First Reading: Isaiah 65:1-9
1I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. 2I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; 3a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and offering incense on bricks; 4who sit inside tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat swine’s flesh, with broth of abominable things in their vessels; 5who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all day long. 6See, it is written before me: I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their laps 7their iniquities and their ancestors’ iniquities together, says the Lord; because they offered incense on the mountains and reviled me on the hills, I will measure into their laps full payment for their actions. 8Thus says the Lord: As the wine is found in the cluster, and they say, “Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,” so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. 9I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah inheritors of my mountains; my chosen shall inherit it, and my servants shall settle there.
I share today a reflection by friend and colleague Pastor Phil Heinze:
Isaiah is one of my favorite books in the Bible but as it is with favorite books there are chapters I favor over others. Isaiah 25 and the feast of fat things for all people, the return to Zion with singing in Isaiah 35, the tender speaking of Isaiah 40, “comfort, comfort my people” are all to be preferred over “I will not keep silent, but I will repay.”
But in the same way that the Gospel is meaningless without the Law and the Law is hopeless without the Gospel so God is not wholly God without being just and the one who justifies. (Romans 3:26) Which is to say while God is merciful there is a cost associated with continually grieving God and even though sin is not counted against us there are consequences that cannot be avoided. Isaiah 65 reveals a dimension of the incarnation, God in the flesh, which is not as comforting as the babe of Bethlehem.
No. This is God as grieving parent, God as jilted lover; God continually provoked on purpose by those God seeks to save.
It is also an image of God who has been pushed to the point of breaking, whose fierce anger has been aroused by continual mocking and disregard. But while it is true that we are a rebellious people who walk in a way that is not good, following our own devices I don’t think fear motivates one to love the God who calls to us, “Here I am, here I am.”
However, if I am the parent of a rebellious child who continually provokes I might sympathize with God’s patience being exhausted. If I have loved another with my whole heart only to be lied to, cheated on, made to be a fool of, then I might sympathize with God’s righteous anger.
And when I sympathize with God’s anger and pain and profound sadness by confessing that I am the rebellious child and the unfaithful spouse then I might just be the good apple within the bad and become a blessing to the God that by my sin I provoke. I hope so. And believe me, so does God.
Let us pray: Almighty God, we give thanks that you are slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. How do you do it? Give us patience and wisdom. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen