anguish and despair, in the midst of the grief, frustration and sorrow we might bring into the house of the Lord today, hear Isaiah speak…a message to the people of God 2700 years ago, but also a message that speaks to us…as God graciously works with US…a fickle and flawed people:

[the blue-collared prophet speaks]
“BUT…But…there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish!

In the former time God brought judgment but in the latter time GOD brings glory, a way in the desert…streams in the wasteland…”

This news seems too good to be true does it not?

And yet God’s prophetic-salvation-song promise continues…let us declare it together: [see insert]

V1: The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.

V2: For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—

ALL: Light! Sunbursts of light!

V1: You repopulated the nation,
you expanded its joy.

V2: Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!

ALL: Festival joy!

V1: The joy of a great celebration,
sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

V2: The abuse of oppressors and cruelty of tyrants—
all their whips and weapons and curses—

V1: … Gone! Done away with! A deliverance
as surprising and sudden as Gideon’s old victory over Midian.

V2: The boots of all those invading troops,
along with their shirts soaked with innocent blood,
Will be piled in a heap and burned,
a fire that will burn for days!

ALL: For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!

V1: He’ll take over
the running of the world.

V2: His names will be:

V1: Amazing Counselor [pause]

V2: Strong God [pause]

V1: Eternal Father [pause]

V2: Prince of Wholeness [pause]

V1: His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings.

V2: He’ll rule from the historic David throne
over that promised kingdom.

V1: He’ll put that kingdom on a firm footing
and keep it going
With fair dealing and right living,
beginning now and lasting always.

ALL: The zeal of the LORD of hosts
will do all this.

How do we as the people of God, a people who are at varying places of anguish and struggle hear this?

The gracious news that Isaiah is declaring is that even though time after time, God is pronouncing judgment on wayward Israel, God never ends with a “I told you so! And that is why I am going to smite you!!”

Isaiah’s words swirled in with judgment are “Comfort , O comfort my people” and “Those who hope/wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”

God is with us. God is for us. God is leading us…

Not into a future that we are expected to manufacture in our own strength but in a future that is in God’s good and gracious hands.

So how shall we live? (in light of these prophetic, comfort/hope-filled words?)

Next week, we’ll hear from Jeremiah the prophet who says, “hunker down”, “dwell”, “dig in”… but for this week let us live into these words of “now & not yet.”

What does it mean to live in devotion to the one who is:

Amazing Counselor. [wise, discerning]
Strong God. [All the power that is needed…is here!]
Eternal Father. [Satisfaction…guaranteed!]
** ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ Julian Norwich, 13th C, Christian mystic

Prince of Wholeness. [there is no chaos here, darkness is pushed back…like a new creation, LIGHT & LIFE reign!]

These are words of good news to a people who have lost their way…

We are invited and beckoned to be a people of WISDOM, STRENGTH, WHOLENESS.
We can also take a cue from v. 7:
We join God in keeping the “kingdom ways going” on earth, as it is in heaven…
As the Message translation puts it:
“With fair dealings and right living, beginning now and lasting always.”

And the good news of this good news is that it’s not left up to us to get this all done. We join God…we let God take the lead…as I’ve said before, we let God be the protagonist in the GodStory!

“The zeal and energy of the LORD of hosts will do all this.”

If we bound ahead 24 chapters to Isaiah 33, we catch up with the prophet who continues to marvel at God’s swirling together of judgment, comfort and hope…he’s still dumbfounded and amazed and asks:
“Who can live with a God who moves like this?
A God who moves like a firestorm?
Who of us can get out of this purge with our lives?”

Isaiah answers his rhetorical question with a God-inspired revelation that echoes the Justice & Righteousness theme of last week’s prophet Amos…(a theme that weaves its way through all the biblical prophets) – –

The answer’s simple:
Live right,
speak the truth,
despise exploitation,
refuse bribes,
reject violence,
avoid evil amusements.
This is how you raise your standard of living!
A stable way to live.
A nourishing, satisfying way to live. (33:15-16)

Not in your own strength people of God!

The Zeal of our Lord, the Lord of hosts, will do all this.

A prayer for justice (Kathy Escobar)
God, may we be people of justice.
may we humble ourselves and be willing to learn from each other.
may we stand on the side of the oppressed.
may we not be silent.
may we call out your image in others.
may we be brave on behalf of our friends.
may we bring your kingdom to earth, now.
may we be known as those-crazy-people-who-stick-up-for-the-underdog-even-when-people-think-we’ve-gone-off-the-deep-end.
may we let your Spirit compel us to act.
to love.
to learn.
to speak.
to move.
to sacrifice.
on behalf of our brothers and our sisters next to us today, on behalf of those who have gone before us, and on behalf of those who will come after us.
on your behalf, Jesus, as your ambassadors, with your humility, your courage, your Spirit as our guide.