Sunday, March 24, 2013

Isaiah Isn't Writing About Jesus, and This Is Truly Good News

What follows is the final draft of a sermon I wrote on Isaiah 42: 1-7, the Hebrew Bible reading for Monday of Holy Week in the Catholic lectionary we use on weekdays at Saint Peter's (no daily Lutheran lectionary is published).  Thanks so much for everyone's initial input, and I'd love to hear more.

I want to begin with two simple assertions: First, that the author of Isaiah 42 wasn’t writing about Jesus and second, that this is very Good News. I’ll explain in a moment, but let me first give some context. For far too long much of the Church, especially during Holy Week, has talked about an angry, vengeful god… a god that wants to hurt us, to kill us, to throw us into hell, whatever that is … a god that wants to tear us apart. The only reason this vengeful god doesn’t do all these horrible things to us, we’ve been told, is because in its “mercy,” god brings the divine hammer down on Jesus instead. Jesus quenches God’s appetite for punishment. Well, I declare to you this day my sisters and brothers that anyone who tells you about this sort of god simply has no idea what’s really going on.

This notion of an angry, vengeful sort of god is nothing more than a false idol, a golden calf built of human piety, human pride and human tradition that unfortunately much of the Church has been propping up for centuries. It’s a god of past and future… only of past and future. It has no present; it has no ‘now.’ We’re told that in the distant past this is a god that led the Israelites through the wilderness, only to later on kill his son instead of us. Then, sometime in the future, after any number of raptures and tribulations, we’re told this god will judge us, throwing most into a volcano sort of place and selecting a fortunate few ‘Leave It to Beaver types’ to sing in a celestial choir for all of eternity. Once again my sisters and brothers, anyone who tells you about this sort of god, has absolutely no idea what’s really going on for the writers of Isaiah, for Jesus and the disciples OR for us. Such a god is nothing more than a false idol crafted by human hands.

So now, let’s let the words of Isaiah 42 tell us who and how God truly is. The book of Isaiah has at least three distinct parts, written in three radically different times. Today’s reading comes from the second part, often called Second Isaiah, and was written in a time of immense hope, right near the end of the Babylonian captivity of the people of Judah. After decades of exile, the Jewish elite were expectantly waiting for their Babylonian captors to be conquered in turn by an advancing Persian army, led by Cyrus the Great. The writer of second Isaiah asserts that God is working through the Persian army, through Cyrus the Great, to redeem and free the people of Israel... Cyrus the Great is in fact called a messiah! In these particular verses, the servant that Isaiah writes of is not an individual at all but a group of people, his fellow exiles to be precise… God will fulfill God’s covenant with the people of Israel by once again freeing them to bear justice, to be a light to the nations and to by their example liberate all those who are oppressed; all those imprisoned in darkness. This God, my sisters and brothers, this God of compassion and liberation, this God of justice, forgiveness and love, this God not just of past and future but this God of right now is who God truly is. And later, in Christ’s resurrection, in Christ’s triumph over the sin of the cross, the ultimately evil act of humanity killing God, God shows not just the people of Israel but all of us that the powers of oppression and hate, that the powers of sin and death can never win. This God, this God acting right now liberating us, loving us, is who God truly is and always has been for the writers of Isaiah, for Jesus and the disciples AND for us today.
Dustin is currently a vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan, having recently completed his second year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice building in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

No comments:

Post a Comment