May 21, 2016

Isaiah - He is a poet in the most fundamental sense -- a maker, making God present that presence urgent.  Isaiah is the supreme poet-prophet to come out of the Hebrew people.  

Isaiah is a large presence in the lives of people who live by faith in God, who submit themselves to being shaped by the Word of God and are on the lookout for the holy.

The Holy.  The characteristic name for God in Isaiah is “The Holy.”... If “holy” was ever a pious, pastel-tinted word in our vocabularies, the Isaiah-preaching quickly turns it into something blazing.  Holiness is the most attractive quality, the most intense experience we can ever get in sheer life-- authentic, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance....

The book of Isaiah is expansive, dealing with virtually everything that is involved in being a people of God on this planet.  The impressive art of Isaiah involves taking the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience and showing us how it is the very stuff that God uses to create and save and give hope...

“Symphony” is the term many find useful to capture the fusion of simplicity and complexity presented in the book of Isaiah.... The prominent themes repeated and developed throughout this vast symphonic work are judgment, comfort, and hope.  All three elements are present on nearly every page, but each also gives distinction to the three movements of the book that so powerfully enact salvation    

Isaiah 1-3
The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw regarding Judah and Jerusalem during the times of the kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

Heaven and earth, you’re the jury.  Listen to God’s case: “I had children and raised them well, and they turned on me. The ox knows who’s boss, the mule knows the hand that feeds him, but not Israel.    
My people don’t know up from down.  Shame! Misguided God-dropouts, staggering under their guilt-baggage,... My people have walked out on me, their God, turned their backs on The Holy of Israel, walked off and never looked back.
“Why bother even trying to do anything with you when you just keep to your bullheaded ways?  You keep beating your heads against brick walls.  Everything within you protests against you.  From the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, nothing’s working right....Your land is destroyed by outsiders while you watch, reduced to rubble by barbarians...
“Listen to my Message, you Sodom-schooled leaders. Receive God’s revelation, you Gomorrah-schooled people.
“Why this frenzy of sacrifices?”  God’s asking. “Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats?  When you come before me, whoever gave you the idea of acting like this, running here and there, doing this and that—all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship?
“Quit your worship charades.  I can’t stand your trivial religious games:  Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!  Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out!  I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way.  No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.  And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.  

Go home and wash up.  Clean up your act.  Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer.  Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.  “Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.”
This is God’s Message: “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white... If you’ll willingly obey, you’ll feast like kings. But if you’re willful and stubborn, you’ll die like dogs.” That’s right. God says so.

Oh! Can you believe it? The chaste city has become a whore! She was once all justice, everyone living as good neighbors, And now they’re all at one another’s throats...Your leaders are turncoats who keep company with crooks. They sell themselves to the highest bidder and grab anything not nailed down. They never stand up for the homeless, never stick up for the defenseless.

This Decree, therefore, of the Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the Strong One of Israel:  “This is it!... I’ll set honest judges and wise counselors among you just like it was back in the beginning.... God’s right ways will put Zion right again. God’s right actions will restore her penitents. But it’s curtains for rebels and God-traitors, a dead end for those who walk out on God....
The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:
There’s a day coming when the mountain of God’s House will be The Mountain— solid, towering over all mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” Zion’s the source of the revelation. God’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations.  He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes.  No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.

God, you’ve walked out on your family Jacob because their world is full of hokey religion,... Head for the hills, hide in the caves from the terror of God, from his dazzling presence. People with a big head are headed for a fall, pretentious egos brought down a peg. It’s God alone at front-and-center on the Day we’re talking about,...The swelled big heads will be punctured bladders, the pretentious egos brought down to earth, leaving God alone at front-and-center on the Day we’re talking about.... Quit scraping and fawning over mere humans, so full of themselves, so full of hot air!  Can’t you see there’s nothing to them?  

The Master, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, is emptying Jerusalem and Judah.  Of all the basic necessities, plain bread and water to begin with. He’s withdrawing police and protection, judges and courts, pastors and teachers, captains and generals, doctors and nurses, and, yes, even the repairmen and jacks-of-all-trades. He says, “I’ll put little kids in charge of the city.  Schoolboys and schoolgirls will order everyone around. People will be at each other’s throats, stabbing one another in the back: Neighbor against neighbor, young against old, the no-account against the well-respected.
One brother will grab another and say, ‘You look like you’ve got a head on your shoulders.  Do something! Get us out of this mess.’ And he’ll say, ‘Me? Not me! I don’t have a clue.  Don’t put me in charge of anything.’... My dear people! Your leaders are taking you down a blind alley.  They’re sending you off on a wild-goose chase.”

God enters the courtroom. He takes his place at the bench to judge his people...God calls for order in the court,.. God says, “Zion women are stuck-up, prancing around in their high heels, making eyes at all the men in the street, swinging their hips,tossing their hair, gaudy and garish in cheap jewelry.” The Master will fix it so those Zion women will all turn bald— Scabby, bald-headed women.  The Master will do it.  The time is coming when the Master will strip them of their fancy baubles—the dangling earrings, anklets and bracelets, combs and mirrors and silk scarves, diamond brooches and pearl necklaces, the rings on their fingers and the rings on their toes, the latest fashions in hats, exotic perfumes and aphrodisiacs, gowns and capes, all the world’s finest in fabrics and design....

Your finest fighting men will be killed, your soldiers left dead on the battlefield. The entrance gate to Zion will be clotted with people mourning their dead— A city stooped under the weight of her loss, brought to her knees by her sorrows.

Luke 5 -   Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God.  He noticed two boats tied up...He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore.  Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.  

When Jesus finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”  Simon informed Jesus that they had been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything...”But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.”  It was no sooner than done--a huge haul of fish straining the nets past capacity....Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus.  “Master, leave.  I am a sinner and can’t handle this holiness.  Leave me to myself.”....awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him.  It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, co-workers with Simon.  Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear.  From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.”  They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all and followed him.

One day in one of the villages there was a man covered with leprosy who Jesus healed at the man’s request... Jesus instructed him, “Don’t talk about this all over town.   Just quietly present hour healed self to the priest, along with the offering ordered by Moses.  Your cleaned and obedient life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”  But the man couldn’t keep it to himself and the word got out.  Soon a large crowd of people had gathered to listen and be healed...As often as possible, Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayers.

One day when he was teaching, Pharisees and religious teachers were sitting around.  They had come from nearly every village in Galilee and Judea, even as far away as Jerusalem, to be be there.  The healing power of God was upon him.  Some men arrived carrying a paraplegic on a stretcher and went to the roof to lower him down to see Jesus....Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said, “Friend, I forgive your sins.”  That set the religious scholars and Pharisees buzzing  “Who does he think he is?  That’s blasphemous talk!  God and only God can forgive sins.”  Jesus knew exactly what they were thinking and responded with  a question, “which is simpler to say, ‘I forgive your sins’ or to say ‘ Get up and start walking’?  Well just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either or both...”  He now spoke directly to the paraplegic.  “Get up.  Take your bedroll and go home.”  He did glory to God, all the way.  

After this he went out and saw a man, Levi at his work, collecting taxes.  Jesus said, “Come along with me.”  And he did--walked away from everything and went with him.  Levi gave a large dinner at his home for Jesus.  Everybody was there, tax men and other disreputable characters as guests at the dinner.  The Pharisees and their religious scholars disapproved of the guests and questioned the disciples.  Jesus heard about it and spoke up.  “who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick?  I’m here inviting outsiders, not insiders---an invitation to a changed life, changed inside and out.”  They asked him, “John’s disciples are well-known for keeping fasts and saying prayers.  Also the Pharisees.  But you seem to spend most of your time at parties.  Why?”

Jesus said, “When you’re celebrating a wedding, you don’t skimp on the cake and wine.  You feast.  Later you may need to pull in your belt, but this isn’t the time.  As long as the bride and groom are with you, you have a good time.  When the groom is gone, the fasting can begin.