This past Sunday, we celebrated Scouting Sunday, recognizing the Scouts who meet in our church. It was a great celebration of the service they do, and a great opportunity for me personally to remember the many things I learned in Scouting. In this sermon, we can see how God is speaking to us in this Lenten season through Scouts, and indeed all people.
Also, a disclaimer: I haven’t used kerosene to try to start a fire in a long, long time… 🙂 Blessings ~kd
When I was 14, I found myself one summer night pulling a sleeping bag tight around me against the cold, looking straight up at the stars through the thin branches of a few trees. To my left and right, above my head and below my feet, were scattered the bodies of a dozen other scouts who, like me, had taken a vow of silence earlier that evening.
Even though I was surrounded by so many friends, I felt quite alone. You see, I had just found out the day before, that a close friend of my brother’s had been struck by a car, while riding his bike, and killed. My thoughts were with my brother, his friend’s family, and the small farming community I called home. I spent most of that night, the overnight I was inducted into the Order of the Arrow, with my mind preoccupied with thoughts of home, and feelings of loss and pain.
As we continue our Lenten journey toward Jerusalem and the cross, we too are preoccupied with thoughts and feelings of loss and pain. Our Lord Jesus is approaching the hour of his death on Good Friday, the darkest day in the church calendar. It seems that, at this time every year, we in the church can become fixated on the somber and dark tones that surround Christ on the cross, that we can forget, or at least lose track of, what happens after.
Which brings us to our morning’s text from Isaiah. At this point in Israel’s history, the people have suffered “the trauma of the Babylonian Exile,” which was incredibly violent and violating. “After seeing their beloved city destroyed; families torn apart; houses demolished; their country lost, it was not surprising that members of the prophet’s audience were not so sure anymore whether they still believed in the God of their ancestors” (Claassens).
So God tasks Isaiah with “presenting these doubters with a word of hope from the Lord that has the purpose of transforming the exiles’ fractured lives” (Claassens). Isaiah is reminding these people that wherever they are, whatever their condition, the word of God endures forever; it is substantive and life-giving; feeding the soul and nourishing the spirit.
Walter Brueggemann helps to set the context for these verses. He writes that, “These verses are addressed to elite Israelites who had been forcibly deported to Babylon when Jerusalem had been destroyed. While these deported elites yearned for a return to Jerusalem, it is clear that they also came to terms with the Babylonian regime and the Babylonian economy, enough to participate in the opportunities and requirements of the imperial order. In doing so, they inevitably compromised their quite distinctive Jewish identity as members of a neighborly covenant. It was an uneasy balancing act for them, to participate fully in the dominant economy and to practice at the same time an intentional and distinctive faith identity” (Brueggemann).
In many ways, this is the “same uneasy balance… that many of us seek to maintain in our own political economic setting” (Brueggemann). As Christians living in an American culture, we find ourselves strangely torn between our call to selfless living, and the societal pressure to accumulate and hoard wealth and goods. So when the prophet asks, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” we are genuinely, and appropriately troubled.
Let’s be honest, I probably did not need to buy that new shirt last week when I have four sitting in my dresser that I haven’t worn in months. And wouldn’t my money have been better spent buying a homeless woman a meal rather than buying myself that venti mocha latte at Starbucks?
Isaiah “calls his listeners to make a clear choice. He offers them an option of the generous self-giving of YHWH, the God of covenant… [who gave] Israel manna-bread and water in the wilderness, and will not generously give all that is needed for life… free water, free milk, and free wine, all gifts of God. But reception of these free gifts in faith requires his listeners to choose against the quid-pro-quo economy of Babylon” (Brueggemann).
If we choose YHWH, we have to forsake the economy of supply and demand; to shuck off the consumer goods that really have no sustaining value; the consumption of “entertainment” and “pleasure” that really “only results in fatigue, disappointment, and despair” (Brueggemann). Instead, Isaiah offers “an alternative way [which] is a homecoming that will be enacted because of God’s fidelity to the covenant with David” (Brueggemann).
This entire text actually represents a reversal of God’s judgment. “In chapter 8, the nation rejected the soft-flowing waters of Shiloah and God sent the overflowing waters of Assyrian judgment- symbolized by the mighty Euphrates bursting its banks- in their place” (Roberts). In chapter 54, Isaiah invokes the waters of Noah to frame how God is committed to no longer “be angry with and rebuke his people” (Roberts).
In fact, just as God placed a rainbow above the earth as a sign that he would never again destroy the world in a flood, now God is establishing (or reestablishing) a covenant of peace with the people of Israel. We have moved into a new season of hope and thriving possibilities.
In fact, the reversal of God’s judgment actually extends further than its origins. “The reversal of God’s judgment is attended by an extension of his Davidic blessing. Through the work of the faithful Davidic servant, the promises and status that were once enjoyed by David and his seed along are thrown open to all of the people. The entire nation is invited to enjoy the royal treasures of this storehouse of divine munificence. In addition to being made recipients of God’s goodness, the nation is exalted to a new level of office, as it now shares more directly in the royal vocation of the Davidic Servant. The authority and dignity that were previously the particular possession of the king is now enjoyed by the whole nation” (Roberts).
In many ways, Isaiah is a precursor to Christ’s death and resurrection. Just as God’s judgment of the people is reversed here and extends the covenant to all people, so will Christ’s atoning death on the cross extend God’s grace and mercy to all people in all places. And in this new world, we are called as the redeemed people of God to live together in community and communion.
I learned many things in my years as a Boy Scout. I learned that it is always a good idea to have a first aid kit on hand. I learned it is rarely a good idea to use kerosene as a fire starter. I learned that when the waves on the lake are over 6 feet high, it’s better to stay on land than to attempt sailing.
I also learned the value and joy that comes from learning and serving together. The Boy Scout Oath states, “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
I love the order of this oath. It reminds us to put God and others before ourselves at all times. Many people need help, and as scouts, and as Christians, it is our duty to cheerfully give ourselves in service to others at all times.
But there is more to being in community than simply serving others. In community, we find a place where we are supported in all our endeavors; a place where we can stretch and learn and grow with others; and a place where we can be comforted when we mourn, something I learned very intimately those many years ago.
In the tragic loss of that young friend, my home community found ways of coming together in comfort and mourning that I carry with me today. But what I remember even clearer are the ways my fellow scouts supported me that night and the next morning. A comforting pat on the shoulder, space to cry when I needed to, and the encouragement to push through on an incredibly special honor I had been anticipating all year.
In the new world of God’s economy of love and life, we find ourselves freed of the burden of consumerism and the desire of “things.” We find in the new world of God’s economy, that nothing costs, and that we do indeed live in a world of plenty. Let us strive for this world, today, and all days. Amen.
Brueggemann, Walter. “A Covenant of Neighborly Justice: Break the Chains of Quid Pro Quo.” On Scripture. N.p., 28 Feb. 2016. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
Claassens, Juliana. “Commentary on Isaiah 55:10-13.” Working Preacher. Luther Seminary, 13 July 2008. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.
Roberts, Alastair. “The Politics of God’s Plenty.” Political Theology Today. Political Theology, 28 July 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.