Tag Archives: Isaiah

Children of promise and purpose

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He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham,
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
(Canticle 16, BCP 92)

In the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians appointed for this morning, the apostle quotes the same passage we read today from the Book of Isaiah.

The prophet uses the image of a childless woman being blessed with children to symbolize Israel’s restoration to God’s favor. Paul extends the metaphor, widening the circle to include “children of the promise,” that is, the Gentiles (Gal. 4:23).

Like Isaac, who was born as a sign of God’s promise to Abraham, the Gentiles are also heirs of that promise. Paul’s extended argument is to remind the Galatians that their hope rests on God’s promise, not on observance of the law. Or, as he puts it elsewhere, “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

In the Collect for Grace, usually read on Wednesday mornings, we not only thank God for bringing us “in safety to this new day” but also go on to ask that he “direct us to the fulfilling of [his] purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord” (BCP 100).

We seek to be “holy and righteous in God’s sight” because of our gratitude at being children of the promise. We then go on to use the gifts God has given us as children of purpose, whose mission is to bring ever more people within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.

To listen as those who are taught

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, *
nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, *
    so are my ways higher than your ways,
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Canticle 10, BCP 86)

I’m something of a professional know-it-all.

My job is to be the “expert,” helping the sales executives of my company by articulating a vision of patient flow in hospitals and demonstrating how our solutions have helped our clients achieve impressive outcomes.

I’m very good at what I do, and I have been doing it for nearly ten years with this company, both as a client and as a member of the sales team.

In that ten years, though, the company has added many new capabilities, acquired new technologies, and recruited lots of new people who bring their expertise into the mix. Frankly, it’s fun to have so many cool things to present on and talk about.

However, it’s often hard for us “know-it-alls” to become students again. It’s very easy to become so invested in the way you articulate your vision that you can’t hear new ideas. I struggle especially to really listen to how new leaders in the company articulate their vision of what we do.

Copyright Mark Anderson www.andertoons.com

Isaiah the prophet describes this conundrum beautifully:

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens — wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. (Isaiah 50:4-5)

For me, this lesson has immediate import. I will be spending all of next week in meetings of our national sales team, where we will be learning about new product offerings and how they integrate (or will integrate) with our current solutions. We’ll even spend a day visiting a client hospital to hear how they use our solutions every day.

I’ll need to “listen as those who are taught” and resist the impulse to “turn backward” into the familiar content I know so well. Many of the people that I hear from next week that will not follow my usual script.

If I can listen carefully, then my new presentations will bear new fruit and my new demonstrations will “accomplish that which I purpose” (to continue Isaiah’s thought in Canticle 10).

Who might you need to listen to this week, setting aside your own ideas so that you can take in a new word? What will keep you from doing this?

No armor needed on the Way of the Cross

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He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:7)

It took less than 50 years after the crucifixion of Jesus — the Prince of Peace, the sacrificial Lamb foretold by Isaiah — for the martial language to creep back into the church’s vocabulary.

By the time of the letter to the Ephesians, written somewhere between 62-95 AD, we have this exhortation to believers to “put on the whole armor of God.” Now granted, this is spiritual armor we’re talking about — the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14-17). As a metaphor, the image works beautifully to depict discipline and confidence in the spiritual life.

But do you hear the difference?

Jesus went to his death unprotesting, silent before the slaughter. His followers in Ephesus, less than 50 years later, are being urged into an aggressive posture, armed to wage war “not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

How much longer, though, until this spiritual aggression is turned against “enemies of blood and flesh”?

Church history tells the story; just 300 more years. In 385, Priscillian, the bishop of Avila, became the first Christian to be executed for heresy by the (Christian) Roman authorities — the church finally had the power of the state behind it to enforce its will.

By a perversion of justice he was taken away.
Who could have imagined his future?
For he was cut off from the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people.
(Isaiah 53:8)

I hear such anger in our religious discourse today that it worries me.

Religious leaders and believers alike denounce other Christians with such violence, and are so heated in their demands that society conform to their desires, that I wonder if our lust for the heat and noise of battle has made us lose our taste for “that peace which the world cannot give” (BCP 123).

I wonder if we have become totally deaf to the silent voice of the crucified Christ urging us to follow him in the way of the cross, which is “none other than the way of life and peace” (BCP 99).

 

I have called you by name

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
(Isaiah 43:1)

For my ordination to the diaconate 17 years ago, my Lovely Wife made a stole with cross-stitched images of birds and flowers taken from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. It’s a glorious Easter stole, bursting with life.

January birds

At the top of the stole, just below my shoulder, is a golden cross with the same words from Isaiah stitched beneath it: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

In this week following the Baptism of our Lord, we have prayed in the Collect of the Day that “all who are baptized in his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior” (BCP 214).

We can be bold in our confession because God has acted first, and we are his. The whole sweep of salvation history teaches this lesson — God continually reaches out toward us and makes us his people. He redeems us, he calls us, we are his.

Because we do not need to fear, we can embrace new life in Christ and follow his lead, no matter where it takes us. Just as the Son is intimately known by the Father, we too are intimately known by the Son. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).

Through baptism, Christ calls each of us by name. What fear might you need to lay aside so you can hear his call more clearly? Where might your friendship with Christ lead you?

Joy and peace to all

For as the new heavens and the new earth,
which I will make,
shall remain before me, says the Lord;
so shall your descendants and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon
and from sabbath to sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
says the Lord. (Isaiah 66:22-23)

One of the Principal Feasts of the church year, the Epiphany celebrates the “Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles,” as our Prayer Book calendar calls it (BCP 31). The wise men stand in for the whole Gentile world (that is, all of us) as they see and recognize in the child Jesus the promised salvation of the world.

Listen to one of the prayers for mission that we commonly use at Evening Prayer:

“O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore: Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men and women everywhere love you and serve you in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP 124)

Christ’s coming is for all, not just for the Jews, not just for the Orthodox or the Catholics, not just for the Lutherans or the Presbyterians or the Calvinists, not just for the Anglicans or the “real” Anglicans, not just for my parish or for yours, but for all.

Our religious tendency toward exclusivity does not serve God’s purpose of bringing light to all — to the whole earth, all nations, all tongues, men and women everywhere.

In the readings appointed for this Eve of the Epiphany, Isaiah points toward that future day when all flesh will worship God together, and Paul prays on behalf of the Romans (Gentiles like us): “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit” (BCP 126).

“All joy and peace.” Joy and peace to all. That’s a fitting note on which to begin our worship this Epiphany.