originally posted June 19, 2015
My talk for Rochester Consortium of Theological Schools Preaching Conference on May 21, 2015 is titled: “The Gospel and the Kingdom: Preaching the Law, Faith, and the Messiah Jesus in Galatians 3:10–14.”
“You don’t have to try so hard. You don’t have to bend until you break.” I hear these words through my car radio and they fill my soul. Colbie Caillat’s song “Try” is not a theological treatise by any means, but it sure is insightful!
Trying describes today’s teens. As I work in a youth group setting I see first-hand how they try. They are trying to: get good grades, earn money, make friends, beat records, get scholarships, help their family, get a car, and even to escape pain. They’re busy. They’re following the adult model. We all want the best. We all want to be the best. We will pay great prices to get and be the best.
Last year I traveled to Peru to talk with some Free Methodist pastors about the importance of self-care in ministry. One of the highlights of that trip for me was a small group time where we talked about taking a Sabbath rest each week. Most of the pastors in the group were bi-vocational, and poured themselves into their ministry whenever they had the opportunity. The idea of taking a rest each week, while acknowledged as important, was also experienced as a real challenge.
The background to the events of Isaiah 7-12 is an important political crisis, described concisely in Isaiah 7.1 see also 2 Kings 6.5-9). While Judah had for many years pursued a policy of non-resistance as a vassal state to the encroaching Assyrian empire, many anti-Assyrian alliances sprang up throughout the region. One such was led by Rezin, king of Syria (Aram), who was joined by Pekah, newly ascended to the throne in Ephraim, the northern kingdom. Together these kings and their armies marched against Judah in 734 B.C., seeking to lay siege to Jerusalem and replace King Ahaz with a puppet who would willingly join the anti-Assyrian coalition (v.6). Ahaz was understandably shaken (v.2).
Having described Judah as tinder-dry and ready to go up in flames of judgment (5.24), Isaiah recounts, in vivid first-person narrative, a vision of Yahweh dominated by the image of burning. In the year of King Uzziah’s death, a year that saw the Assyrian empire grow stronger and extend its imperial reach over the ancient Near East, the prophet glimpses another king, enthroned over the entire earth (vv.2-3), to whom even Assyria is subject. The Temple, where this vision takes place, functions as a window on God’s throne room, but itself can contain only the hem of his robe (v.1)! The immensity of scale alone is staggering. But add to that the encircling seraphim, Yahweh’s six-winged blazing heavenly attendants (saraph means “to burn”), whose praise of the Lord of Hosts rocks the Temple to its foundations and fills it with smoke (v.4), and Isaiah is reduced to holy and abject terror.
Therefore the anger of the Lord
was kindled against his people,
and he stretched out his hand
against them and struck them.
The woes Isaiah began describing in yesterday’s reading here become broader and more sweeping, and quickly pile up in an intensifying series of abrupt accusations (vv.18,20,21,22). Alas! he cries again and again in pained acknowledgement of the people’s sins. Isaiah pictures his hearers slowed down by the heavy burden of their justice, which they drag along like a treasure they can’t part with (v.18). Yet they demand immediate action from God, goading the Lord to provide a sign and so prove himself (v.19). We, of course, don’t ask mockingly, but pray earnestly for God to act decisively in our historical situation to set things right (which usually means to set our immediate situation to rights). The irony, of course, is that this is precisely our calling, our task, to set things right (to do righteousness), if only we would cast off the ropes of injustice with which we have bound ourselves.
Ah, you…who do not
regard the deeds of the Lord,
or see the work of his hands!
Isaiah vividly describes the “wild grapes” or spoiled fruit of Israel’s social life in a series of accusations framed as “woes” (vv.8,11-12) that continue into tomorrow’s reading (vv.18,20-22). The Hebrew hoy! can be simply an attention-getter (hey!), a pronouncement of doom (woe!) or a cry of lament (ah! or alas!), as at a funeral or other sorrowful event. In our text these are all combined.
The Lord expected justice,
but saw bloodshed;
but heard a cry.
Today’s Old Testament reading is a carefully crafted literary piece, at once a love-song, a lawsuit and an extended parable with a climactic punch line. Isaiah introduces the piece as a song for his dodi, a term of endearment meaning friend or beloved (v.1). Casting himself in the role of best man, he sings about his friend the bridegroom and his vineyard. In the ancient Near East vineyard, field and garden, were common metaphors for a bride (see Song of Solomon 8.12).
At a recent lecture Dr. Matthew Sleeth discussed the necessity of Sabbath rest and why this command often gets overlooked or goes underappreciated even within the Body of Christ. In his attempt to remind us of Sabbaths past he asked that we remember some of the special things that happened on Sunday’s when we were children which, for most, meant recalling a time where Blue Laws were still observed which made it almost as impossible to break the Sabbath as today’s culture does to keep it.