Isaiah Chapter 51
Vv. 1-8: Remember where you came from
It appears to me that God is speaking to Israel, reminding them that even in their downtrodden state they come from a godly heritage. “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and the quarry from which you were dug.” I particularly like the part where God says he will comfort our waste places.
Really, it is our darkest hours that shape us. As much as I wish I could get rid of the dark places in my life, as bothersome as those shadows are in my present life, I recognize that they define my humanity in a way that my happier moments do not. It is difficult to struggle with that dark and easy to become discouraged in the face of it. I have kind of been doing that off and on all winter. One of the things about this part of my life in general is that is the first time I see an endpoint on my horizon, and it is not so far away I can ignore it. When I was younger, and still “climbing the ladder”, thinking about the winding down or ending of my working life was not even on the radar screen.
I am starting to see that the career part of our lives become a form of “exile”, too. There are things related to making a living, no matter how much you love your job, that keep us from our heart’s desire (and I don’t just mean money or lack of money). There are issues that folks who are caught in the day-to-day of rearing their children that keep them in “exile”. We are ALL in exile in one way of another, and we forget where we came from. We forget the deep bedrock from which we are hewn.
Vv. 9-11: God promises you CAN come home again
I think Rahab is somewhat of an interchangeable name for Leviathan. In Jewish tradition, Rahab is the “angel of insolence and pride”. The word is used in Hebrew to represent “noise”, “tumult”, and “arrogance.” I think what God is telling his exiled people (us too) is that to truly “come home” to a place in our heart where we can easily feel the glory of the Lord, that we have to cut these monsters to ribbons. We have to cut apart our own arrogance. We have to shred the noise and tumult in our souls.
Arrogance is a hard word. None of us would claim to be arrogant. The word comes from the Latin arrogantem, meaning "assuming, overbearing, insolent". Assuming—that’s interesting. We make certain assumptions when we are being arrogant. So we don’t necessarily have to be all high-and-mighty to be arrogant, merely to assume something which may or may not be based in fact. I think we make assumptions sometimes about what God thinks...a form of arrogance. But to draw closer to God, we have to drop those assumptions.
Vv. 12-17: Why do you worry about these people?
God is telling the Israelites, “Why are you worried about these people? They are gonna someday get sick and die and their civilization will go to hell in a handbasket, as is the way with all civilization. You worry too much about what these people are going to do to you instead of thinking beyond that and realizing I am the one who comforts you, who protects you.”
I really like the line that he has hidden us “in the shadow of his hand.” I think of how I hold a puppy or a baby chick—loose enough so it can stretch and squirm a little, but tight enough it can tell I’m protecting it. I can get really wound up on what disastrous thing could happen next in my life. I am always expecting the next disaster around the corner. Seems like every Friday, there is something that happens that has the potential to wind me up for the weekend.
Why do I worry? Why can I not release to myself to the idea that whatever happens with what has me wound up, good or bad, God will continue to hold me in the shadow of his hand?
Vv. 18-23 When “Enough is enough” God will take the bitter cup away
Even though the people are leaderless, Messiah-less, and wandering in circles of their own self-pity, God is promising the Israelites that at some point, their troubles will pass on to their tormentors. What goes around, comes around, eventually. But it is not a time of the people’s choosing, it is a time of God’s choosing.
That is a hard set of verses for me, because it’s couched in that Old Testament “smiting” attitude. That whole “short history of the Jews” joke--”They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.” But I think a way to look at those verses, rather “they’re gonna get what’s coming to them” or “Why does Dad hate us?” way, is to think about the concept that what APPEARS to be God punishing us is really our own wandering around not looking for a window of God’s grace. Eventually, if we are patient, and faithful, and discerning, we’ll see that window or door leading to the way out of the darkness.
What I wonder is how many windows does God stick in front of my nose before I notice one? How many times did he shine a big light my way but I never looked up or stopped pacing in circles???? I sort of laugh at the notion that I might see what looks like the “first” window out of my distress, and God is rolling his eyes and going, “DUH!!!!!! That was only the FIFTH one I put there for you!”
But the take home message is, there is a point where that “cup of staggering” and “bowl of wrath” is pulled out of our hands. I ask myself: Do I let those utensils go willingly? Do I hand them over to God right off the bat? Or is it more often that God has to rip them out of my hands, and say, “LET GO! Now go! Shoo! You’ve suffered enough, thanks to your own stiff-necked inability to let things go! AAARRRGH! Do you not get it, I’m crazy about you...why don’t you believe it?”
So....there’s week 3!
Isaiah Chapter 51
This week’s episode of "Trinity: The Sitcom": Everyone’s sick!
The vicar gets sick Wed. It is probably the crud that half of Kirksville has. You wake up sniffling one morning and by nightfall, you think you’re going to die. Of course he is exceptionally paranoid b/c of the pneumonia he had in Nov. So I was checking up on him and playing doctor a little bit and had to convince him he was only sick enough to see his “real” doctor in the morning, not go to the ER.
So then the game plan is that our assistant priest will fill in. I am scheduled to acolyte. Then she calls me Friday and noon, and says, “Oh, crap, I’m getting sick too!” She sounds like she’s in even worse shape b/c she is coughing up bright yellow stuff like she is getting bronchitis. Also flu is going around, so it could be that. I told her to call HER doc, she might need some antibiotics. We agree not to tell the vicar just yet b/c then he’ll freak out.
Then when I swung by the vicarage after work Friday, Mike (our asst. priest's husband) calls on the phone while I’m there and I could tell by the conversation he was telling Wallace that Carrol is sick. Now I don’t know if Carrol told him to call, or Mike just ratted her out, ha ha. Well, true to form, Wallace starts stressing out and trying to figure out how to deal with this news.
So, we moved from doing a Eucharistic service to doing Morning Prayer, and Patricia (one of our congregants who is licensed to do Morning Prayer) is going to run the show, so I will be acolyte for her. I find this incredibly hilarious since all those years I was on the board at Truman, she carried the university mace and I walked behind her at Commencement, and now I will be carrying the processional cross in front of HER, so that is just too funny!
At this point, it is Saturday. I start realizing I am coughing a little more than usual...and realize that no good deed goes unpunished. My "reward" for keeping an eye on the vicar is that all the fomites and evil germs in the air at the vicarage and all over the office furniture have landed on ME. I spent all day Saturday eating handfuls of vitamin C and snorting Zicam up my nose, and taking Tylenol Cold and Sinus. Had supper with friends at their house and they are hollering I'm going to give it to THEM.
Saturday night, I pile on long underwear, sweats and extra blankets and try to sweat the evil humors away. Sunday morning comes. No luck--but I'm no worse, either. So I still managed to make it to church to acolyte. Patricia and I made a great team. So you might say the congregation managed to take control of their own worship and all's well that ends well!
This week’s assignment: Isaiah 50
vv. 1-3 God confronts Zion
Downtrodden Israel feels like the bastard red-headed stepchild. I can understand that. We all have times we ask “Where was God when (fill in the blank with some awful thing that happened in your life).” But God is asserting that he has not deserted Israel (or us). He’s saying “Show me where I divorced you from your motherland. See, you can’t produce a document. That’s because I did NOT desert you. You separated yourself from ME.”
And really, that’s what happens with us, too. We separate ourselves from God with our guilt and our feelings of unworthiness and our fears. We do our own version of “why did you forsake me, God?” and we were never forsaken at all. We went and put ourselves in the corner and then cry and holler that God “left us.”
I know when I feel forsaken by the world, I tend to also feel forsaken by God, although deep within my heart I know that’s not true. Sometimes I have to kick myself to remind me that God has been with me all along, it’s just that I went and wallowed in that pit of despair and self-pity that I fall into sometimes. I need to remind myself that these are the most important times for me to work at feeling my connection with God, bare my soul, cry out for him. I ought to know better—when I have one of my “Old Testament” fits of hollering at God and physically writhing with my pain, I actually DO feel his presence. Yet when I curl up in the corner and turn my back quietly on him and sulk I DON’T feel his presence. I should remember that. Even when I’m mad and yell at God I can feel him there.
vv. 4-9 The Servant’s Song
Although the servant listens to God, the world doesn’t pay much heed to the servant. They beat the snot out of him, pull his beard hairs (literally or figuratively), spit on him, etc. but he “sets his face” (just like Jesus “set his face” on the way to Jerusalem to his destiny at the cross), and knows that despite this, God is with him, and he will endure. He feels he (and God) can outlast his adversaries.
In a historical sense, I’m sure some of the exiled Jews, by then, had fairly comfortable lives in Babylon. Why would they want to go back to the wreck that was Jerusalem?
I think about my 20some years as a “lone wolf Christian”. I had walked away from the Missouri Synod Lutherans b/c of their inability to be inclusive regarding women in the Church and their pressure to vote Republican. I really didn’t have a bad life “in exile”. I read the Bible, studied it, prayed to a fair degree, and expanded my knowledge of Scripture. My Babylon wasn’t all that bad. I had no real desire to leave it. Yeah, I felt I was missing some things, but not enough to risk all the pain I had endured in a church community. I fully planned on being an exiled Christian the rest of my life. But then I walked into Trinity and that old girl started messing with my head.
Somehow, my own “servant song” started to appear. At first it was simply, “You like being here, don’tcha? Feels pretty nice, doesn’t it? So stay a while.”
Then “My servant song” started singing, “Fix my toilet. Fix the cracks on my wall. My sidewalk could use some work. How about a little varnish and polyurethane on my pews?” Some of my friends said, “You took off work for 2 weeks to do WHAT?” Okay, so it’s not exactly like getting one’s beard pulled out and being spit upon, but it certainly made some of my friends look at me like I was a little goofy. But God uses what God knows will get to someone. My ears were pretty closed, but my hands were open. God convinced me to put my hands all over the building, and I “saw” and “heard” with them, and I was not rebellious. God knew it was a waste of time to concentrate on my ears with their big “B.S. Filters” on them. He knew it was not my eyes that were the ticket to getting back closer to him. He knew that the things I really trust are the things I can touch and take apart with my hands and put back together again.
Because God and I can touch each other through the old girl Trinity, I managed to leave my exile in Babylon, and let God take me by the hand and lead me to my own trip to Jerusalem. Wow! That’s a true miracle, really.
vv 10-11: Walking in Darkness, Yet Trusting in God’s Light
The servant is saying that the people of Israel are better off walking around in the dark trusting in God than they are stirring up their own little firestorms, in a way. Good tag team with John 3:8: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
We don’t know where the Holy Spirit got some idea for us. We don’t know where that idea will take us. But we can choose to stand in her breeze.
I am slowly learning to stand out in the breeze of the Holy Spirit instead of running in the house and slamming the door shut. This used to be a very scary concept for me; it is becoming less so. I never liked it at first b/c I don’t like surprises and I don’t like not knowing all the “wheres” and “whys” of things. But in retrospect, I have been ok with the places the Holy Spirit takes me, so I am starting to trust that a little more (not a lot, just a little.)
Anyway, that is my blurb for week 2!
My assignment: Isaiah 42:1-9, Chapter 49
42:1-9 God Introduces the Servant
In a Biblical historical sense, the servant is Israel. I also realize in a prophetic sense, (particularly among the fundies), this is also considered a foretelling of the coming of Christ. Really, I’m not really convinced the author of this part of Isaiah had a clue about THAT. He was looking at what the glory of downtrodden Israel could be. But I think for my purposes of getting something out of this exercise, I have to consider the possiblity that the servant can simply be any of us in the body of believers, and in a Lenten sense, I think I need to think about this in terms of my own identification with my own job as “a servant”--to humanity, to those close to me, and to whatever “my holy mission” is (of which, in a lot of ways, I haven’t a clue.)
So what is God saying about His servant? He puts his spirit upon us. He does not kick our butts (despite our feelings of that sometimes) but upholds us. He trusts in the skills of our heart to be emissaries of God in our own way. He takes us by the hand and looks us in the eye, and basically says, “I have made a covenant with you, “kept” you—you belong to me. You are capable of amazing things, and this glorifies me.”
49:1-6 The Servant’s Mission (and a creeping 2nd thought about it)
In this section, it’s apparent that the servant has a general understanding of the mission; to bring Israel forward. But there is a creeping little 2nd thought about this in v.4--”But I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the Lord, and my reward with my God.”
That second thought of the servant really hits home with me. God has knowledge of all our capabilities to serve—to serve humankind, to serve him, to serve the church. This is an incredibly overwhelming prospect for me, given the fact my ability to perceive this capability is very limited. Because of things like my “anger at my own frustration” and my “failure to commend the faith within us” (to borrow a couple of the “ouch” phrases from the Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitance that always hit home with me), I catch myself spinning my wheels. I become distracted. I get bound up in details at times. I get bound up in my own anger. I get tied up with all the “jobs” this servant juggles, I feel poked, prodded, pulled in many directions. I feel incapable and unworthy of God’s love and his confidence in me.
The scary part is: How does God answer the servant’s 2nd thoughts? He sticks yet ANOTHER job on him. “Hey, not only are you going to raise Israel up, you’re going to be a testament to my powers of salvation.” AAAAGH!
That is just a glimpse, to me, of how Christ must have felt as he came into his awareness of “who he was”. He had to have wanted to run screaming in the other direction. There are plenty of times I feel trapped in something I’m not big enough to handle. I feel I have no clue on which way to turn, and it's all I can do not to bolt from the scene.
I often feel I’ve been handed a mess with my various issues in day-to-day life. A mess that if I don’t exactly handle everything right, that it will become a morass, and I will become a failure.
I wonder how many times Christ felt the same way.
49: 8-13 God Explains His Power
In this section, God reminds the servant that he has “kept” him—been with him, has answered his calls in the past—and that his power is mighty. He reminds the servant of his compassion for his people.
There are parts of my heart that know God has truly delivered me from my own distress in the past. There are plenty reasons why I should not be where I am now. Most children from drunken, abusive family situations do not get out—they just perpetuate the downward spiral. But I truly believe God heard my childhood call from the darkness of a tool shed, when I cried out, “There has to be something better than this--I don’t want to live like this forever.” In my heart of hearts, I believe God heard my lament, and in response, over many years, he put several people (and animals!) in my path who had no reason to take me to a different place, but did.
The problem, of course, is survivor guilt and PTSD. I really do, in some ways, feel I was delivered from darkness to light. Yet I find myself unable to stand in the light for any length of time without those creeping things that “hook” the dark painful parts of me and drag me toward that pit of my own despair. Rather than tend to the wounded parts of me that live in that pit, I spent many years just working on avoiding the pit. I have now reached a point in my life where I have to tend to and actually nurture some of the things in that pit if I plan on moving to the “next place” in my life. That is incredibly hard. But perhaps it helps to be reminded that God HAS successfully delivered me in the past.
49:14-26: God and the Servant Have a Chat
The servant cries out that he’s been faithful to God. In v. 16, he says “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands...” This is part of why Jews lay Tefillin, those little prayer scrolls, on their arms and head in their morning prayers. It’s why two of my three tattoos have religious significance. Sometimes, it is the outward “branding” of us that reminds us of our being bound together with God—things as simple as jewelry or clothing or whatnot. But I detect a little of the servant feeling like “I’ve been true to you, and you’ve placed this impossible task before me. WHY?”
In vv. 19-21, God points out that the servant has borne fruit (these “children”) even in the time of his bereavement. The servant is kind of like, “Whoa, where did these come from? How could these have been born in the darkest times of my life? I didn't even know about them.” But God is pointing out that the servant’s faithfulness has not been ignored. These children draw near to the servant. God promises his protection, to really be “a very present help in time of trouble”, so to speak.
I know that feeling. That feeling of being humbled by one of my own unknown or secret good deeds. To see a “child” I did not even know I had borne. That surprise when someone thought a great deal of a kindness I didn’t even think at the time was anything “out of the ordinary.” These “children” come to us to remind us, again, that God has not ignored us and loves us.
So that’s what I came up for on “week 1” of my assignment!
Well, now that I know what my Lenten game plan is (see my earlier post, "Lent's coming; look busy") it sounds odd but I am kind of looking forward to starting it.