Saturday, November 30, 2019

Swords into Plowshares

Before we look at Isaiah's second chapter, let's consider all of Isaiah 1.  This is from the New International Version.

1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
2 Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
    For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its master,
    the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”
4 Woe to the sinful nation,
    a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
    children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
    they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
    and turned their backs on him.
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
    there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
    and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
    or soothed with olive oil.
7 Your country is desolate,
    your cities burned with fire;
your fields are being stripped by foreigners
    right before you,
    laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
8 Daughter Zion is left
    like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
    like a city under siege.
9 Unless the Lord Almighty
    had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
    we would have been like Gomorrah.
10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
21 See how the faithful city
    has become a prostitute!
She once was full of justice;
    righteousness used to dwell in her—
    but now murderers!
22 Your silver has become dross,
    your choice wine is diluted with water.
23 Your rulers are rebels,
    partners with thieves;
they all love bribes
    and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
    the widow’s case does not come before them.
24 Therefore the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    the Mighty One of Israel, declares:
“Ah! I will vent my wrath on my foes
    and avenge myself on my enemies.
25 I will turn my hand against you;
    I will thoroughly purge away your dross
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
    your rulers as at the beginning.
Afterward you will be called
    the City of Righteousness,
    the Faithful City.”
 27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
    her penitent ones with righteousness.
28 But rebels and sinners will both be broken,
    and those who forsake the Lord will perish.
29 “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks
    in which you have delighted;
you will be disgraced because of the gardens
    that you have chosen.
30 You will be like an oak with fading leaves,
    like a garden without water.
31 The mighty man will become tinder
    and his work a spark;
both will burn together,
    with no one to quench the fire.”

Everyone ready for Christmas?  You should be after that.  Who doesn’t want to sing Joy to the World after noting that some folks are going to be like tinder for a fire and burn up?  Now that just makes you want to roast those chestnuts on an open fire.

Advent is the time to prepare for the coming of the Lord.  We will celebrate his birth into this world and we will look forward to his return.  We are not looking for another babe in the manger but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

We like to look forward because the present and the past sometimes just suck the hope out of us.  I watch what I can bear of the news and realize that this is happening on my watch.  We need something to look forward to.

Isaiah prophesied at a time when God’s Chosen People were divided into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judah to the south, and Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were exerting political pressure upon them.  Two out of three of these nations and empires made war upon these people.

Von Clausewitz noted that war is the continuation of political intercourse with the admixture of different means.  All continued their political pressure on God’s Chosen People, but the Assyrians and Babylonians would at some point conquer the Hebrew people by military might.  They brought war to Israel and Judah.   God would step back and let these pagan nations administer his judgment.

Moses prophesied this long before this time.  If the people strayed away from God:

The Lord will drive you and the king you set over you to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors. There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone. You will become a thing of horror, a byword and an object of ridicule among all the peoples where the Lord will drive you.

This prophecy was realized in the time of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and followed by Ezekiel.  Realize that what happened to God’s Chosen People was much more than the 70 years of exile.  Their country was falling apart and being pillaged before their eyes.  The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was just the Coup de gras.

You might wonder what was happening here.  It seemed that the people were obedient in the Sabbath and Festivals but God acted like these things did not come from him.  The people were going through the motions.  We talk a lot about being a grateful and a thankful people. 

These people who saw this judgment of God in their own time had become apathetic and complacent in their worship.  Their lives were ambivalent when it came to the one true God or those made of sticks and stones.

Judgment did not come overnight.  It was played out before them and they were helpless to see their country and homes burned and looted.

Venezuela gets a fair amount of air time these days.  The country is in shambles and getting worse.  Imagine now if another country were to come in not to fix the problems—as some have offered to do—but to conquer the land and take the people back with them as slaves.

This was what was in store for the Promised Land and its people.  The distant past was glorious.  The recent past disastrous and the present and near-term future unbearable.

Here is some food for thought for those who like to read more than the verse of the day.  This is for those secure in their faith but interested about the human construct of God’s word.

Why are there only 5 books in the Torah?  No, it’s not because one day the Greeks would want to classify it as the Pentateuch. This is something to chew on, not doctrine or impacting salvation, but for those who like to study the Bible in context to include its organization and presentation, it’s worth the thought.

The Torah takes us up to the time when the people are ready to enter the Promised Land.  But the book of Joshua seems to be the natural bookend to the story which began with God promising this land to Abram.  You would think that entering the land would be part of that story.

The Torah was likely not put into writing until the time of Ezra and the captivity of God’s people.  Ezra may have been the person who finally put pen to parchment, but including the book of Joshua in the Torah would leave the people with that hopeless feeling that comes when you realize you had what God had promised and let it slip away in your apostasy.

Let’s frame this thought this way.  How many of you want to sing Away in the Manger for the Christmas program?  And then let’s follow that with Were You There When They Crucified the Lord.  Both hymns are good songs, but who wants to sing them in that order?  The first brings expectation—something look forward to—and the second a very to the quick revelation of what it meant to be the Lamb of God.

The people captive in Babylon needed something to look forward to.  Daniel would give them part of this, but much of what Daniel prophesied put them right back where they were—conquered land, sacrifices and offerings ended, the temple destroyed yet again, and just another all around mess for God’s Chosen People.

God’s Chosen People needed something to look forward to that they couldn’t mess up, and they received it.  As Isaiah continued in what we now regard as chapter 2, he moves beyond returning to Jerusalem from Babylon though most of the Hebrew people probably could not see beyond their immediate need.

He brings the reader to a time and a place where Jerusalem is revered, nations will not war against nations, and standing armies will be a thing of the past.

He brings us to songs we don’t sing much anymore.  Down by the Riverside being one of them and Ain’t Going to Study War No More being another. 

Isaiah prophesies of a time when our instruments of war will be turned into instruments of agriculture because nation will no longer war against nation.  

The word of the Lord will come forth once again from Jerusalem.

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

Look at the world around you.  We are blessed in so many ways but we do not always credit God for those blessings.  We are not nearly as thankful as we should be.

A while back I posted another one of my screwball thoughts noting that senior trips for 2020 should go to Venezuela.  If not there, India and Pakistan, parts of Africa, and even places in our own country such as Appalachia.

Some who still live among us have lived through a world war.  Even those who lived through the depression and the Dust Bowl days did not know the desperate state that some live in even today.  We do not know what it is to be captured and enslaved.  We are blessed.

But we still see so many giving up on life.  So many sink into depression, drugs, and even suicide.  Some don’t see hope and a future.  Some don’t see the good plans that the Lord has for us.

Living in the moment and growing in experience is important but everyone needs something to look forward to—and we see this in today’s scripture.  We see this in today’s world.

I invest a lot of time preaching discipleship from this pulpit.  It’s important.  How we respond to God’s grace is very important, but as we navigate this disobedient world, this perverse generation, and the trying times that we know, having something to look forward to is just as important.

We need something to look forward to that we can’t mess up!

Our lives are governed by responding to grace with love but our spirit needs something to look forward to—and for us that’s going home when Jesus comes to claim us.

Advent prompts us not only to look forward but to prepare for what is to come.  We look forward to celebrating a birthday.  It’s the birthday of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords entering this world as a babe in a manger.  We celebrate that coming of the Lord every year.

We know the scriptures and the songs.  We remember with nativity scenes and specials singing What Child is This.  But we need to look forward, anticipate, and prepare for the Lord to come again.

Advent is a time to prepare, so for this week and those that follow closely, set your thought above the depravity of this world and upon the promises of God.

Know with certainty and peace that the King of Kings will put an end to nation warring against nation.

Know with certainty and assurance that the Lord of Lords will cause us to take our instruments of combat and turn them into those used for cultivation.

Know that one day the law will go out from Zion not to compel obedience to bring willing obedience to words written on our hearts.

Know that in our distress, anguish, controversy, and situations that seem so far out of control, we have something fantastic to look forward to—the return of our Lord and living in peace, so let every heart prepare him room as we ready ourselves for his return.

We have something to look forward to.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

Men began to call upon the name of the Lord

You have to love Genesis.  It is the only book of the Torah where the Greek and Hebrew titles agree.  Bresheet means beginning as does Genesis.  The rest differ as the Greeks wanted a title and an author and based their title on a general understanding of content: however, the Hebrew people knew their books by the first few words. 

For instance, Exodus was called Shemot, meaning names.  Exodus begins with These are the names…

Viyikra, meaning and he called becomes Leviticus. Midbar, meaning in the wilderness shows up as Numbers.  Devarim which means words becomes Deuteronomy.  None  of these match the titles assigned in the Greek translation, but Genesis does.

In the beginning begins the first creation account.  At the end of which God declared all things very good.  A good start to creation, don’t you think?

This is followed by the second account of creation told with a greater focus on humankind.  So far, so good.  The creation is off to a good start.

You know what’s next.  We can’t even get three chapters into the story until it seems to go south.  The serpent makes his pitch, Eve makes her evaluation, and then she breaks the one and only commandment given to her husband, which he has surely passed on to her.  They knew his directive and Eve broke it anyway.

Afterwards Adam take a bite as well.  He was an easy sell.  So much for male leadership in the first family. 

Have you seen the pictures and meme of something totally messed up and the caption, “You had one job to do?”  I like the one where the Minnesota midfield logo is centered on the 45 yard line. “ You had one job!”

Adam and Eve had only one thing not to do.  We can look back on them and blame the fall of humanity on them, which is normally what we do.  We mitigate the blame a little bit by asking ourselves if we would have done any better.  Maybe we would have held out longer.  Maybe not.

The next thing you know, 25% of the people noted in the Bible commit murder at the same time.  The murder rate was also 25%.   Okay, Cain killed his brother, Abel.

We sometimes look at and classify Genesis as history.  Sometimes we note it as a faith statement. It is in many ways, but it is also prophetic.  We often ignore that.  The one command which brought disobedience was followed by over 600 that brought disobedience.  Disobedience continued through Noah and the flood and Moses and Joshua to the Messiah.

All were bound over to disobedience.  No one, not even the patriarchs, managed to bear the burden of obedience. 

We see that as the law increased, sin increased even more.  Disobedience increased.  Doesn’t that just mess up the whole story?

Not if the only way to be right with God was through the work of God himself. Only the Messiah could fulfill the law, live by the complete law, and only through the blood of the Messiah could we be made right with God.  Only through him could we receive the Spirit of God.

We are creatures of the flesh and if we jump forward to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus noted that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  Even these words spoke short term prophecy.  As Jesus struggled to see his mission through to completion—which he did—his closest followers succumbed to their flesh.  They fell asleep once again.

He told them to continue in prayer so they would not give into temptation but the flesh was too strong for them.

Jesus lived in the flesh though his flesh did not conquer him, but he was the only person ever who could claim this victory.

So the story of the Torah and the rest of the Old Testament is one in which God stayed with us through our disobedience to his word, his directives, his loving guidance.  Some found favor with God but none could fulfill all of his commands, even when there was just the one.

This whole story could have ended shortly after it began.  This judgment that we believe is to come could have come and gone quickly and this whole humanity thing could have been put in the books.

But God stayed with us through it all because he is God.  He is love.  He loves us.  He has something incredible in store for us now and through eternity.  He has given us his Spirit as a deposit on our inheritance as his sons and daughters.

And all had not gone astray.  Keeping God’s directives was one thing, but seeking him even in this weak human flesh was another.

In what seems totally out of context considering the way this whole creation story was going, we find these words.

At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord.  Some translations might say people began to proclaim the name of the Lord.

In this screwball story where the flesh is racking up wins, the people began to call on the name of the Lord.  But there is no revival.  There is no obedience.  There does not seem to be widespread worship of the one true God.  This, like other parts of this book and the rest of the Torah, point to future.

But people began to call on the name of the Lord.  Where does their help come from?  It comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

We see the prophet Joel talking about the Spirit of God being poured out.  Peter talks of Joel’s words in his first big sermon.  His message leads up to these words.  Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.  

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved!  Now that’s something to be excited about.

Okay, that makes for a nice sermon but consider today’s world.  Disobedience to and even contempt for God are commonplace.  I don’t know that I see much future for our nation other than some fire and brimstone.

The creation story was on that same track but somehow men began to call upon the name of the Lord.  This did not abate the problems of humanity but some called upon the name of the Lord.

Some began to call upon the name of the Lord.  My prayer is that we will see this again in our country and in our time.  People will begin to call upon the name of the Lord .

The big catalyst here is that one day soon the Spirit of God will be poured out and those who are not anchored in rebellion will call upon the name of the Lord.

Those who are struggling in the flesh will call upon the name of the Lord.

But we have salvation.  Must we continue to call upon the name of the Lord?

Let’s consider this.  Do we obey all of God’s commands?  No, but if I live a life of love, I have fulfilled them.

Are we consistent in living our lives in love?  Not exactly.  I have good moments and bad.

Even with salvation, we wrestle with the flesh.  We get angry.  We have to be right.  We make our desires the center of our world and seeking God gets bumped down a notch or two.  Love gets some time in our hearts then gets evicted and invited back and then stuck in a corner.

We still wrestle with the flesh.  Paul would call it the old man, the old creature.  Even as redeemed men and women we must continue to call upon the name of the Lord.  Where does my help come from?  It comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

We likely won’t be able to fully obey God until we live continually in God’s presence.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  One day we won’t contend with sinful flesh. The Spirit wins.  God wins.  We win.

But in this day, we must continue to call upon the name of the Lord.  This is more than prayer.  This is a lifestyle.  This is in all your ways acknowledge him.  Let’s call upon the name of the Lord.

One way that we often forget to call upon the name of the Lord is in Thanksgiving.  Our requests are lined up and ready to go but sometimes we get so wrapped up in our needs that our thankfulness is consumed by our flesh.

We are a thankful and grateful people even if the world is not.  Even as we struggle with the flesh and even as we struggle with disobedience and even as we struggle getting ourselves out of the judgment seat and into the arena, out of the bleachers and on the playing field, out of philosophy and into practice—even as we struggle with our modern-day trials of the flesh—we are to be thankful.

Thank you, Lord, that you are God.

Thank you that you are love.

Thank you that you love us.

Thank you for your directions given for our own good.

Thank you for the Spirit that lives within us and who is a deposit on things to come.

Thank you for your command to love one another and that we may fully live.

Thank you that you hear us when we call out to you.

Thank you that the spirit that you placed inside us when you made us a living being can converse with the Spirit you placed inside of us when we received Jesus.

Thank you that they can talk directly and I don’t have to compose a prayer.

Thank you that you will finish the good work that you began in us.

Thank you that you did not abandon us in our disobedience.

Thank you that you have things in store for us that are beyond our imagination.

Thank you that you have called me friend.

Thank you that our present suffering is nothing compared to what you have in store for us.

Thank you that you trusted me enough to commission me to take your gospel to the world.

Thank you for the trials I experience that I might grow in your grace.

Thank you that sometimes your answer to my prayer is no.

Thank you that I may understand that your grace is sufficient for me.

Thank you for the things of this world that make me rich as compared to the rest of the world.

Thank you that those things have not become my god.

Thank you for the body of Christ so I need not navigate this life alone.

Thank you for your holy word that was preserved as it was passed down orally generation to generation, written and translated with great fidelity and available to anyone who wants it, and that sometime soon will be written on my heart.

Thank you that I proclaim Jesus is Lord and know this to be true without any doubt.

Thank you that your grace goes beyond my sin.

Thank you that you have called me to live in such a way that I will be known by my love.

Thank you that your mercy and grace have not expired even in this twisted and perverse generation.

Thank you that we know you best through your Son who died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Thank you that we know you by the Spirit who lives within us.

Thank you that we may call upon your name.