If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. —C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory.
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn… (Isaiah 51:1 NIV)
PRAYER FOCUS: Faith in Hard Times
“I swear, you look just like your mama!” So says a high school friend I haven’t seen in nearly forty years. Mom would have been my current age the last time he saw her. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) are great for such reconnected observations, aren’t they?
But it’s true—we each carry the genetic code of our parents. To a great degree, we will look like others in our family, especially Mom and Dad. Could it be that our past can predict our future?
This week’s Lectionary Old Testament passage would seem to say that. Isaiah was speaking to the Hebrews who were being released from exile in Babylon. A faithful remnant had stayed true to Jewish culture and customs. They had not become assimilated into the “progressive” ways of Babylon. They had remained righteous, even while in captivity to a culture that was hostile to theirs.
And now they were going home, as it were. But they had been away for so long–many of them had never seen their ancestral home at all. How were they going to survive in a land they didn’t know?
So before the Jewish exiles left Babylon for their journey to the Promised Land, God asks them to do two things: listen and look back. Remember where you came from…
Through the prophet Isaiah, God asks His children to consider their captivity and judge for themselves if their righteousness was worth it. He reminds them of Abraham’s faith and steadfast righteousness. He recalls Sarah, who was barren, who was “too old” to bear children. To these two God had promised not just a son, but a whole nation—the nation that Isaiah now addressed. Isaiah’s references to rock and quarry reflect the purity and the power of Israel’s origin. God called Abraham with a solid and sure promise, just as the rock is solid and sure. Therefore, Isaiah reasons, God’s promise to them is solid and sure.
Look at yourselves, my children, you look just like your father Abraham…
Isaiah 51 is an exhortation to a faithful remnant, to Abraham’s true children who were about to embark on a great undertaking they weren’t entirely sure about. It is a message of love, of redemption, of salvation to the righteous, of great joy to those who seek the Lord—even in uncertain and difficult times. Hearing God instills hope for the future.
The returning exiles are to think of themselves as children of promise, envisioned long beforehand by a God who singled out one unpromising couple for supernatural blessings. If Abraham and Sarah could become parents of many, even the depleted generation of exile could become many, and restore a nation under God.
Isaiah writes in the prophetic perfect tense. He is so certain that what he prophesies will come to pass it is as if it has already happened:
Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail (Isaiah 51:6).
Meaning—don’t evaluate the things of God by the things of this earth.
The God who created all things, who restores all things, restored these exiles just like He promised. The same God who established Abraham and Sarah and restored Israel to Himself is still in the business of restoration. And that’s very good news today.
Centuries later, Paul said as much to the Romans when he wrote,
The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were. (Romans 4:16-17)
This week the prophet Isaiah reminds you to stop, listen and look back. Consider those who have gone before you. Look to the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you are hewn. Can you see how much you resemble your Father Abraham? Look again, Christian, look again. How about that family resemblance with your brothers and sisters?
It’s Monday morning. You look just like your Father. Step forward in faith.