My ways are not your ways…(thank God)

My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.  These may be the most comforting words in all of Scripture, and they are used to set the stage, in 55 Isaiah, for the sort of redemption the people of God can expect.

Images are key in this great hymn of hope that comes in the form of Isaiah’s reporting of God’s intention.  Words alone are inadequate.  Words cannot convey the sense of majesty, the sense of awe and wonder, that comes from knowing that God has promised your rescue.  And so the prophet is bound to remind us that, as God’s representative, even he cannot approach understanding, or articulate fully what God has in store.  But it will be miraculous, and it’s the images that convey the miracle.

God’s ways are higher than the heavens – (verse 9) – unmeasurable, unreachable (in Isaiah’s time), full of unimagined wonder; this is how the prophet creates awe in us.  And then, assurance.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return until they have watered the earth…”  As sure as the rain and the snow bring goodness to the earth.  As sure as the slow procession of the seasons provides work and food and growth with such comforting constancy, God’s promised relief – for a people in exile, and by extension, we who are ‘apart’ from God – will come.  As certain as the seasons, set in motion by God’s creating word, “…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return empty…”

A startling image, which shows remarkable insight into the way this ecosystem works – and presents (in turn) a glimpse of God’s complete mastery of…well, everything.

Think about it for a minute.

We are not as well connected to the life giving renewal of the seasons as once we were.  Our food is regularly available (to those who have means) in and out of ‘season’.

The work we do for our ‘daily bread’ has little to do with harvesting the grain or processing the flour. Work generates income which provides sustenance; it’s no wonder we worship money.  An image that draws attention to the cycle of the seasons may be distant from us, but it is still useful; still full of meaning and promise.

  The enduring images found in Scripture are not intended to prove our disconnection from the created order; our lives and livelihoods may change, but the bigger picture continues to be about God’s connection to creation, and to each of us as part of that creation.  Our changing relationship to creation has led us to believe that our relationship with God must have also, somehow, been altered.  Where once we participated, by necessity, in the constant patterns of growth and decay; of sowing and reaping – now we have become passive consumers of creation’s bounty – and by extension, consumers of God’s bounty.

Isaiah, addressing a people who believe that their connection to God has been irrevocably harmed, stresses that while the connection may have changed, God’s promise (and indeed, all Creation) is still as vibrant and vital as it ever was.  Our passive relationship to that creation – and our notion that creation is nothing more than ‘product”- is mocked by Isaiah’s final images.  “…the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song…”   Remember Jesus talking about the stones shouting if the people stood silent?  This is better.  And better still; “The trees of the field…clap. their. hands…”  Brilliant.  You should not be able to see the landscape in the same way ever again.

Passive creation?  No such thing.  And if there is a breath in you (the prophet seems to suggest) you cannot be unmoved by it.  No more standing idly by.  No more ‘consumer’ attitudes.  Humanity is called into action.  Joy –  Peace;  two parts of the human trinity of bliss – all that’s missing is love, and to be sure, this glorious transformation is only possible because of the love of God… not specifically mentioned by the prophet, but who can doubt that such spectacular promises are motivated by love.

The promise continues to say that creation will be moved to redemption.  Cypress rather than thorns; instead of the brier, the myrtle…an everlasting sign.

And for no other reason than God wishes it.

Remarkable.

Remarkable that to a people in the midst of a long and bitter defeat; to a people who imagine that God has forsaken them forever; to generations of those drawn to the edge of hope, only to have that hope dashed; to them and to us comes the image of a vibrant, joyful, and incredibly active work of God.  And that is the image that leads us toward something new that God will do.

We can find hope in these ancient texts because, with careful reading and a rediscovery of our connection to creation, the images take on life for us, and our view of the world may be refreshed.  The prophetic texts of the Hebrew Scriptures seem to nudge us toward that Master of the metaphor – the principal parable maker – Jesus of Nazareth.  He offers us (this morning in Matthew 13: 1-9) an image of an active sower in an active creation; seed falling here and there, springing up where it shouldn’t; exceeding expectations and disappointing them too.  There is a lot going on in this parable, and whatever else you take from it, know that the growth is (ultimately) God’s greatest gift.  A renewable, refreshing gift – one that asks something of us, even if it means ‘casting seed wildly about’ and hoping for the best…

Because ‘the best’ is what God offers us.  In every promise – across multiple generations of covenant keeping – through life and beyond death – “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” – and we are invited to share in God’s abundance, to be a part of the fullness.

It is remarkable – it is absolutely remarkable; the sort of thing that causes the very earth to sing – the trees to clap – and all God’s people to jump for joy.  Thanks be to God!  Amen

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