The Spirit of God

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Last Sunday, the festival of Pentecost, we talked about the Holy Spirit. Our series that reflects on how the Biblical narrative points ultimately to the sacrificial love of God manifest in the cross and resurrection stepped away from Genesis to talk about the work of the Spirit.

So far we have talked about the Biblical vision of a God who, by his word, called forth a good and beautiful world (week 1: Creation), and breathed into the first humans his breath/spirit (week 2: Garden), endured their broken relationship yet continued to protect and care for them (week 3: Fall) and continued toIS call to his creation in the narrative of Cain (week 4: Violence).

Cain chose revenge over reconciliation, and violence continued to spread over the world. In contrast to the spirit of power and revenge manifest so profoundly in Lamech’s boast, is the Spirit of God that brings beauty and life to the world.

Below are the pictures and text from the booklet we handed out following worship last Sunday. This coming Sunday, takes us back to Genesis and the narrative accounts of the flood.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AZugliget_templom_tet%C5%91ablak.JPG By Solymári (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Acts 2:1-21


The Biblical story begins
with the wind/spirit/breath of God


File:Breaking waves (13286850323).jpg

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

The ancient idea of the Spirit connects to the power in the moving of air. It is the breath of life, the breath of speech, the breath of God in the wind, the breath of God that moves prophets and inspires warriors. With Pentecost it is the breath of God that empowers the love, faithfulness and witness of the followers of Jesus. It is the sign of the reigning presence of God and foretaste of a world made new.

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Breaking_waves_(13286850323).jpg By Archangel12 (Breaking waves) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in us


File:Gott Vater haucht Adam den Odem ein Hann Münden.jpg

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

In the ancient story of Genesis 2 God forms the first human (the ‘adam’) from the earth (the ‘adamah’) and breathes into him the breath of life. Our life breath is from God. It is the breath of God that makes us living beings. It is the Spirit that gives life.

Photo: God breathes into Adam the breath of life
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGott_Vater_haucht_Adam_den_Odem_ein_Hann_M%C3%BCnden.jpg By Clemensfranz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The wind/spirit/breath of God is the breath of life in all things


File:Whales - Banderas Bay, Mexico - panoramio.jpg

24How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number –
living things both large and small.
26There the ships go to and fro,
and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27These all look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things
29When you hide your face,
they are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth. (Psalm 104:24-30)

The life breath of all things is the breath/spirit of God. The Spirit of God is creative, empowering, life-giving, life-renewing presence of God. It lifts the fallen, heals the wounded, restores the separated. It raises from death to life.

Whales – Banderas Bay, Mexico
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Whales_-_Banderas_Bay,_Mexico_-_panoramio.jpg  Steve Hedin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The words that are used to describe the Spirit
are like those used for water


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The Spirit is “poured out” upon people. It “fills” them.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing in the temple, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” (John 7:37-39)

Fulmer Falls, Childs Recreation Area in the Pocono Mountains
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fulmer_Falls_Top_1_3264px.jpg Photo by and (c)2006 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man) (Self-photographed) [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Like wind and water,
the Spirit is a power to accomplish things



The Spirit of God gives insight and understanding


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The Spirit of God grants Joseph wisdom to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh.

38Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this—one in whom is the spirit of God?” 39So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” (Genesis 41:38-40)

Illustration by Owen Jones from “The History of Joseph and His Brethren” (Day & Son, 1869)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pharaoh%27s_dream.JPG Owen Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants skill to work beauty in the world


File:Flower of heaven.jpg

Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts– 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. (Exodus 31:1-5 NIV)

The ceiling of a vault at the Shah Cheragh shrine at Shiraz, Fars province, Iran
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flower_of_heaven.jpg By http://www.flickr.com/people/ dynamosquito/ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord grants courage and strength


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Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. (Judges 14:5-6NIV)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Samson_Fighting_the_Lion_(18th_c.,_Kargopol_style).jpg By Anonymous Russian icon painter (before 1917) Public domain image (according to PD-RusEmpire) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


and empowers people to lead


File:Dura Synagogue WC3 David anointed by Samuel.jpg

The Spirit of God raises David from tending sheep to guiding the nation.

13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:13)

Dura Europos Synagogue, panel WC3 : David anointed king by Samuel
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dura_Synagogue_WC3_David_anointed_by_Samuel.jpg By reworked by Marsyas [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit of the Lord inspires people to declare God’s message


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The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion–
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_-_Great_Deesis_with_Prophets_-_Walters_37625.jpg By Anonymous (Russia) (Walters Art Museum: Home page Info about artwork) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The prophets promise a day when all things are made new
and the Spirit of God is poured out on all people


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But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2 Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you in the womb and will help you:
Do not fear, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my spirit upon your descendants,
and my blessing on your offspring. (Isaiah 44:1-3)

26 A new heart I will give you,
and a new spirit I will put within you;
and I will remove from your body the heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh.
27 I will put my spirit within you,
and make you follow my statutes
and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

New beech leaves, Grib Forest in the northern part of Sealand, Denmark
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grib_skov.jpg By Malene Thyssen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Jesus brings the dawn of that new age (God’s kingdom)


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14-15RSV)


John declared Jesus would drench the world with the Spirit


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“The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:6-8)

Gullfoss waterfall (Iceland)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGullfoss_rainbow.JPG By Laurent Deschodt (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost
represents the dawning fulfillment of the promised Spirit


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17“In the last days it will be,” God declares,
“that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.”
(Acts 2:17-18 where Peter quotes Joel 2:28-29 to explain the wonder of Pentecost Day)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El_Greco_006.jpg El Greco [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is the gift of the risen Lord


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19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:19-23)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Duccio_Maesta_detail2.jpg Duccio di Buoninsegna [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit is a gift God is eager to give


11“Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)


The Spirit is the gift of being joined with Christ in Baptism


File:Greven Gimbte - Alter Fährweg - St. Johannes Baptist in 23 ies.jpg

36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” (Acts 2:36-39)

The word ‘repent’ means to change sides, to participate in and show allegiance to the new creation dawning in Christ.

St. Johannes Baptist, Alter Fährweg in Gimbte, Greven
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGreven_Gimbte_-_Alter_F%C3%A4hrweg_-_St._Johannes_Baptist_in_23_ies.jpg By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


The Spirit anoints us with the gifts of the age to come


7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)


The Spirit of the Lord bears the fruit of God’s reign in our lives


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The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Detail of a statue at St Bartholomew’s Church in Orford
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2004_orford_03.JPG By Ziko-C (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Biblical text: New Revised Standard Version
© Text by David K. Bonde, Los Altos Lutheran Church, 2017

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Honoring the prophets

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Friday

Isaiah 58:1-12

1 Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

I pity the prophets. Who really wants this assignment? It’s a lot more rewarding to be able to speak a word of grace to those who are broken than to be assigned the task of pointing out sins no one wants to acknowledge.

Of course there are always those who seem to delight in pointing out sins…and mistakes and imperfections…and pretty much anything with which they disagree or disapprove. There is a heady intoxication in moral outrage. Our public airwaves are filled with it at the moment. But it’s one thing to rant at the powers that are far away. A very different thing to be assigned the task of pointing out sins close at hand. It got Jeremiah thrown in jail. Elijah had to hide out for safety. And we don’t know what happened to Isaiah, but those later chapters have enough potent poetry about God’s suffering servant that I suspect its author knew something about suffering first hand.

So I pity the prophets. But I honor them deeply. What they did was a great sacrifice, paid with tears and despair at the hardness of heart of the people and their leaders.

The way to honor the prophets, of course, is to not let their words fall to the ground. The way to respect their courage and sacrifice is to let these words find root in our hearts and lives, to take seriously the command to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. The way to honor the prophets – and the God who sent them – is to live the way of justice and mercy:

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? …
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday…
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AProphets_from_Ferapontov02_(Kirillo-Belozersk).jpg By Anonymous (own photo by shakko) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

“Come, let us walk…”

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Sunday Evening

Isaiah 2:2-5

5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

This is the concluding line of the beautiful prophecy we sang as our psalm, today:

2In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

It is a beautiful passage, vivid, memorable, timeless in its aspiration for peace. But we miss something of the power of this text because of that timelessness. The prophet was speaking to a specific time – a nation in the run-up to war. Assyria is on the horizon. Fear is rampant. Neighboring kingdoms are assembling against Judah. The king is beefing up defenses, marshaling troops, forging alliances. It is a time of muscular rhetoric and bravado, not unlike our own. The talking heads in the royal court all declare that God is on their side. They possess the temple: God will never let his holy house fall.

Now stands the prophet. He declares that the day shall come when Jerusalem will be the center of peace. All nations will come to learn the way of God. And while everyone is nodding their heads in assent at this acclamation that they are the greatest nation on earth comes the final line, the punch line: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!”

“Let us walk…”

It is wonderful to hear the promise of peace. But Isaiah lived in a time of war fever. While everyone is marching to war, he summons us to walk in the way of peace.

Isaiah met King Ahaz as he was inspecting the defensive ramparts of Jerusalem and challenged him to put his trust in God’s power not his own. He promises the king a sign, any sign, whatever the king might ask for. But the king demurs. He puts on a polite religious front, but has no interest in the word of the LORD. This is that famous passage where the prophet says, “If you won’t choose a sign, God will choose one for you. A woman shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’.” The king’s trust and hope are in his preparations for war, not the path of peace.

We tend to think that the way to peace comes through conquest: hurt me and I’ll hurt you worse. It is the way of the nations. Take what you can. Give back only what you must. Rule by fear and threat or overwhelming military or economic force. But these very nations, says the prophet, will come to Jerusalem to learn the way of peace. They will come to learn the Word of the LORD, the commands that require justice and mercy.

And what the whole earth will do one day, says the prophet, we should do now: “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

 

Image: Islamic Republic of Iran Army soldiers marching during Sacred Defense Week parade. By Reza Dehshiri (http://www.ypa.ir/media/k2/galleries/280/02.jpg) [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Joy overflows

Watching for the morning of December 14

Year B

The Third Sunday of Advent

File:Children sharing a milkshake.jpg

By krzyboy2o

Joy overflows this Sunday. We hear of the call of the prophet in Isaiah 61 who has been empowered by the Spirit of God to declare God’s restoration of the people. He uses the language and imagery of the jubilee year when every debt is forgiven and all lands restored. It contains also the imagery of a new king ascending the throne announcing amnesty and a new beginning for the nation.

The joy and expectation of the birth of Jesus cannot be contained. When Mary goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, the child in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leaps for joy and Mary sings her exquisite song rejoicing in God’s salvation.

Paul reminds the believers in Thessalonica to “Rejoice always” and declares that their faithful God will keep them “sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The only harsh note is the inquisition by representatives of the Jerusalem elite who come to interrogate John. They want to know whether he will lead an uprising against the powerful governing families in Jerusalem. They are satisfied that he is only a prophetic voice and do not seem to care when he declares that the coming one is already in their midst.

The coming one is in our midst. And the joy of that day is ours already.

The Prayer for December 14, 2014

Mighty God,
who stands at the beginning and end of time,
you sent your servant John as herald of your kingdom
and witness to Christ, the light of the world,
who stands even now among us.
Renew us by your promised Spirit
that, with lives made whole,
we may receive you with joy at your coming;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for December 14, 2014

First Reading: Isaiah 61.1-11
“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” – The prophet describes his ministry as announcing a jubilee year, when all debts are forgiven and all lands restored.

Psalmody: Luke 1:46-55, the Song of Mary (the Magnificat)
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” – Mary sings with joy of God’s coming deliverance when she is greeted by Elizabeth whose unborn child already recognizes their coming Lord.

Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
– Paul concludes his letter to the believers in Thessalonica with a series of exhortations about their life together as they wait for Christ’s return and the consummation of God’s dawning reign.

Gospel: John 1:6-8, 19-28
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” – The wealthy and powerful leaders in Jerusalem send representatives to discern whether John represents a threat to revolt against their rule, and seem satisfied that he is “only” a prophetic voice. They fail to hear his message that the coming one is already here.

The appointed psalm: Psalm 126
“Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.”
– The poet remembers the joy of their restoration to the land, and prays now that God would refresh the land anew with rain and abundant harvest.

Scandal

Thursday

Isaiah 5

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By Franco di filippo

1 Let me sing for my beloved
my love-song concerning his vineyard:

This portion of Isaiah is referred to as the “Song of the Vineyard.” It is a brilliant piece of street preaching. It starts as a love song – perhaps, more accurately, a bawdy song – about an unfaithful wife (the “vineyard” of his friend) that is sure to grab the crowd’s attention and elicit their sympathy. Then, halfway through, the pronouns change from the third to the first person. Now it is not “he,” my friend’s wife, but “I,” my wife. And so the crowd is even more engaged, drawn into the scandal of a betrayed husband. This is the same as Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood. This is TMZ showing video of Ray Rice knocking out his wife in the elevator. This is the candidate trying to explain why he texted salacious pictures. The crowd presses in to hear more.

And then, suddenly, the prophet declares that God is the spurned husband and this people the unfaithful wife.

I wish I could preach like this.

The poetry is wonderful, unforgettable – and brutal.

We domesticate the prophet’s words by putting them in a holy book and labeling the lines with numbers, but the numbers are helpful. The second half of verse 7 is a brutal seven-word indictment that the translation can’t fully convey. Our translation has: “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” The seven words break out like this:

  1. He looked
  2. for justice –
  3. And behold!
  4. Violence! (Probably ‘bloodshed’ an ‘outpouring’ of blood)
  5. For righteousness –
  6. And behold!
  7. Outcry! (The cry of the victimized)

Adding to the power of this strophe, the words ‘justice’ and ‘violence’ sound nearly identical – as do the words ‘outcry’ and ‘righteousness’. To capture this, the JPS Tanakh translates the verse as

“And He hoped for justice,
But behold, injustice;
For equity,
But behold iniquity.

So what starts as a guilty pleasure, a scandalous song, becomes a piercing, memorable, inescapable judgment.

God looked for justice from his people, and what he found was the cry of the oppressed. This is the outcry against the tyranny of Sodom and Gomorrah that leads to their destruction. This is the bitter cry of Esau when his brother’s deception is discovered. This is the cry of Israel in bondage in Egypt – a cry God heard, a cry God answered with deliverance. God brought them out from Egypt. God guided a landless people to a land. God looked for a just community – and behold, a cry!

God looked for sweet fruit and got only a bitter harvest.

And what would God say of the church?

  • I looked for fidelity, and look! Infidelity!
  • I looked for compassion, and look! Indifference!
  • I looked for generosity, and look! Hardness of heart!
  • I looked for unity, and look! Division!
  • I looked for heralds of Grace, and look! Silence!

And what would God say of the nations of the earth?

  • I looked for justice, and look! Injustice!
  • I looked for peace, and look! War!
  • I looked for equality, and look! Inequality!
  • I looked for sufficiency, and look! Poverty!
  • I looked for charity, and look! Avarice!
  • I looked for humanity, and look! Brutality!
  • I looked for liberty, and look! Bondage!
  • I looked for care of strangers, and look! Bigotry!
  • I looked for truth, and look! Falsehood!
  • I looked for Life, and look! Death!

And I suppose, given the blessing of the animals this Sunday, we should add one more:

  • I looked for care of my creation, and look! Devastation!

I can’t preach like Isaiah, but I can point to his words and hope we hear them.

The promise abides

Thursday

Isaiah 66

Rubble litters the street in the main souk or ...

Rubble litters the street in the main souk or market area of Maraat al-Numan, Syria. (Photo credit: FreedomHouse)

10Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,

We do not know for sure when this message was spoken.  Was it when Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian armies?  When hunger raged through the city so that children became the victims of cannibalism?  When the walls had lain on the ground for 50 years, and the city become the haunt of jackals?  When the first exiles rebuilt the altar among the ruins only to face the hostile threats from their neighbors to the north?  Most likely it was in the years after the temple had been rebuilt – a pale imitation of its former glory – and a brief flutter of hope fell to the years of hardship and cynicism, when people offered lame animals unsuitable for farm or fields, when worship was thought a burden and people “sniff at it contemptuously” (Malachi 1:13) and said God approved of those who did wrong.

Somewhere in these years when the promises of old lay in the dust the prophet rises to speak his inspired poetry of God’s unbreakable promise:

I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;

The prophet is not against using scandalous language to shock his hearers into attention

rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her–
11that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious bosom.

God’s promise remains.  The city’s desolation was its own doing.  The city had gone the way of the nations.  Departing from God’s law and commands it had become a city of idolatry and economic injustice.  The poor sank deeper into poverty while the rich “add house to house and join field to field” (Isaiah 5.8). The Sabbath command that even slaves should rest was ignored.  Temples and shrines were created to other deities promising fertility and abundance.  The city crumbled under the weight of its departure from God’s way.  Though the prophets fed at the king’s table declared “We have a great country” and “God is on our side,” God’s face was against them and the nation fell.

So the dream is over.  And the brief enthusiasm occasioned by the returning exiles had faded in the dreary life of poverty and trial.

But God is not done.  Thought they inhabit Good Friday the promise abides.

God’s purpose was to use Israel to bring blessing to all the nations.  God could not do that when Israel had become a petty tyranny of the rich and powerful like every other nation.  But God’s purpose remains.  And amidst the dust of the ruins the prophet sings his song of joy at a Jerusalem that will become all God promised it would be.  He sings a song of a future as if it were already accomplished.

It is not because the people had finally come to their senses.  It was because God’s purpose to save abides.  Though it is in Jerusalem that tyranny betrays the anointed of God, it is also there, just outside the walls, that the tomb is found empty.  And behind locked doors the risen Christ appears to breathe his breath on his followers and send them out to sing the song of salvation to all the earth.

We are not the eternally optimistic orphan Annie singing “Tomorrow, Tomorrow”; we are the children of heaven who live by the promise made sure that life and not death shall reign forever.