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Showing posts from February, 2013

Beautiful Feet

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Click here to read Isaiah 52

How beautiful are the feet that bring the news.  What a strange image.  The sound of feet.  Think about that.  The implication of the passage is that how we walk and the sound of our feet can actually tell us a lot.  Our children running down the hall frantically tells us something.  Stomping our feet when angry tells us something.  The silent sliding of feet when trying to sneak out tells us something.

Here is my questions for you...what do feet bringing good news of peace and joy sound like?  What do dancing or joyful feet sound like?

As I write this my daughter is skipping and dancing around the living room.  It brings sounds of rhythm and along with it there is the sound laughter and joy.

Here is another truth: we can hear feet long before we can see who is coming.  I wondering if people of God in exile became astute listeners to the sound of Babylonian feet marching to give more orders?  Could they hear the sound of horses hooves clicking on the rock…

Waking Up

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Click here to read Isaiah 51
Isaiah tells the people to be alert and awake.  Again, remember the people of God are in exile, in a foreign land, their temple lay smoldering in ash, walls in ruins, and things have never seemed that bad.  Wake up...to that?  Really?  
Most of us today struggle with facing the reality around us.  Often we turn to food...or shopping... alcohol...medication...or other addictions to help us be desensitized to the pain.  Brene Brown talks about this in her TED talk.  I encourage you to watch that.
Brene talks about needing to live our lives wholehearted.  That sounds great when life is going well, the lights are on, and laughter comes easy.  But when things get in a slump and things are difficult, we don't always want to wake up.  So, we turn to screen time...we lose ourselves in television or chat rooms...certainly not this blog, but maybe others.
How do we wake up to this world?  And do we want to?  I wonder if the People of God in Isaiah had the same q…

Where did Jesus Get That??

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Click here to read Isaiah 50
There is a hymn inspired by Isaiah 50, "Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see."  While I love that hymn, I don't know how well I live its truth or the truth of Isaiah 50.  I wake up in the morning...groggy...not necessarily considering God's presence.  I usually go to the gym in the morning and start to plot and plan my day...not necessarily considering God's presence.  And so when someone comes in with words of criticism, I am not ready to respond. When I feel the slightest insult, I become sullen and sad.  And sometimes those bad days can extend to bad weeks with my mind lingering over what was said.
Remember, the people are in exile, in a foreign land, and away from home.  Each morning they wake up and are reminded of that painful truth.  Why?  And how long?  These become the unanswerable questions for the People of God Isaiah is preaching to.
And amid people who conquered your l…

In the Bulb a Flower

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Click here to read Isaiah 48
Click here to read Isaiah 49
Isaiah proclaims today that God will not remember the former things.  I do not know if Isaiah is saying God is forgetful or just sees things differently now.  The season of Lent takes place in the weeks leading up to Spring and it is appropriate to listen to the wisdom of God's creation around us to see how it might help us prepare for the joy of Easter.
One of the ways we celebrate Easter is with plants - colorful plants.  But those plants did not just spring forth over night.  Often the bulb was planted in the ground last fall, weathered the harsh winter beneath a blank of snow, and only as the soil temperature rises, does it's tiny green shoot burst forth from the ground (sometimes the snow) with a promise of new life. And when you see the colorful array of tulips starting to come up, I have yet to ever hear someone say, "Oh I remember when that was just a blah bulb.  Do you remember how hard and misshapen that b…

Dust in the Wind

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Click here to read Isaiah 47
Come and sit with me in the dust Isaiah says.  Ahhhh, now that is the Isaiah we have come to know and love over the last forty some chapters.  Enough with these images of comfort and hope.  So much of what I find compelling in Isaiah is his ability to name reality and offer hope.  That is a hard line to walk.  So often, I can slip into cynicism at the brokenness of our world.  Or I find myself almost naively trying to harness the "power of positive thoughts," believing that happiness can be forged or forced.  To see the brokenness for what it is and still say that there is a trace of God's grace, I admire that in Isaiah.
At this point in Isaiah most scholars believe he is writing as one in exile.  The people have been uprooted and transplanted into Babylon and Isaiah along with them.  The walls of their beloved city reduced to rumble, the temple Solomon built is now in smoldering ash, and Isaiah says sit in that ash and find God.
That is not …

What's the Idol with You?

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Click here to read Isaiah 44

Click here to read Isaiah 45

Click here to read Isaiah 46

The next three chapters have the theme of idols, making idols, the work of our human hands, and what happens when other gods take center stage in our lives.  Ever since the Ten Commandments, God was clear that no good can come from trying to craft idols for ourselves.  And the People of God found that incredibly meaningful...for about twelve chapters in Exodus.  Then, along comes the whole Golden Calf incident.  Moses was up on the mountain chatting with God...AGAIN.  And this time he was taking forever.  And there was no way the governing body of the church approved that much time off.  And so anxiety increased.  And Pastor Aaron, wanting to be helpful, said, "Let's make an idol."  Now to be fair, Aaron really thought he was making an idol to honor God.  It was not as though he was trying to start a new religion.  Rather, he just wanted to calm the people down.

That's the lure of id…

Baptism

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Click here to read Isaiah 43
When you pass through the waters you will be redeemed.  The waters could be those of the Red Sea when Moses parted them and the people walked through and the mud squished between their toes.  The waters could be those of baptism of Jesus.  Water is vital for life.  We need water to survive.  And so, when Christians needed a symbol for what it meant to be part of the community of faith, we turned to water.  
As Christians we place water, which we know is vital for life, on the forehead of the one being welcomed into the Church, let it evaporate, and proclaim that there is something else that is vital of life: being claimed as God's beloved and being part of a community of faith.  Water is what connects us.  Moses knew this.  Jesus knew this.  And Isaiah knew this.
Within the faith we proclaim God was willing to come to earth, incarnate - in the flesh - of Jesus.  And through the water, we also welcome a person into the Church - known as the Body of Chri…

Sing a New Hymn

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Click here to read Isaiah 42
Isaiah begins now a hymn to a servant, often known as the suffering servant in these chapters.  The servant is one in whom God delights, the servant is one who brings justice, and the one who continues to strive to do what God calls the servant to do.  Often as Christians we read these passages as references to Jesus.  The passage could also refer to Isaiah who is willing to go with the People of God into exile.  The passage is also a reminder that often following God's nudges does not lead us to the easy pathway beside the chocolate river, rather it can be the proverbial "path less taken". 
This servant than breaks forth into a hymn, singing to God a new song.  Think about if you had to compose ode to God, what would you sing?  Many people struggle with what to say in prayer, lend alone if the words had to rhyme and be set to music.  They hymn is not some melodious, uplifting hymn that is sugary sweet.  Rather it is a hymn the servant cannot…

Beginning and End

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Click here to read Isaiah 41
After speaking words of comfort, Isaiah tells us that God continues to calls us into relationship.  Part of having a relationship means that there is an understanding of the other; whether that other is a spouse/partner or a friend or a co-worker or even, in this case, God.  Who is God?  That question lends itself to countless different answers.  Some describe God using gender language: Father or Mother.  Others try to skirt that issue by saying words like Mystery or Great Spirit.  Others prefer to use adjectives like God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present.  Others try piling words on the three letters G-O-D that those letters collapse and can only be found by sorting through the heap.  
All that is to say, perhaps God is beyond definition.  In just a few short chapters, Isaiah 55:8-9 God will say, "My thoughts are not your thoughts."  This echoes what God says to Job, "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth."…

Comfort

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Click here to read Isaiah 40
Comfort, O Comfort my people.  After so many chapters of holding the People of God accountable for worshiping other gods and thinking we know better. After chapters of dissonant chords of brokenness and missed opportunity, Isaiah decides to write in a major key instead.  Comfort and care is a hope many have the church.
Let's face it, we live in a difficult world that tries our patience, empties our hope, and runs our soul through the wringer, I understand why people look to the church for comfort.  And it is a great place to look for care.  At the most basic level, the church should embody caring.  The difficult part is knowing when to care and when to challenge.  At some point, if all the church does is care, we can become complacent or think that we deserve the care.  This is a grey area in ministry.  
On any given Sunday there are those sitting there who need to hear good news of great joy of God's love and there are people who are just counting…

The Ups and Downs of Life

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Click here to read Isaiah 38
Click here to read Isaiah 39
Hezekiah falls ill.  Isaiah shows up and like all good friends predicts Hezekiah's demise.  Talk about needing a lesson in bedside manners!  "Hi Hezekiah, you look awful!  I guess this is the end."  Gee whiz, with friends like that, who needs Babylon breathing down your neck threatening to over throw your kingdom.  Hezekiah turned away from the gloom and doom of Isaiah (I dare say I would do the same), offered a prayer to God, and wept bitterly.  God heard the prayer, saw Hezekiah's honest grief, and changed God's mind.  
Did you catch that?  God changed God's mind.  There is a strand within Christian theology that says everything is pre-planned or predestined/pre-ordained.  I don't know what those who hold onto that line of thought do with this passage.  It is almost as if Hezekiah's repentance (see last post) caused God to repent/turn around.  God changed God's mind within Genesis a number…

What Repentance Means

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Click here to read Isaiah 37
The passage begins with Hezekiah taking the actions of one who is deeply grieved (tearing his clothing) and in a state of repentance (putting on sack cloth).  This happens in the book of Job and also in the book of Jonah.  If you click on the Jonah link you will see it is not only humans who put on sackcloth, it is also all the animals and cows.  That is a funny picture...even though I have no idea what a cow would need to repent of.
The image of repentance is one that carries a lot of baggage in the church.  When I searched for pictures for the top of this post, many showed people on their knees, heartbroken, guilt-ridden, with clasped hands, and looking like they were at their wits end.  At the most basic level, repentance means to make a change, even a U-Turn as the above picture shows.  Sometimes as human beings we refuse to make the most basic change until the urgency to make that change has increased to such an unbearable level. Hence all the picture…

Plot Thickens

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Click here to read Isaiah 36

The plot thickens.  After chapter upon chapter upon chapter of predicting gloom and doom is coming.  Assyria comes knocking on the door of Jerusalem, toppling the walls of the Israelite towns, and generally taking over the place.  King Hezekiah, the king of Israel, looks out his window and see the whole Assyrian army standing there.  And if that was not enough, the King of Assyria, starts to egg on the Hezekiah.  "Where is all your confidence now, O great, King?"  "Where is this God that you had been calling on now, O great, King?"  "Not so quick with the words anymore, are we great King?"

When someone says things that we know to be true, but are difficult to hear, it can cause us to be defensive, we can get angry, and we want to strike back.  When someone gloats or tries to get our goat with words, we might only be able to say, "Oh yeah...well says you."  When someone has a quick quip that leaves us stammering and s…

Ash Wednesday

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Click here to read Isaiah 35
Today is Ash Wednesday.  If you want a quick overview of Lent, click over to Busted Halo and watch this two minute video...well worth it.
Lent is a time of renewal and repentance and receiving the hope that is new life found in our connections with each other and to Christ.  
I will be honest, I love Lent.  Unlike Advent, Lent has weathered very well the commercialization of our culture.  Unlike the Christmas tree that has to be just so, no one in the church even knows we own a crown of thorns, much less where it is at or what we would do if it once we dusted off the cobwebs.  On the other hand, as the Bible study class today astutely pointed out to me today, Lent is still "too Catholic".  That makes me sad.  We need a season to clean out our spiritual cobwebs and clutter.  We need a season to be honest.  And let's face it, nothing else is happening in the bleak midwinter of February or March.  We need a place that in the midst of the old pil…

Two Choices

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Click here to read Isaiah 34

Isaiah today describes the "un"-Kingdom of God, the place where the hyenas and wildcats hang out, where the hawk and hedgehog rule the day, and where Isaiah says the name of this "utopia" is "No Kingdom There."

On the one level I hear that and I think of Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars using the Jedi mind trick on Storm Troops and saying, "These are not the droids you are looking for."  And the Troopers falling for it.  Or police officers at a scene saying, "Moving along people, nothing to see here."  Which usually means there is a lot to see there!

Isaiah says, no kingdom there.  Just your run-of-the-mill chaos of all the animals you wonder why Noah saved on the ark.  Add in a few bats while you are at it to really make a shutter go down my spine.  Isaiah 34 stands in stark contrast to Isaiah 11, which was the peaceable kingdom.  The place where the lion and lamb frolic together.  And while we may not like…

Waiting

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Isaiah 33

O Lord, be gracious to us...we wait for you.  Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.

Where is God in the midst of waiting?  Isaiah asks for God to be gracious to us while we wait.  I don't think that translates into God speeding up time.  Graciousness can mean giving us patience.  Graciousness can mean we notice God's presence.  Graciousness might just mean having strength and clear thoughts.  

Isaiah asks for God to be an arm to lean on in the morning and salvation/hope in times of trouble.  That wisdom is profound and makes sense to me.  In the midst of waiting we need an arm to surround us and support us and remind us we are not alone.  In times of trouble we need to know God is still our hope.  

Sometimes I want five simple steps for making sure that beyond a shadow of a doubt God is with me when I am waiting.  I want a money-back guarantee that God will give me all I need to get through that time of trouble.  I just don't think faith wo…

Contrasting

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Click here to read Isaiah 31
Click here to read Isaiah 32

Chapters 31 and 32 are a study in contrast.  Chapter 31 lays out the futility of our human efforts.  Chapter 32 lays out the hope of our human efforts.  One chapter makes our shoulders slouch, the other chapters makes us sit up tall.  Life is an exercise of contrasts.  One day joy can well up in laughter, the next day an event can leave grieving.

I think the hard part in all of this is the unexpectedness of the contrasts. We cannot always plan ahead. We don't always know when the words we hear are foolish until we look back in hindsight.  The other hard part is as people of faith we claim God is good all the time...and all the time God is good.  So, what gives?  This tension, or contrast, has at times caused people to drift away from faith. And while I am grateful Isaiah talks about the nobles doing noble things and making noble plans...I still don't always know who the noble people are!  And to make matters worse, some…

Worship

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Click here to read Isaiah 30
I read the first version of this chapter and my first thought is, "Ouch"...that is a little too close for comfort.  I think of all the ways I take shelter in the stuff of my life.  I think of the way I listen to the wisdom of the world...rather than scripture.  I think of the times I rely on my plans rather than trying to listen for the still speaking voice of God.  Many Mainline Protestants would prefer not to think of this tension.  Most of our churches still proclaim the Gospel of Enlightenment that tends to think our thoughts are God's thoughts...rather than hear the wisdom of Isaiah coming up in chapter 55:8, "My thoughts are NOT your thoughts and my ways are not your ways."  
Yet, it is not as though God shuts and locks the door on the People of God in this chapter.  In verse 15, we are reminded that it is in returning to God we find our rest.  I think this is why people find familiar worship so comforting.  Like a cozy pair o…

Dream a Dream

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Click here to read Isaiah 29

What sort of dreams do you have?  Maybe you dream about spring when the snow is not piling up?  Maybe you dream about going back to school?  Maybe you dream about a world where violence and hatred don't occupy so much of our nightly news.  Isaiah offers a profound insight about our dreams in verse 8.  The hungry person who dreams of food still wakes up hungry, no matter how large the buffet was in his mind.  The thirsty person who dreams of swimming in gallons of fresh water still wakes up thirsty, no matter how long she stays asleep.

While I don't want to knock the power of positive thought, in the end our thoughts are sometimes stuck in our minds and does not become a reality...no matter how much we try to focus on it.  No amount of Jedi-mind-tricks will alter our reality sometimes.  I think this is why consumerism is so big in our world.  My soul may still be thirsty, but at least I have a cola in the refrigerator.

Yet, we don't want to sel…

More on Words

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Click here to read Isaiah 28
Priests and prophets stagger from beer, bet you never thought that was in the Bible?  Not exactly a passage that gets preached on a lot on Sunday mornings!  Let's be clear that Isaiah does not exactly give a rousing endorsement of combining beer with your religion.  I do think it needs to be clarified that some of Martin Luther's famous Table Talks with his theology students was done at the tavern, where I once heard that Luther had a stein with the 10 Commandments on it...it has to be true because I heard that from a Lutheran!
Having just come off the Super Bowl, I saw lots of ads for beer. Of course, now everyone from the White House to your neighbor's basements tries to create it's own micro-brew.  And while I live in a state that glorifies beer to the point of naming our baseball team after the act of brewing beer, it is a complicated relationship at best.
While the image of the priest not handling his liquor well is one thing, it is th…

What do we hear?

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Click here to read Isaiah 27

When I read Isaiah 27, I hear the melody and words of the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the back of my mind.  This was written by Julie Ward Howe around the time of the Civil War.  While most of the lyrics have connections and images from the Book of Revelation, there are some echoes of sword and vineyard that are heard in Isaiah.

The vineyard was an image of Israel, remember back to Isaiah 5, where God plants a vineyard and all God got was sour grapes.  So, now twenty-two chapters later, the vineyard (Israel) is finally bearing good fruit.  Somethings just take time.

The image of God guarding, watching over, day and night brings to mind images from Psalm 121.  This psalm was sung by pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem about God not slumbering or sleeping.  This was especially important when traveling in unfamiliar and unfriendly territories with bandits and robbers waiting, perhaps, when you cross over the top of the hill.

Part of what …

Pathways

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Click here to read Isaiah 26

One of the earliest images and references to Christianity was "The Way".  Our ancestors were known as People of the Way.  Which way you may ask?  The Way of following Christ.  You need only get a few chapters into reading any one of the gospels to know that the Way of Jesus is not a flat, smooth, cruising with the sun-roof down, and wind in your hair kind of pathway.  The Way of Jesus twists and turns, sometimes at such a dizzying rate, we may wonder if The Way of Jesus should be a new amusement ride at Disneyland.

Given that there are a lot of pathways in our lives to select from, given that lots of people today want us to follow them (which usually means giving money in some form or fashion), how will we know if the pathway we are on is the right one?

Usually when we are going down the interstate or highway, there is some sort of signpost to let us know we are on the right path.  The same could be said for Christianity, "The Way".  …

Hope and Despair

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Click here to read Isaiah 25

After all the words about pain and destruction, this hymn of praise is a bit jarring.  Maybe that is what Isaiah intended.   Previous chapters have felt like the wilderness where the trees tower over head and it can be difficult to see what is in front of us. The wilderness is a theme throughout scripture.  From the People of Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years in Exodus to Jesus' temptation in the wilderness to Elijah fleeing for his life.  Isaiah does not exactly say it is a wilderness moment in those chapters we have just slogged our way through, but it certainly felt that way.

Wilderness are those moments when grief sits upon your soul or you struggle with a decision.  Wilderness are those moments when life seems to be spinning out of control and you just want to get off the ride for a moment.  Wilderness is often those times when we wonder where is God and why isn't God fixing everything in my life?

That is the way the wilderne…