Isaiah 29:13-24 – Gladness Guaranteed
A man, walking alone, falls over a cliff and manages to grab hold of a shrub leaving him dangling precariously over a steep drop and the shrub is uprooting slowly.
Desperate he cries out in prayer for the first time in his life. ‘If there’s anybody up there please have mercy on me.’
To his great surprise he hears a booming voice. ‘I am glad you have decided to trust me after all these years. Thank you. Let go of the bush and I will bear you safely down.’
After a moment the man shouts ‘Is there anybody else up there?’
It is the time of year when we invite each other to look at our commitment to God and God’s church. This corresponds to our setting a budget for next year so it has a financial aspect but this year I am not going to preach about money. God has blessed this church with generous people and the opportunity to invest in a new ministry project.
Jenny and I have sent everyone on the mailing list a letter about money and invite you to make your commitment offering next week. If, having decided and costed our next ministry project, we need more we will have a gift day.
In our series on Isaiah we reach chapter 29 and I have called this sermon ‘Gladness Guaranteed’.
The OT prophet Isaiah served several kings. Isaiah is a voice with the ear of the king, a counsellor. Yet also one with the word of the Lord on his lips.
One of the meanings of the world ‘ordained’ is ‘set aside for a particular purpose’. Isaiah was ordained to speak truth to power.
But let’s go back a bit further.
During the period of living in Egypt God’s people began to develop their special identity. The amazing account of the Exodus is the story that they hung on to for the next 1300 years. God has heard the cry of his people and set them free.
And it would be true to say that from then on, through the period of the judges and into the time of the monarchy under Saul, David, Solomon and so on, God’s people served God with gratitude and some certainty because of what they remembered he had done.
First this was the twelve tribes of Israel and then a division into northern and southern kingdoms (ten tribes and two).
As we reach the end of the eighth century BCE we find a people asking this question. ‘What have we done to have our God allow us to be split and defeated?’
Through a series of kings that the Jews own literature (our Old Testament) describe as good or evil (no grey) we see this question. We lost. We must have been disobedient. We won. God is with us.
And also creating various alliances for protection. Alliances that come and go. At the time of this oracle (a section of a prophetic book aimed at one situation) the alliance is with Egypt.
Throughout the Old Testament the two different strands of editor – called Priestly and Deuteronomic, P and D – differ in their views as to whether Israel should dabble with foreign powers in alliance or have nothing to do with them. Hmm. Two strands of opinion about whether an alliance is a good thing or a bad thing. Heard that before?
As Isaiah develops from 8th-7th century BCE we find the first inkling of the need for a theology of failure. Perhaps God is not in the results business after all. Perhaps you can be obedient to God and still lose a war.
Which point jumps 2,500 years and speaks to anyone who asks what they have done to deserve this (whatever ‘this’ is for them).
When you go through bad times, testing times, illness times, bereavement times your situation is not turned round by finding the right thing for which to repent.
And, of course, we live in at a time when alliances which have been in place for many years are being re-examined – the European Union? The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Do we elect leaders with this view on our unions or that? Approach with prayer brothers and sisters.
That was one of my now infamous long introductions. let us look specifically at vv13-24 in three parts:
13-16 – subverting of reason.
Clay speaking to potter (v16).
17-21 – coming world renewal
God’ place, sovereignty and reason may not have been acknowledged but that does not make them go away. There’s no-one else up there.
22-24 – changed fortune
The God of Abraham is re-sought and re-source. Holiness is wanted. Through the prophet God’s response to people being bad is not that they should be good but that they should be holy because he is (v23).
Reminds us of ultimate truth, reality and power.
A woman faces a judge who has sentenced her son to death. ‘For pities sake have mercy’ she says. The judge replies ‘He is guilty. He deserves no mercy.’
‘I know’ she says. ‘If he did, that would be justice not mercy. Have mercy on me.’
We do not deserve mercy. It is undeserved. It is grace; God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. And it will survive political intrigue, personal disaster and the movement of history.
This passage has nothing for us about possible triumph or calamity of the next few years for our country. It has everything for us about our priorities in the midst and how our spirit of generosity is to be stirred up.
There’s nobody else up there. Trust in God. Believe only in God. God will accompany you and this lovely little church that has been brought through much, into the next phase.
Friends. Be holy through whatever turbulence comes next. To give the last word to Maximus Decimus Meridius, Russell Crowe’s character in the film Gladiator. ‘I don’t know what’s going to come through that door but whatever it is we will do better if we face it together.’
Let us commit to that.