This is the sermon I am preaching at St. Timothy Lutheran Church's Drive-In Service. The text is Isaiah 55:10-13
The 6th century BC prophet Isaiah, speaks to his people as a fellow exile. They are far from their home country of Judea, including Jerusalem and its environs. Some remember life there, while others only know life in Babylon. Jerusalem had been destroyed and few remained there. Babylon’s religion, language, and culture were different. They were aliens; there due to rebellion and disobedience to God. However, now this exile has done its work and it is time for the fulfillment of God’s promises. They will return to the land of their origin.
God’s word has gone forth. We cannot depend upon much in life, least of all the weather. As we hear so often, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes and it will change.” Weather, however, is more dependable in the Holy Land. There’s the rainy season when it can also snow and the dry season. Even if dark clouds gather looking like it could pour at any time, if it isn’t the rainy season, it absolutely will not rain. You can count on it. The rain and snow do what they’re supposed to do; ultimately feeding the hungry. God’s word is equally reliable. Chapter 55 bears witness to the results of God's voice once unleashed. God's words of promise set in motion changes that reconfigure the entire cosmos.
God’s word creates. We cannot control the elements of rain and snow. Isaiah assumes their effect to be assured and yet out of our control. A messenger of God may seem to be in control of the message, but is she or he? Scripture is full of instances of God speaking without human assistance, such as angels and other non-human creatures including Balaam’s donkey. God is God and we are not. Isaiah challenges us to trust a power even more predictable than gravity—the power of God’s word to accomplish its purpose. Here that purpose is the people’s return from exile.
The effect God’s word creates, shaking up the natural as well as the human realm. Singing mountains and applauding trees? The ecosystem completely changes trees instead of thistles, stately pines instead of thorn bushes. God’s work is so dramatic, such a testimony to God, that it will be “living and lasting evidence of God” (v. 13) as the prophet declares. Getting people to go out “in joy” and be “led into a whole and complete life” (v. 12) is quite another thing. Babylon was the known for these people, while Jerusalem was the unknown. It’s hard to leave the known. But God’s word does its work, boggling our minds and hearts.
Such tangible effects of God’s word are seen as no more miraculous than the seed and bread that springs forth after the rain (v. 10). Nature joins in singing a song that the word of God has affected first in the human heart (Richard Boyce, Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3).
God’s Word will last. Misplaced giant sequoias and stately pines function as effects in the desert—to jog the Lord's memory and to remind God of the covenant made with these people that shall not be cut off. The effects of God's unleashed word are sure and reliable, but they don't last long in the human community and are only a little more permanent in the natural world. However, they are forever in the promise-keeping of God. Isaiah writes, "the grass withers, the flower fades [and the faithfulness of God's people are even more transient]; but the word of our God will stand forever” (40:8) (Boyce).
What does this say to us? Are we in exile? Not like the people of Judah, but we are exiled from each other physically. I can see you all in your cars, but as much as I long to, I cannot go up to you and hug you. Coronavirus has created its own exiles and aliens and has caused further divisions, even politically, although the disease is not political.
I feel strange going out and about after months of being at home. I’m more careful. I distance myself from others I see in the post office or grocery store. We have been exiled from our normal daily activities of work and school, of going out with friends for dinner on Friday evenings.
I really miss my kids: Christian and Marisa in Kansas City and Sarah, Nick, and Grace in Rochester. Normally, we would have gotten together with our Rochester family over the weekend of the 4th, but not this year.
COVID 19 has impacted so many things in our lives, things we could count on. Worship has been affected. Will we even recognize it when we return to indoor worship? Perhaps we will be unable to what we consider worship, like congregational singing.
God’s word has gone out; God’s word of faithfulness and goodness and promise. God promised the exiles would return home and they did.
God’s word has gone out for us too in the person of Jesus Christ—that same word of healing and faithfulness and goodness and promise. We may never be the same after our exile, but we are emerging from it and as Isaiah wrote, “…you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life” (v. 12).
And all God’s people said, “Amen!”