Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Isaiah's Good News

Imagine with me for a moment
You spend your childhood in slavery
always doing what someone else tells you to do
always being put down
always hungry
hungry for food
hungry for more in life
and then in a swirl of events
you and your family run away from everything you've grown up knowing
you walk through a sea
seeing sights you'd never imagine
surrounded by fearful, confused, excited people
hoping desperately for freedom.

Imagine growing up wandering with those people
living in tents in the desert
searching for water, for food, for shelter.
Being told you're now free
but still only barely managing to live.

Imagine everyday getting closer to good land
where there is plenty of water and food
wood to build shelters.

Imagine fighting with everything you have to be able to live in that good land
moving around to find the space to settle down.

Imagine finally being able to live freely
to be able to have your own house
to have a family
to spend your days in fulfilling work.

Imagine teaching your children what it means to be free
what it means to live in relationship with a God who gives you all this good land

Imagine growing old, seeing your children teaching their children about what it means to be free
to be in relationship with the land and with God.
For generations
protecting the good land
trusting in the God who gave it to you.
And then imagine being invaded.
All the good land being set ablaze.
Being pushed out of your home
where generations of your family has lived.

Imagine having to walk hundreds of miles to a different country
being told to live in a different way
missing your home
unsure about your relationship with the land or with God.

These are the people Isaiah is talking to.

The Israelites in the time of the Babylonian exile.
People who couldn't believe what had happened to them.
People whose lives had become so wrapped up in the land
that their very spirituality was tied to living in one place.
So much so that they were struggling in their relationship with God
because now they weren't living in that same land.

Isaiah was speaking to the people of Israel
who were struggling with their relationship with God.
It hits the spot sometimes in our own lives,
we all struggle with God at times.
We struggle with what other people say about God
we struggle with our own feelings with things going on in the world
we struggle to believe that our God truly cares about us.
God is so big
so unknowable
so mysterious
it is mind-boggling that God would care for us.

Isaiah tries to remind the people 
about God.
The people hadn't always lived in that land.
God hadn't always been associated with Israel
they were God's people way before that
when they still lived in Egypt
or before that when Abraham lived in Ur.

Isaiah asks the people these great rhetorical questions.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told to you from the beginning?
Isaiah knows the people know.
He knows the people have heard.
He knows they have been told over and over again.
Isaiah knew these things because he had told them.
Isaiah had participated in sharing the story in the temple
in the streets, in the market places
in the synagogues.
He knew that they knew.
The people had heard,
perhaps they had not listened.

Isaiah is attempting to answer the crisis of faith
brought on by the political disasters of the day
considering that most of the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon
certainly was considered a disaster.

Can you imagine if the United States was invaded and millions of people were forced into exile
had to become refugees and live in other countries?
Isaiah is definitely in the midst of political disaster.
Political disaster always seems to trigger people
into having crises of faith.
Its not really that surprising.
If we have a good God who loves us and takes care of us,
then why in the world did this bad thing happen to us???

Isaiah speaks this message
trying to remind the people
that God is not overly concerned with national politics.
God is not simply a God of Israel,
God is not tied to one nation or political agenda,
not even the United States.

No, God is much
bigger than that.
God is the God of creation.
God is beyond all time.
God is so awesome and incomprehensible
our language
completely fails at trying to describe God.

This is why the ancient Israelites
never spoke the name of God,
though it is written in the Scriptures.
God's name is but a breath
beyond which we can utter.

Isaiah points out to the people,
points out to us
when we look around us and despair of our political situations
look deeper,
look closer.
Where are we?
We are surrounded by God's creation.
Working for God's purposes in the world.
Here in Franklin, we are quite literally surrounded by God's creation,
surrounded by hills on all sides,
woods, trees, animals,
the creeks and rivers.
God created all of what is around us
and cares about all of it.
Isaiah has seen the actions and deeds of the people of Israel in exile
he knows they have fallen apart
he knows they have stopped following the Jewish traditions and customs
being in exile is not easy.

He reminds the people
God still cares.
God still hears your cry
God still knows your name.

Do you think you can hide from God?
Do you think God would approve of what you are doing?
I know there are some of us who have the hardest time getting out of bed on certain days, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I know there are some of us who don't know how they are going to continue on each day. 
Trying to make making through each day a good thing.
We have a God who knows everything
in unsearchable ways.
God cares.

As Isaiah says,
God cares
about the youth
about the young
about the powerless
about all those who are struggling
and then of course,
when God came to earth as a human being
in the person of Jesus
he continued God's mission of caring in the world.
Jesus healed people.
All the people.
As we hear in the gospel passage for this morning
Jesus healed people all over.
Skin hanging off
bandaged all over
laying down
screaming out loud
All the people.
Jesus cared.

How could we forget this?
Have we not known? Have we not heard?
Some days I wish I could gather all the people in the world in a big
with all the appropriate translators
and say
God loves you.
Over and over and over again.
Until maybe it sunk in.
Do we not know the overwhelming power of his love?
Isaiah asks so that the people answer the question for themselves.

Imagine Isaiah, speaking next to the water fountain in the marketplace
in Babylon
speaking to the exiled people of Israel
Don't you know how much God cares?
And the quiet murmurs...
here and there throughout the crowd
people shopping
people getting water
people shaking their heads
Yes, we know
Yes, God cares.