Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Drumbeat of Joy, Part 2

Continuing from the sermon...

The first scripture I want us to read is from Isaiah 35:1-10.  As I read it, listen for the joy in it.  It is a poem written to provide hope to those in exile for their return to Jerusalem.  (Scripture can be found here)

Think for a moment to whom these words were written.  They are part of what scholars call Second Isaiah, and were written about 45 years after the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and the people’s exile out of their land.  Consider their circumstances – they had been God’s people, and now they were doubting that.  They had lived in the land God had given them, and now they were away from that.  They had lived close to a powerful God who inhabited the Temple, and now the temple was gone, and they were doubting the power of God. They were far away from home, captive in another land, and they had been there a long time – 45 years means that many of them wouldn’t even remember what it was like to not be in exile.  It was a dark, hopeless time.  Had God forgotten them?

And then the Word of the prophet comes, speaking of hope and joy.  Remember, words of prophecy are often truth-telling, not necessarily fortune-telling.  Isaiah is telling them a truth they should know already.  The prophet speaks to them of the presence of God, so clear that even the earth knows the difference.  The prophet speaks to them of salvation.  We think about salvation as God bringing us forgiveness and eternal life – and it is, but there is more.  Amy Jill Levine, in her book Light of the World, says that “salvation means freedom or release from current circumstances: slavery, poverty, ill health, hunger, and thirst.”  Isaiah speaks of a Holy Way, along which even those whose sense of direction is terrible will not get lost. It will be a holy way to the Holy City of Jerusalem.  And it is not only a return to the place where God is, but also a return to relationship with God.  These are words of joy.  Can you hear the drumbeat of them?

A few years ago, Steve and I were youth counselors at our church.  With another couple, we had taken the youth to Spring Heights for a retreat.  At the end of the weekend, the vans were packed, and we were ready to leave, but we circled up in the field that is there and prayed together.  Steve led the prayer of thanksgiving for the weekend, and the as he did, the wind picked up and blew around us.  I don’t know how to explain it, but it felt like the holy spirit was blowing around and among us, circling us as we prayed together.  Have you ever had an experience where God was so close in the world around you, in the nature around you, that you just know it.  There is joy in that.  Isaiah was giving the exiled people – people in darkness who are doubting God’s love and power – doubting God’s presence with them - words to reassure them that God was there with them, and that God would lead them home. 

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