06 September 2015
10.30 Sung Eucharist
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Isaiah 35 4-7a; Mark 7. 24-end
May our hearts, Lord, be opened to receive your love. May our minds be open to hear your word. Amen.
Isaiah is shouting out loud and clear – Courage, do not be afraid, Look your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God, he is coming to save you.
Isaiah speaks of Israel’s desertion of God and what will follow: Israel will be destroyed by foreign enemies, but after this punishment, the people will be purified. A holy remnant will live in God’s place in Zion, governed by God’s chosen king: Christ the messiah.
So God’s timeless presence remains with his peoples. The vengeance and retribution is Israel’s self-inflicted punishment. God hasn’t so much withdrawn his protection of Israel, rather Israel has walked away and suffers for not having God’s protection.
The world, no doubt, was quite different nearly three thousand years ago in Isaiah’s day, although I’m sure we humans have changed very little in character and behaviour since then.
Vengeance and retribution really don ‘t sit too well with the modern day sanitized, polite, sweet, loving God we like to imagine. It disturbs our sensitivities. God, though, lives in the real world, not in our imaginations. He’s here now walking alongside the weak, the impoverished and the suffering.
Just as he was picking up the pieces after Israel’s abandonment of him, whether we want him to or not, he is here waiting for us. Like Israel, it is us who tend to walk away from him. In contrast to our human state of flux, always looking here, there and everywhere, God is timeless and constant.
God’s plan for the world is based on his choice of Jerusalem as the place where he will manifest himself, and of the line of David, leading to Christ, as his earthly representative. God is “the holy one of Israel”; justice and righteousness are the qualities that mark the essence of God, where Israel has rejected God through unrighteousness.
Isaiah, though, speaks out for the poor and the oppressed and against corrupt princes and judges, he roots righteousness not in Israel’s covenant with God, but in God’s holiness and with the Messiah to come.
This Messiah Isaiah talks of will open the eyes of the blind and unseal the ears of the deaf so they can sing for joy.
Zoom ahead eight hundred years, Mark tells us about Jesus removing the seal of the deaf man’s ears. He didn’t do this as a medical trick. He invoked God, looking up to heaven, sighing, like a deep pull on his heart: ‘Ephphatha’, ‘be opened’ he calls and the man can hear.
This is the Messiah Isaiah has talked about. This is God’s deep, deep promise being fulfilled. This is Isaiah’s world connecting with Jesus’s world, and now going on to connect to us in our modern world. God’s promise is timeless, as valid to us to-day as it was to the Jews nearly three thousand years ago.
The Old Testament, although not an easy read in places, gives us a long, deep perspective, to place context around us in our world to-day. So just imagine yourself standing in the middle of a dark, dense forest, only able to see what is immediately in front of you. Without any maps, compass or phone GPS, you have no idea how to get out of the forest, no clue which way to go.
What if you came to a clearing and saw in front of you a hot air balloon. You decide to jump in, drop the anchor and drift up, up, way above the forest canopy, soaring up into clear open skies. Only then you would be able to really see where you are, and figure out a way through to reach the edge of the forest.
The Old Testament speaks of thousands’ of years of human spiritual endeavour, of the human condition and of our place in God’s cosmos. It is not a prescriptive road map, but gives us a depth of context, a wider view, to understand the timelessness of our spiritual core, our soul.
Back to Jesus healing the deaf man. Jesus’s action is much more than simply a matter of correcting a few faults in the machine called the human body. Alongside Isaiah’s visions, it always was and is, and supremely so in Jesus’s actions, a sign of God’s love breaking into our painful and death-laden world.
God renewing life, renewing us.
It was then, and is now, a pointer to the great healing that will occur when Jesus is fully revealed to the whole world. When God’s love lives deeply in our hearts, and our present, stammering, praise is turned into full-hearted song.
So when Mark urges us to follow Jesus, he envisages, not a boring life of conventional religion, but of things happening that transform people, astonish people. If we are still too deaf to hear what he is really saying, is the block perhaps with us rather than with the message?