Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 8 - An Invitation to Hope

The commemoration of William Dwight Porter Bliss and Richard Theodore Ely

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
-- Isaiah 61:1-4

Many passages of scripture speak of God raining down punishment on disobedient people, individuals, families, tribes or nations. Depending on one's church's emphasis and theology, those might be passages that are heard often -- or almost never. Some relish those passages, particularly in times of uncertainty or disaster. It is proof to them that God is enraged at something and it's all the fault of those who are now experiencing whatever uncertainty or disaster that is going on at the time. Of course, if it happens to be themselves who are suffering, well, then it's God's test of faith and prayers go up for the strength to pass that test. It's all in how you look at the situation.

While it is necessary to look at the tough passages from time to time, it's always a relief to look at one that speaks of hope, reconciliation and restoration, especially in times of stress, anxiety or fear. Whether one is living in the ruins of a city destroyed by flood or earthquake, through a personal medical problem, a family crisis or the economic crisis of country and its trickle-down effect on individuals and families, there are definitely times when Isaiah's words are needed as a reminder of what God seems to have in mind.

Something I noticed about Isaiah's words, though-- they are not spoken to those who have much but rather to those who have little. The words don't speak to the status quo or those who espouse a theology of limited resources and who are busily accumulating their own wealth and security while trying hard to fend of any attempt to even the playing field with those who have less and actually need more. There are no words here saying it is okay to look out for oneself and let the other guy take care of him/herself. When Isaiah speaks of "the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God," the vengeance will be on those who have laid the burdens, not on those who bear them.

There is one other thing about Isaiah's words. To me, it feels like they are not just words about what God has in mind or will do, but it is also an invitation for those hearing the words to participate in bringing all this about. If we all just waited for God to swoop down and, in the blink of an eye, right all the wrongs, we would have learned nothing except that we have no responsibility in the matter; we can and do make a mess and then someone else has the job of cleaning it up, including God. But is that the way it is supposed to be? Is that what we teach our children to do or do we inform them that they threw all their toys on the floor and now it is time for them to pick them up and put them away?

They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

God is inviting. What will be our response, individually and collectively?

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Cafe Saturday, October 8, 2011.

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