Hi friends! Today concludes the words of the second Isaiah. (Note: I've read elsewhere that second Isaiah is 35-55. I've concluded in my own research that second Isaiah is 41-60. In any case we've either finished or are finishing second Isaiah as of today) I love the words of this reading because as those familiar with how the story of the Bible ends, we know that all of this does come true. That's the perfect reminder we need to know that God is still in control, even when things don't always make sense or are difficult. Let's jump in and see what I'm talking about.
Scripture to Read
Psalm 119 v. 158 - 176 (end)
Questions to Consider
What does this teach me about God?
What does this teach me about humanity?
What words here give me hope? What words give me challenge?
Would Jesus say amen to this?
- My Thoughts -
Gosh dang, I fall in love with Isaiah more and more every time I read the prophets words. They give me life. They give me hope. They give me pause. Isaiah 58 was always a chapter I glossed over and this time around it stuck with me. 2021 is gonna be a tough year for us as a church. As one of your church leaders I share this not with a heart of doom, but a heart of compassion. 2021 will (likely) be the scheduled general conference where we will once again be forced to have the uncomfortable and difficult conversations about where our church stands in regards to LGBTQ+ inclusion and whether or not a schism is necessary. But it's not just that. I hope and pray that our church will have conversations about race and the unjust criminalization of black and brown people at higher rates than their white counterparts. I hope and pray we will talk about Christianity and Nationalism and address the dangerous sins associated with that. I hope we will allocate money, time, and our vocal support to groups that support prison reform, homeless relief and others. But much like God lamented to the people in Isaiah's day, I think God laments us well. We don't address these things as often as we should. We don't have the difficult conversations. We don't make people uncomfortable. We say Jesus loves you, give you a hug goodbye and invite you back to church next week. I hope and pray this year we dig in even though I know what will happen. More people will leave the church in this process. More will criticize Joyce, myself, and even one another. Isaiah 58 reminded me of the difficulty the church faces when God says to the people. Let's read some of it again. (emphasis my own for the things I found most relevant to 2021)
Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. 4 What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. 5 You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?
6 “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. 7 Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
8 “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. 9 Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
Finally, I'm going to share my favorite speech from general conference 2019. It's from JJ Warren, a lay delegate from New York. JJ wants to be a pastor, but is gay, and feels as if he cannot in good conscious. I share JJ's speech not because of the stance he takes, but rather, the life he gave to a room that was empty, drained, and bitter. I think so often, our political and church environments feels empty, drained, and bitter, too. JJ's speech was an impassioned call to not just hold a conference but to make a decision, he breaks down towards the end as he pleads for us to not "crucify and kill" our beloved Methodist church. We don't need to split - we can do this together. We just need to re-learn how to live together. Take a listen if you want, but it reminded me strongly of Isaiah 58.
PS - It's okay to disagree with me. I'm not TELLING you what the Bible SAYS. I can't. No one can. I'm telling you what I "hear" from God when I read the text. The words that inspire me, challenge me, and motivate me. I love discourse. I love theological debate. Push back on me.
Today we read/sing the words of hymn 124, Seek the Lord
Also, ya'll, tell me how cool this is. This song is inspired by Isaiah 55. (almost) exactly what we are reading!
Chorus: Seek the Lord, while He may be found; call to Him while he is still near.
1... Today is the day, and now the proper hour to forsake our sinful lives and turn to the Lord.
2...As high as the sky is above the earth, so high above our ways, the ways of the Lord. 3... Finding the Lord, let us cling to Him. His words, his ways lead us to life.
4... Someday we'll live in the house of God, Gaze on His face and praise His name.