e diel, 17 qershor 2007

Isaiah Chapter 1 - The Growl and Grace of God

Today, I realized I am “not” a teacher. When I study the scriptures for a lesson, I find it really easy and enjoyable to write down what looks like sermons but very difficult to “figure out” how in the world to engage a group of people in a classroom setting.

I have been studying Isaiah chapter 1. I have tried to focus on the issue of “true worship” but quite honestly I found it easier to do that when studying Amos. I did realize that when you ask people why they go to church you will get countless different and even sometimes complex answers.

However, I believe if you ask Isaiah, he would say people went to the temple to “appear before the Lord.” Isaiah identifies what is lacking in Israel’s approach to worship. For them- worship was religious duty- a formality. There was a disconnect between their worship, prayers and offerings and their lives- the minute they walked out the door- To me, Amos speaks to this subject very clearly so I don’t feel like getting to in depth with that issue here. What I did see in the first chapter of Isaiah that I did not see in my recent study of Amos was a “call for repentance.” That is not a subject we talk about too often in my denomination.

Isaiah pleads passionately with the people (like a parent to a child.) He pleads them to stop that self destructive and unproductive lifestyle of worship. Instead of perpetuating a world of violence, Isaiah proposes a vision that demands another reality- a reality that requires doing good, seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow. Once again, I see another voice of old telling the people/ telling us--- that worship/prayer/offerings alone are not enough to please God. I am reminded of Amos saying to the people- I gave you hungry stomachs but you did not “return to me.” It is revealing to me that we must begin to realize the acts of social justice are not separate from our “relationship” with God. The scripture in Isaiah calls for us to “wash ourselves.” Our hands are full of blood.

Does that mean that people could make themselves righteous by performing certain acts?? Or is it saying that we “earn salvation” ?? No not all –but it is saying-- how we choose to respond to God’s gift or grace carries tremendous responsibility. The call here is in “plural imperatives.”

Imagine a community of faith devoid of worship or any liturgical practice—Imagine an individual Christian who never prays – inconceivable…..or is it?

Verse 13- worship is meaningless- and God detests it. Worship needs to be from the inside out- It must flow out-Worship that is external and not internal is not acceptable but also if it is internal and not external it is also not acceptable.

The call was to worship from the heart and to do social justice as a true fast – God requires it. True worship of God is a faithful response to our God- a God who seeks justice, that rescues the oppressed, defends the orphan and pleads for the widow. How can you move to a new town and go from church to church to find a “good worship” service – a new church-- and walk right by the homeless man begging or forget about the elderly widow you now live next door to—How? Why?

Authentic worship of God is a response in all of life that reflects a concern for others in ways that God is concerned for them. As Christians we have a huge RESPONSIBILITY toward God and OTHERS. It is not cheap grace and as Bonhoeffer reminds us- Discipleship—Following Christ is costly also. It is not easy to live a life of “true worship.”

The message in Isaiah chapter 1 is really twofold. There is more to serving God than fulfilling the correct religious duty – worship is not a ritual to be performed correctly but an all encompassing lifestyle that expresses God’s own self revelation. It is praying a prayer to God of-- help me to cry over the things that make you cry and anger at the things that anger you, O God- and then- acting on this prayer- acting on it with the love of the all-loving God.

It is clear in these scriptures. The directives have been given us-- we have a true north. Isaiah outlines what we must do: We Must repent (verse 16) wash ourselves- turn from our neglect of acts of social justice) and verses16-17 cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow!

It is spelled out for us.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said in Letters and papers from Prison, “The church is the church only when it exists for others.” Any emphasis on grace that does not deal with the theological dimension of transformation to which that grace calls us is not the full message of Isaiah and not the full message of the Gospel.

Someone once said that if you took out all the passages of the Bible that spoke of the necessity to do acts of social justice or care for the poor you would simply be left with a small leaflet or pamphlet.

It is the very premise on which our Lord Jesus’ entire ministry was based.

Religious people often seem to be content with their religion and non-religious people think religion is irrelevant. Both- often seem to be able to compartmentalize morality and ethics as belief systems from how they live their lives day to day. Isaiah’s message says that the two are woven together- it is impossible to have the type of relationship with God to which we are called and impossible to avoid the Growl of God if we separate the two.

You see to me, this scripture shows the Growl of God. In CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, God is represented by the Lion, Aslyum and if memory serves me correctly-we are reminded He is “not a tame lion but He is Good.” We are also told when he does not like something “God Growls and the Earth shakes.”

I’m also reminded of a Nichole Nordeman song – the chorus repeatedly tells us, “Let us not forget to tremble.”

The Growl of Isaiah is directed toward Israel and of course it is followed with Grace—“though your sins are like scarlet they shall be like snow.”

What was missing for them- could have been the fear of the Lord.

We too must listen for the Growl of God- and respond- lest we be held accountable – (verse 20).

Through Isaiah – I see us being called to a triangular reformation – reform in three areas- attitude toward the divine God, change in how we live – ourselves- and lastly the care for our neighbors.

Prayer without ethics can silence the most eloquent of religious prayers-“Even though you make many prayers I will not listen….”

Come my friends---let us worship together-

Micah 6:8
“He has shown you, O man, what is good
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

4 komente:

divinitymonster tha...

Amen, woman!

joy tha...

I didn't know you were reading! Thanks for the comment. It's been too long- let's try to get together this year~

Jan tha...

Amen, so be it; thanks be to God.

Alex tha...

that was pretty much awesome. i just came across this through an Isaiah search and it was an amazing supplement to my current study in Isaiah :)
Ephesians 5:1-2