And God Keeps on Giving 9th Pentecost
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 Luke 12:32-40
You’ve heard those old “Good news, bad news” jokes, right? Like the one where there are a bunch of men rowing a big galley to the beat of a drum, and the slave-driver has them stop long enough to make an announcement. “We’ve got some good news, and some bad news. First, for the good news: the Captain has ordered that every one of you is going to have STEAK for dinner! (Yea!!) And now for the bad news: after dinner, the Captain wants to go WATER SKIING!” (Yeah, groans are appropriate hereJ)
Well, today’s Scripture readings reminded me of this form of story, except that it’s more of a BAD NEWS/GOOD NEWS scenario. Isaiah announces the BAD news that God is fed up with people claiming to be God’s chosen ones, sacrificing animals to God and having BIG religious festivals—but NOT living lives that reflect God’s will. God is sick of it. And then, in our Gospel reading, Jesus gives us the GOOD news—that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom! Now, both Isaiah and Jesus tell us what to do in response to the messages they share, and both are messages of HOPE—the kind of message we need today. Let’s take a look.
God Is NOT Pleased
The message in Isaiah is first addressed to the Kings. They are, after all, the representatives of the people. But they have led the people astray by supporting the worship of the Ba’als!! Isaiah refers to them as “rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah”—cities that God had destroyed because of their incredible sinfulness.
But the people of Israel and Judah are guilty as well. After all, God never asked for their sacrifices! Through Isaiah, God says, “Trample my courts no more; bringing sacrifices is futile; incense is an abomination to me. I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity…your hands are full of blood.”
It’s kind of an odd phrase, to say that one’s hands are full of blood. We say that when someone’s blood is on your hands, you are responsible for that person’s death. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. She was a character who had supported her husband’s plot to kill the king, thus making him king (and her, queen). But, during the night, her conscience had her sleepwalking, trying to wash the blood off her hands, and saying, “Out, damned spot!”
When God says that our hands are full of blood, that means that our sins against each other are an outrage to God! And all the sacrifices and religious observances in Isaiah’s day are offensive to God, because people thought they could keep doing evil and somehow make up for it with their sacrifices!
So, the BAD NEWS is that God does not love that kind of religion, that style of behavior.
The Good News
More than 700 years after Isaiah, Jesus came and clarified what God is really like. In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus says, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Be ready to do God’s work. Now, friends,THAT is good news! Isaiah had tried to tell the people, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” But Isaiah was largely ignored by the people, just like all the other prophets. So God had to become human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and make it clear to us!
Jesus says that God’s desire is to give us the Kingdom! There are other ways to say this:
- 1 Timothy 2:4 says, “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
- Luke 15:7 says, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
- Throughout Scripture, it is clear that God is delighted when you and I make choices that are in line with God’s kingdom!
So, what do we do with the anger we hear in God’s voice in Isaiah? I think the answer is simple: God’s distress is just like that of any parent who wants the best for their children, only the children are not choosing the path that leads to LIFE. And sometimes they are doing things that are hurting others. Some of the most harsh words we hear from the mouth of Jesus are words of condemnation against anyone who causes little ones to stumble. “It would be better for them if a great millstone were fastened around their neck and they were drowned in the depth of the sea!”
What Shall We then Do?
In both our Isaiah passage and our Luke passage, we have a prescription for how to respond to God’s word.
- Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of our doings;
- Cease to do evil, learn to do good!
- Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, take care of the orphan and the widow
- Give yourself away;
- Make heaven your treasure, not your STUFF (which will eventually be in someone else’s hands);
- Be ready for God’s activity, which sometimes comes at a surprising time
Both Isaiah and Jesus: IF you respond to God, life will be good!
I want to finish today by remembering Steve Martin’s character in the movie, “Roxanne.” He has a really long nose—a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac—and at one point he is listing a bunch of ways to describe his nose. He says, “The Lord giveth—and he just KEPT ON givin’ didn’t he?!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that, YES! The Lord has kept on giving to you and to me! Jesus says that it is our Father’s desire to give us the kingdom. But even more than that: “God so LOVED the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” That’s the punch line to our “bad news, good news” scenario…God gave because God loves us. God gave his Son. The proof of God’s amazing love is this: WHILE WE WERE YET SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US. That’s how much God loves us!