Sunday 7 July 2019
The old fire burns on
Isaiah 66:10-14; Luke 10:1-11,16-20
By Janet Wootton
Former Director of Studies for the Integrated Training Course, Congregational Federation
Context: a regular act of worship in the church’s life. If there are pew Bibles, people could be invited to look up the Isaiah passages mentioned.
Aim: to allow the riches of the prophetic writing in Isaiah to resonate with the reign of God fulfilled in Jesus, and proclaimed through God’s people in contemporary settings
Isaiah is in the top ten most popular books in the Bible, and in the top five in the Old Testament. Why? Well, it has some of the most sublimely beautiful poetry in scripture; and it holds out wonderful promises, including, of course, the promise of the Messiah, fulfilled in Jesus – the heart of the gospel.
From the moment that the prophet felt the touch of fire on his lips, and heard God’s call: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?’ (6:6-8), and responded, simply: ‘Here I am. Send me.’, his words have rung down the ages, inspiring poets and preachers, artists and revolutionaries.
The background to the prophecies is a time of destruction and devastation – God’s people driven out of their homes, living as refugees, longing to return.
And the prophet reaches out to that longing with words of present comfort and future promise: ‘Comfort, comfort my people ... Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God …’ (40:1,3).
The promise points to a transformed community, with a new kind of ruler, who will be called: ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. His reign will be based on justice and fairness, wisdom and understanding. Peace will extend to all creation – beyond our imagining: ‘The wolf shall lie down with the lamb … and a little child shall lead them.’ (from 9:6; 11:2-4,6).
It’s a vision that echoes through the pages of Isaiah, all the way to the last chapter, from which our reading came. The message is the same: among all the devastation, suffering and hardship that we endure, God will comfort his people, so that their hearts can rejoice, and they can flourish.
Jesus quoted a passage from Isaiah at the beginning of his ministry, as recorded in Luke’s gospel: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor …’ (4:18). Throughout his ministry, Jesus lived that message. He healed people’s diseases, spoke words of forgiveness, challenged hypocrisy and injustice.
And, as we heard, he sent 70 of his disciples out with the task of preparing the way for that ministry. Wherever they go, they are to speak peace, and let people know God’s reign is near. They are to kindle the flame, that touched Isaiah, in the hearts of those who welcome them.
That same fire has burned on in people’s hearts down the generations. The words of the prophet are just as powerful now as they were nearly three millennia ago, when they were written; or two thousand years ago, when those first disciples answered the call of Jesus.
Our task is, like theirs, to prepare the way, to open people’s hearts to the lived reality of an encounter with Jesus, to offer the promise of transformed life and a renewed world, and to watch where the fire takes hold.
Where, and how, will God send you?
The specific call may change and grow throughout your life. It is a call to offer your own unique gifts; the person God, and your own life experience, has made you. It is a call, which only you can answer.
During your life, you may have had the opportunity to reach children, or young people, at the outset of their lives, in bringing up a family, or caring for others. You may have made a difference through your working life, or as part of the community.
Perhaps your work is as part of a thriving and active church, with lots of opportunities for service, or by sustaining a small worshipping community, that witnesses in small ways.
At different times in our lives, God may call us to respond to vast injustices by campaigning alongside others; or challenge us to attend to unfairness or hypocrisy in our own close circle, or even our own lives, by seeking personal reconciliation and forgiveness.
Think, for a moment, about the opportunities you have had to bring God’s comfort and promise, transformation and hope, to others through your life, and give thanks. Think about what life has taught you about God’s love, the gifts you have to offer, here and now.
When you hear the call of God: ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for us?’, what will your answer be?
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