Showing posts from January, 2013

A Place Called "Home"

Click here to read Isaiah 24

The other evening Stephen Colbert did a commentary on Global Warming.  I encourage you to watch it.  Not only for the comic...albeit sarcastic commentary....on how politicians are responding to the threat of the extreme heat in Australia, the fate of polar ice caps, and the increasing Carbon Dioxide.  But because I think Colbert offers a good challenge.

I am not scientist.  I know facts can be twisted in different directions until they are barely recognized as "fact" anymore.  I know people with all sorts of intentions...good and bad...have a tendency to do this. You can over state facts to try to motivate people to change, because unless there is urgency change is a slooooooooow process.  I also know you can under sell a fact, banking on the fact that change is a sloooooooow process.

I know that I am not going to start riding my bike to work...right least.  I also know that there are things I can do.  I know there might be people readi…

Say What??

Click here to read Isaiah 23

You might be wondering, what in the world does the above picture and Isaiah 23 have to do with each other?  It all starts with the first verse, "Wail, you ships of Tarshish."  Tarshish was the place Jonah fled to instead of going to Nineveh.  God had told Jonah to bring God's word to the people of Nineveh, which was just to the north of where Jonah lived.  But Jonah loathed...I mean loathed....the people of Nineveh.  And so, Jonah hopped on the first ship head west...not exactly the opposite direction...but certainly not the right direction either.  The ship Jonah found himself on was heading to Tarshish.

Usually, when I think about Jonah, I think about fleeing from where God is calling me, going in a different direction.  But there is also something about humans that loves, to use the cliche, "think the grass is greener on the other side."  Tarshish is the other side.  It is that job in the paper that would be so much better than …

Finding our Inner-Santa

Click here to read Isaiah 22

Up on the rooftop, we did pause,
Hoping that God would hear our cause.
But what happens when things don't work out,
Do we find ourselves wanting to shout?

So, in the last post, I encouraged you to find sometime today to get to the watchtower, to change your perspective, or as Isaiah 22 puts it, "go to the rooftop".  I think sometimes religion can become too formulaic.  If I say, "Go to the watchtower," the expectation might be that certainly God is going to meet you there, maybe even be waiting for you.  I think one reason why we give up on prayer, and some have given up on church, so quickly is because we have some lofty ideals (pun intended) about what the church, God, and religion should (or maybe ought?) to do for us.  And by the way, we are a bit busy, so if there is a drive-thru window in the watchtower/rooftop that would be great!

Twenty-two chapters into Isaiah and he is still droning on and on about the destruction of this …

A Different Point of View

Click here to read Isaiah 21

In this passage Isaiah gives us the image of him taking a post in a watchtower where he can see who is coming.  Watchtowers are about changing our perspective, getting above the things that block our view, being able to scan the horizon and see further.  Most of us don't have many watchtower moments in our lives.  Most of the time in the midst of life's journey, I don't see the proverbial forest for the trees.  The trees tower above my head, they clutter my ability to see, and if I am not careful I can run smack dab into one
I am reminded of a prayer by Thomas Merton,  "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end." That prayer summarizes the way I feel on certain days in my life.  The image of finding the space in my life to get a clear view is not easy.  Most of the time, my busyness can cause life around me to be blurry.  And even if I have a few fle…

Beautiful feet

Click here to read Isaiah 20
Click here to read Isaiah 52

I know Isaiah 52 is leaping ahead and is completely out of order.  I apologize to those reading this blog who prefer things orderly.  But I wanted to make a connection within Isaiah and his foot fetish.

For most of us, we don't talk about feet, we don't mention our feet, we do our best to avert our eyes at the beach, pool, and when we walk past that nail place in the mall.  And if seeing feet sends a shutter down our spine, you can only imagine what happens when we have to touch another person's foot.  And so we put socks on our feet, shoes, we cover them up and hide our feet.  I think our aversion  to all things foot related leads to a disconnect between our faith.  After all most of our churches today can hardly imagine engaging in a foot washing ceremony as Jesus did at the Last Supper.  So far, twelve years into ministry, and I have only been able to pull off one foot washing ritual on Maundy Thursday.  We don&#…

Do We See Ourselves?

Click here to read Isaiah 19

So we know Egypt and Israel have a history that is...let's just say is complicated.  I mean there is the whole indentured servitude in the book of Exodus.  Where Moses has to come in and lead the people across the Red Sea and into wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  During which people complained and wanted to go back to know where they were in servitude.  There is more that needs to be said about that some time when dwelling in the book of Exodus.

But Isaiah offers a prophecy against Egypt.  What really gets me about this chapter is verse 2, where brother rises against brother, neighbor against neighbor, and city against city.  I hear those words and make a connection to today in our world.  In our contentious political environment, family member is against family member, neighbor against neighbor, and a red state sits next to a blue state.  We feel that division and divisiveness in ways that seems to eat away at our very soul as…

Silent God

Click here to read Isaiah 18

When you belong to a denomination that has spend creative time and energy in trying to communicate the message that "God is still speaking" today in our lives, in our churches, and in our world; verse 4 comes a little bit of a shock.  Whatta mean God is silent?

Sure, I know that in 1 Kings 19:9-13 that when God appeared to Elijah, God did not come in the form of a blazing, hot fire or a wind storm more powerful than the one that swept through Wisconsin last week bringing with it a cold that chills you to the bones.  To Elijah, God whispered...or as some versions say God came out of, "a still small silence".  But at least that is still some way.

Yet, think of it this way, silence is still communicating.  When you give your spouse the cold shoulder or refuse to respond to a hurtful comment or don't reply to a text or email, in someways you are still trying to communicate.  But in a world saturated with words, our silenc…


Click here to read Isaiah 17

Have you ever forgotten something?  No, that is not a rhetorical question.  While I have never pulled away from a gas pump with the nozzle still attached to my car, there are plenty of times and places I have forgotten to do, say, or complete something I promised someone I would do.  So, when Isaiah in verse 10 says, "You have forgotten God...Your rock," those words echo across the centuries and I slouch down in my chair.

Honestly, I may not be from Damascus, but there are moments I forget God.  I get wrapped up in my own agenda and I think that God has to keep up with me.  I am reminded of what the Reformer Martin Luther said, "I am so busy now...that if I did not spend three hours in prayer I would never get through the day."

Now, I realize most of us are not going to spend three hours in hour would be a HUGE stretch. So how about three minutes?  If you start with three minutes now and add one minute each day, by the end…

Who are the Moabites??

Click here to read Isaiah 16

Chapter 16 continues the theme from Isaiah 15, God's concern for the Moabites.  We might wonder why?  One response to that question comes from the Book of Ruth.  If you have never read this book, click on the link in the previous sentence.  Go ahead, I will wait.

Okay, maybe trying to go through Isaiah is enough, so let me give you a quick overview.  There was a woman Naomi.  She was a good Jewish woman who lived in Bethlehem (which means "House of Bread"), only at that time ironically enough, there was NO bread at all...there was a drought and a famine.  So Naomi and her family packed up the family camels and moved to Moab, which is east of the Promised Land, on the other side of the Dead Sea.  Now, the Moabites were not exactly seen as the most upright or righteous people.  In fact, most Jewish people looked down on them.  There is a connection to Samaritans in the time of Jesus here.  The Moabites were seen as people of ill-repute and of l…

Empty Nets (sermon from January 20th)

Click here to read Luke 5:1-11 I know what it is like to fish all day and catch nothing, nada, and zip.I remember growing up my dad took me one Saturday morning at a river nearby our house.It was bright sunny day.My dad had just read in a magazine that fish really like whole kernel corn, so we brought with us a can of uncooked corn.We spent hours, let me emphasize hours that day, on the bank of the river trying to catch fish.I was so bored at one point I decided to try the uncooked corn, just to see if perhaps I might gain some kind of intellectual advantage over the fish.Okay, honestly, I tried it because I was getting hungry.It made me realize why the fish were swimming past. At some point, we decided to call it a day. Like Simon in our lesson today, we left the river banks with half a can of corn and no fish.
Now, remember Simon and Jesus had already met before in Luke’s gospel.Jesus had come to Simon’s house, cured his mother-in-law of a fever, and they had enjoyed a meal together.T…

Expect the Unexpected

Click here to read Isaiah 15
After Isaiah 14, I know what is coming.  After Isaiah's gloom and doom sermon on Babylon, I just don't think Moab is going to fair any better.  But then, as is often the case with God, things get turned upside down and inside out.  All of the sudden Moab's destruction is not reason to gloat, but to grieve.  People shave head and put on sack clothes (this was a sign repentance, see Jonah 3, something to consider with Lent coming up...just saying).  The people wept and cried out.  This is what the People of God will do in Babylon, they will sit there and weep (see picture above).  
And God in response says God's own heart cries with them.  Not that this should amaze us too much.  God has often had concern for the stranger and foreigner in our midst, see Deuteronomy 10:18.  It is easy sometimes to forget this, especially in Isaiah where there are often violent scenes.  
It becomes trite or cliche to talk about expecting the unexpected.  After …

What Do You Make of This??

Click here to read Isaiah 14
Okay, so I am good for the first verse.  The image of Israel and other nations coming together, it is all so "love your enemies" that Jesus taught us.  But then it turns out not to be so kum ba yah, when the People of God end up oppressing the very people who oppressed them.  This seems to contradict what we read when Jesus tells his disciples (and us today who follow him) to love your enemies.
In some ways Isaiah 14 even feels like gloating.  I was raised in the Midwest where gloating was not just frowned upon, it could get you in trouble.  I remember my brother lost his dessert for a week for gloating after he and his friends won a kickball game against me and my friends.  Talk about sending a powerful message about gloating!  
So, I will be honest, that I don't have some magical formula to make sense of this.  Like many of the previous passages, it is a reality of what we do as humans.  When suddenly the shoe is on the other foot from some…

Ode to Babylon

Click here to read Isaiah 13
Isaiah follows up his song of praise sung in a major key, with a song of despair sung in a minor key.  Isaiah starts off with the image of a bare hill.  Back in Isaiah 2, the hill of God was where all nations would stream toward.  In contrast, the hill of Babylon is bare.  Again, such a prophecy in the time of Isaiah might have elicited an honest response from most, "Humph, That'll be the day!"  Look at all that property Babylon has.  It covers at least six modern days countries.  That is a lot.  And here comes Isaiah, who has been all doom and gloom at the prospects of Israel against the new Goliath known as Babylon, and all of the sudden his tune has changed.  He sings that this huge real estate will become but a bare hill.  
I have to confess that after that first line, the rest is hard to read.  The violence is saddening given how much violence I see on TV, given the recent tragedy in Sandy Hook, given the debate on guns that is going pra…

Sing Out with Gusto

Click here to read Isaiah 12

Okay, I know what you were expecting, because I was expecting it too.  Every time previously when Isaiah had given us a sign of hope and soaring words of what living in God's presence would mean, the very next chapter would come crashing down to earth with painfully realistic words.  But this time, Isaiah does not do that.  Instead he offers a hymn of praise and celebration.

The first part of the hymn acknowledges that it has not always been smooth sailing and chocolate rivers.  The first verse suggests that God was angry and disappointed.  Often times the ways Christian's picture God is either as a being who is angry at us all the time for all the rotten stuff we do.  Or God as someone who is willing to over look all that bad stuff for the sake of love.  I usually have tended to lean toward the latter understanding.  But I am wondering if there is a messy middle place in-between the two sides.  It is not that I need to have God feel disappointed …

A Branch??

Dear friends, my sincere apologies for falling behind in posts this week.  Please check back later today for additional posts as I catch up.  Thank you for your understanding!

Click here to read Isaiah 11

This chapter reminds me why I find Isaiah so compelling and why his vision captures my heart.  After several chapters where I find my shoulders slouching and starting to wonder, "Why bother?"  Isaiah reminds me why I bother.  I bother because the God we worship and who moves in our lives takes a stump and causes new growth.  Most of the time when we see a stump, a tree that has been cut off, we see only death and destruction.  To be honest, it is difficult to see a small shoot of green life giving much hope.  After all, that growth coming out of the stump in the picture above would only need a quick snip of the pruning sheers.  Whereas to cut down the tree took time and energy and more than likely a chain saw.  Often times a little growth does not really impress us that much…

Know the Laws

Click here to read Isaiah 10
I read Isaiah 10 and I feel a bit like my friend Wiley E Coyote chasing the Road Runner to the edge of a cliff, where the Road Runner pulls up short of going over but Wiley is unable to stop. He is suspended in mid-air for few seconds before plummeting to the ground.  I knew it was coming in every episode, but still to see it made you sympathetic.  And that is the way I feel for the people Isaiah preached to.  I knew this time was coming when things were going to fall apart and thinks would fall apart.  The handwriting was on the wall...or in the first 9 chapters we have looked at.
Isaiah continually says that when we cease to care about the poor there is a break down in our relationship with God.  I have a tendency to make faith complex, question and diligently search for places of tension and contradictions.  And I don't have to search long.  But then there are also moments when the good news of the Gospel comes through with the crystal clarity of li…

Roller Coaster Scriptures

Click here to read Isaiah 9

I am just going to be up-front that I don't like roller coasters.  The whooshing and twirling and twisting sets my head spinning and stomach asking honestly, "Why God?  Make it stop!"  This passage starts off with such hope for those who feel like they dwell in darkness and feel like the light has been extinguished.  I even understand the images about battle given that a few chapters earlier how the North tried to over take Jerusalem.  When you get to the passage that comes with the hope of a child who will be called, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace," and the thrill of hope comes swooshing in with such a force I feel the wind in my hair and my stomach does somersaults of joy.

But then...oh then...comes the upside down loop de loops.  After the stirring and soaring language of hope comes this crushing language of destruction.  While this is very difficult to read, I also know that life can someti…

And You Thought Names Today Were Strange

Click here to read Isaiah 8

So, we now meet Isaiah's second son whose name is not Immanuel, but Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.  And you thought people came up with strange names and spellings today.  His son's name means "quick to plunder and swift to spoil."  The name becomes a prophecy about what will happen to Judah and Jerusalem.  And in case we did not get that from the name, the rest of Isaiah 8 tells you that things are going to get bad, really bad.  Water is going to spill over the banks, hear in that images of Noah's Ark or even Genesis 1, when in the beginning it was God and the watery surging and slurping chaos hanging out together. Until God's Spirit surfed and sang out and creation sprung forth.  So, it make sense in times of brokenness to point out that even in Genesis 1 the watery chaos was never completely controlled.  Of course, we know that all too well as images from Super Storm Sandy continue to be broadcast on the news.

Even as the people try to …

How does God overcome divisions?

Click here to read Isaiah 7

On the surface this passage feels pretty ho-hum.  Sure, there is verse 14 about a young woman (which is a more preferable translation of the Hebrew) who will bear a child and the child will be named Immanuel (a name that means 'God is with us').  In these weeks after Christmas that is familiar to us and maybe we even heard this passage at the Christmas Eve service. Matthew in his narrative of Jesus birth actually quotes that verse.  What Isaiah is saying is that the birth is a sign.  But what is interesting to me is the way in which Isaiah names this birth as a sign.

In verse 1, we have a very short history lesson.  Israel (remember is the Northern Kingdom of the Promised Land) makes a political alliance with the nation of Aram, together they go into Jerusalem (the holy city) and try to over throw it.  Essentially, it would be like Wisconsin pairing up with Canada and trying to overtake Washington D.C.  The Promised Land was deeply divided in the ti…

Worship Isaiah Style

Click here to read Isaiah 6

Each time I read this passage it makes me think of two of my favorite hymns: "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Here I Am, Lord".  Both hymns are based on this passage.  "Holy, Holy, Holy" invites us to join with the seraphim in singing out to God. "Here I am," is based on Isaiah's response to God's presence. Many of the prophetic books begin with the prophet encountering God in the first chapter. Here we are, already in the 6th chapter and the Word of God has already come to Isaiah on other occasions (see chapter 1-3).  Yet, when Isaiah is in the temple it is more than just a word from God.  Rather, what Isaiah experiences is an encounter with God. God present in a way that causes him to wonder about his calling as a prophet.  Hence the comment about being a man of unclean lips.  This causes one of the seraphim to bring over a hot coal to touch his lips.  To which I say, "Ouch!"  Within the Bible there are two…

When Grapes Go Bad

Click here to read Isaiah 5

Isaiah begins this chapter with a parable of a vineyard owner.  If that sounds familiar, it might be because Jesus told three parables that were set in a vineyard: Matthew 20 is the parable of a vineyard own who hires workers throughout the day but in the end pays all the workers the same amount causing no small amount of grumbling from those who worked all day.  Matthew 21:28 is about two sons who are told to go out and work in the vineyard - one says yes but does not go; the others says no but does go - and the question is, who was faithful?  Matthew 21:33 echoes the parable we have in Isaiah, where a landowner plants the vineyard, builds a tower and then goes away leaving it in the hands of tenants, who eventually try to take over the vineyard and become as Isaiah calls them, bad grapes.

Isaiah tells us he is going to sing a love song and it starts out in a way that would make Michael Buble smile.  The owner of the vineyard does everything possible to ma…

A Remnant

Click here to read Isaiah 4
This is a short chapter in Isaiah but still significant.  Yet, much like the hope of Isaiah 2 balanced out the brokenness of Isaiah 1, Isaiah 4 balances out the pain of Isaiah 3.  We start to see a rhythm that is reminiscent of Charles Dicken's beginning line in A Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  For Isaiah that was true.  Isaiah lived at a time when the kingdom had been divided in half.  There was a Northern Kingdom called Israel and a Southern Kingdom called Judah.  We know all too well today what can happen living in a place that is suppose to be "United" but is divided.  We hear constantly about 'red states' and 'blue states'.  We see our Congressional leaders caught in a vicious and seemingly endless cycle of partisan politics.  We know what it is like to live in a divided put it quite simply, it hurts.  We want better.  
Eventually, the Northern Kingdom will b…

Just when you thought it was safe

Click here to read Isaiah 3

Just when the hope of Isaiah 2 starts to swell within us, Isaiah 3 lands with all the grace of an elephant in our laps.  Isaiah writes about God judging us, taking our food and water, oppression, and brokenness.  You can hear the thud with each passing verse and by the end I echo the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "Good grief!  Why in the world am I reading this again?"
Reading Isaiah 3 gets me thinking about my images of God.  What do you imagine when those three letters sit down or spill forth from our lips on Sunday morning?  What does God look like?  Do you picture the ubiquitous God of the Sistine Chapel with the wind swept white hair and the beard and the flowing robe?  Maybe God in your mind is more like Jesus' description in Matthew 23:37, where the sacred is like a hen gathering her children under her wing.  Maybe God for you transcends human gender.  Maybe the bigger question is not about a picture of God, but how is it that God ac…
Click here to read Isaiah 2

If Isaiah 1 shines a light on places where our relationship with God has broken down and invites us into a conversation or an engaged dialogue with God, then Isaiah 2 is the rationale and hope for such a conversation.  The truth is because Isaiah 1 is so in-your-face honest, it might be easy to feel a bit glum after reading it.  The deeper truth is that it is quite easy to get discouraged, especially now.  The holidays are over, Christmas has come and gone, it is a new year and yet it seems like some of the problems we thought would get left behind when we put up the new calendar followed us right into 2013.  For us living in the upper Midwest we know the truth of what it means to live in the midst of the "Bleak Midwinter" and that midwinter lingers...and lingers...and lingers sometimes longer than what we want.  And so, when Isaiah shines a light on the brokenness of our connections with God, I get why sometimes people want to throw their hands u…
Click here to read Isaiah 1
Okay, so maybe Isaiah does not have the most optimistic opening to his book in the Bible. He is a bit on the deary side. He is a bit like some person giving a gloom and doom sermon on the street that causes you to avert your eyes, study the sidewalk and pick up the pace to get past.  Somewhere around verse 6 with talk of sores that won't heal maybe you started wondering, why?  And then the whole city goes up in flames and you wonder about my sanity in wanting to comment about this book.  
I will be honest that the first time I read this Isaiah did not seem like the sort of warm, cozy slipper-like faith I often yearn for to comfort me in these difficult times.  Yet, I think that is the point.  Isaiah says that something is broken in our relationship with God.  We don't like to hear that, but I know there is truth in that sentence.  I cannot pretend that just because I post this blog or say a quick prayer or go to church on Sunday that I have somehow …