Tag Archives: Isaiah

Golden with fruit of a man’s body

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On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:10)

In a Country Church

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.

Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long,
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man’s body.

R S Thomas

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Walk this way

Though the Lord may give you the bread of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:20-21)

Acolytes

At the Great Vigil of Easter this year, one of our youngest acolytes graduated from boat-bearer to crucifer.

The Great Vigil, as I’m sure you know, is one of the most complicated services of the Church Year. Everything’s backwards!

The crucifer doesn’t go first; the deacon does. The torches don’t follow the crucifer; they follow the Paschal Candle. The altar party doesn’t sit up in the sanctuary; they sit in the front pews.

However, she wasn’t nervous at all. Our acolyte master was right behind her during the entire service, giving her gentle guidance about where to go next and reassuring her that she was doing a great job.

She came and found me in the sacristy on Easter morning, excited to ask when she could serve as crucifer again. “And next time, could I do it mostly by myself? But, you know, with someone to remind me in case I need it?”

“This is the way,” says our Teacher Jesus, the Risen Christ. “Walk in it.”

That which God has purposed

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? (Romans 2:17-21)

There is a serious vein running through today’s lessons from Jeremiah and Isaiah through to Paul and Christ.

Jeremiah recounts God’s judgment on God’s people and on Jerusalem. “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end. Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor have I turned back” (Jer. 4:27-28).

God’s judgment is terrible, and he is unrelenting.

Except then comes the Canticle, the Second Song of Isaiah (Isa. 55:6-11), with its familiar words of reassurance:

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens
and return not again, but water the earth,
Bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread for eating,
So is my word which goes forth from my mouth;
it will not return to me empty,
But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,
and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Christians, of course, read these words in the light of Christ the Word who “goes forth from God,” so to speak, and who accomplishes what God purposes.

What God purposes, we know from our vantage point post-Easter, is not desolation but restoration. God has “relented” once for all in Christ and continues to be present to us through the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide. How can we forget what God has done for us, has won for us, in Christ?

This is what frustrates Paul so much in his letter to the Romans. He basically asks, “Are you turning away from grace and back to the judgment under the law which cannot save?”

His question resonates with the prophets’ words. Are we turning away from restoration and teaching desolation? Are we preaching grace or sin?

Of course, it’s not an either/or thing. Grace freely given comes with a consciousness of sin. When I have been forgiven, I am acutely aware of exactly what I have done wrong. But the message from my forgiver — whether it’s my wife or the priest pronouncing God’s absolution on Sunday — is restoration, not condemnation.

Where in our lives do we still reflect a spirit of judgment, faces set in a disapproving frown? Where do we still dwell on faults more than freedom, quick to relay dirt and to dismiss others’ pain? Where do we still fail to preach the message of good news that animated Jesus and Paul and our forebears in this life in Christ?

Even worse, where does our judgmentalism and obsession with rectitude cause “the Name of God to be blasphemed” because of us (Rom. 2:24)? It’s happening all around us as people turn away from angry so-called “Christianity.” God forbid!

Like rain falling from the heavens is God’s grace falling on us, on all of us who “have no power in ourselves to help ourselves,” in the words of next Sunday’s Collect. What God has purposed is our restoration, our reconciliation with God, and our reaching out in love to the people around us.

What we can be sure of is that God’s word will prosper in us, will teach us, as we live out God’s restoring mission.

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?