Times and Ways
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5 ESV)
How do long do you keeping waiting?
Of course it depends on what! Waiting for a train or bus to come before making alternate travel arrangements is way different to waiting for a loved one to return from a war or to waiting for the doctor to decide when to induce a baby who is overdue to waiting for the ending of injustice and tyranny in the land. We can both be impatient about having to wait 10 minutes and yet philosophical about viewing history and observing the changes in science, society, politics that have journeys of centuries. We are a society now used to speed – no more the time frame of the farmer waiting for crops – we want things now and if the supermarket shelf is bare then there will be strife!
I suspect that our living today has affected spirituality and faith and religion in that everyone in the supermarket of religions is feeling the pressure to ‘come up with the goods’ quickly. We want our prayers answered now. Miracles now. Parking spots now. Problems solved, relationships fixed, happy times now. Enlightenment now. The world in our image now. And while we’re not immature or petulant enough to say that if solutions aren’t instantaneous we’re going to give up and try another religion or world view, the question still rumbles around the brain ‘How long do we keep waiting?’.
This will be a short sermon, if I now say ‘I don’t know’! I don’t know how long you should keep waiting because like Isaiah in our first reading or Mary in our gospel account today the role of the pastor from the pulpit is to point to the one you are waiting for and declare to you that he will help, he will not ‘stand you up’, he is faithful, he will do the right thing by you.
Mary’s request of Jesus is understandable since we presume she’s involved somehow with the wedding party and she knows Jesus can help. His reply has been the subject of discussion for a long time. But it is her reply to the servants that is of interest today, ‘Do whatever he tells you’ and she leaves it with Jesus to do what he believes is best. In this case people don’t have to wait long. And that’s how we’d like God to work! We’ll give him a bit of time – we understand logistics – but close of business would be nice! But that isn’t life’s experience – not for the vast majority of people – and those Christians who talk about God giving them miracles every day, we simply view with suspicion. No, life is much more Isaiah-ish and the waiting can be much longer – generational even – and then what?
Isaiah’s message was long term and looking back we can see that it had application over generations. For
Christians a lot of Isaiah has fulfilment in Jesus – referring to his coming and to the type of servant role he
would undertake. Those promises, of course, were first spoken into specific contexts – political, financial, religious, social – and again and again we hear God tell his people through the prophets including Isaiah that their behaviour, their rejection of God, their going their own way on their own timeframes – especially when claiming to be faithful to God (which seems to have galled God the most) results in consequences of forsakenness and desolation – spiritually and literally on earth. They drink from dry wells and wonder why they are thirsty; they offer sacrifices and wonder why God almost throws up.
But then when the people are stuck – helpless, dry, desolate, forsaken (to the point when they even notice) what do they do? What do we do? They cry to God for help. And here’s where God seems stupid or absurd because he does return, reply, and restore. Read all of the bible but Isaiah in particular and you will see a pattern – people – us included – delight in the wrong things and push God away – at best want him on our terms and on our time frame – whereas God, mysteriously, delights in us. For example, earlier in Isaiah (chapter 28) in the judgement against Ephraim and Jerusalem God says that what we hold precious, our crowns of beauty, will be thrown down – our pride will trip us up – but that for the remnant those who struggle to wait and be faithful – never perfectly of course – he will be their crown. And now in our reading this morning, God reaffirms this picture and says that he will restore his people so significantly that the world – those who don’t follow God – will see that the people themselves are God’s crown – his righteous crown, not because they are good and righteous but because God has rescued and restored them and rebuilt and replenished their cities and land.
Our first reading reminds people who are feeling – and experiencing – forsakenness, desolation, separation, and misery – where there’s the hope that ‘there’s got to be something better than this’ that God will act and the imagery in our reading is love, marriage, and a longed for (but isn’t that only in fairy tales?) ‘happily ever after’. One of the strong associations of God and his people in the Old Testament was marriage – a covenant relationship – and the people who chased after the Baals (which can mean ‘husband’) committed adultery / idolatry towards God. But God hates divorce and he is forever returning to re-establish, woo again even, restore the unfaithful who are ‘won over’ by his faithfulness.
Our reading promises that God’s people – Isaiah spoke initially to Zion – will be no more forsaken or desolate, ie. alone. And God will delight in his people as much as young marrieds delight over each other. Isaiah keeps promising – he won’t be silent in the face of the people’s complaints or whinges or cries or anger or resentment over God and his apparent absence or not doing as we want but Isaiah keeps pointing to God’s promise of faithfulness. God does everything so that his people can be with him – whether it is his judgement or his rescue, his single goal is for his people to live a blessed life in this world by knowing and trusting him first of all.
But if you want healing, help, a solution to a problem, even to fix the world, my words today don’t magically help you get those things. I know that. My words don’t tell you how you wait – what to do in the meantime. My words today do the same thing as Isaiah and Mary did – point you to God who is faithful in Jesus Christ and say ‘look and listen to him’.
In Jesus we meet the one God has forsaken and made desolate. We even heard Jesus cry this from the cross. If he is dead, then you are wasting your time being here. But if he is alive again – and I declare to you that he is – his grave is empty – and the only explanation that makes sense of all the evidence is that Jesus is resurrected to new life, never to die again and people are made new creations in him and together a picture of the church is that it is Christ’s bride and he is spending all this time preparing and serving her to be with him in glory at the marriage feast of the Lamb – then we have hope and we have a future, a glorious future.
Of course, that’s something for the future but for now it is a question – as it is with most of our relationships and living – how will we live today? Now? Faithfully to what we believe? Faithfully to what we’ve said we’d do?
Today I point you again to Jesus and I don’t hold my peace but say that for you right now with whatever is going on your life in Jesus we meet God with us. Growing in him through worship, Bible reading, prayer, meditation, reflection, suffering – yes, even suffering – teaches us that our time and ways are not God’s time and ways. We are not alone or desolate in our time and ways with Jesus – even when waiting! Even when our experiences say otherwise! This relationship with Jesus orients us, guides us, how to wait, how to live.
- Isaiah 62:1 - 15