4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you."
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
The church – that's us! – has journeyed ¾ of the way through another year of grace as we've concentrated on gospel readings from Mark, the earliest, most concise, most direct account of Jesus' ministry; maybe you've noticed I like to call Mark the gospel for the texting and tweeting crowd?
Today we'll consider a passage that's very much "God's work – our hands." Today we'll study a passage from the 66 chapter long book of Isaiah that includes a "do not fear" charge (command!). You may remember we divide Isaiah into three main sections:
• chapters 1-39, 1st Isaiah, before the Babylonian exile;
• chapters 40-55, 2nd Isaiah, during the exile;
• chapters 56-66, 3rd Isaiah, after the exile—
though it's not quite that neatly delineated. Since 1st Isaiah comprises chapter 1 through 39, at first glance it looks as if Isaiah 35 comes from the individual or committee that wrote down most of the first section, though in many ways chapter 35 conveys the same spirit of hope, renewal, and resurrection from the dead we find in the second section. Someone observed, "2nd Isaiah funded Handel's Messiah." The Messiah even opens with the same words that open 2nd Isaiah, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God."
Quick note: vengeance in verse 4 is not necessarily violence, but can refer to vindication, benefit, a payment that restores justice, or simply God's response or answer, as "He will come and save you" suggests.
Do you remember when John the Baptist was in prison and he told his followers to go ask his cousin Jesus if he (Jesus) was the promised one "who is to come," or if they needed to keep looking and searching for someone else? Jesus told John's followers, "Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, dead are raised, good news proclaimed to the poor..." [and blessed are those who take no offense, do not consider me a stumbling block/ scandal..."] Matthew 11:4,5,6 Luke 7:22,23
With lame people not only walking, but leaping like deers, speechless people not only talking but singing, this Isaiah passage is even more dramatic.
Do you know Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by farmer / poet / theologian Wendell Berry? Among other things he advises us:
Every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
In baptism we have received God's Spirit of Resurrection from the dead. Discussion of how sometimes life out of death is physical and bodily, sometimes it's most spiritual, it can be emotional or psychological. Sometimes we don't receive a cure for physical ailments in this life, but healing always is possible. Like God's promise through whichever Isaiah recorded today's scripture passage, like Jesus' reply to his cousin John the Baptist, God often calls us to be the reversal, the newness, the resurrection to new life God promises and people need. God calls and enables us to help the blind see, deaf hear, lame walk (or leap), speechless talk (or sing). Jesus was the promised one who'd change the course of history; now we are Jesus' presence in the world as our hands do God's work. As we practice resurrection!
Pastor Peg suggested considering an event or a person that has changed our perspective on something, or even changed the direction of our life.