[See, the LORD's hand is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood,
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies,
your tongue mutters wickedness.
No one brings suit justly,
no one goes to law honestly;
they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.]
Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not reach us;
we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope like the blind along a wall,
groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among the vigorous as though we were dead.
We all growl like bears;
like doves we moan mournfully.
We wait for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions before you are many,
and our sins testify against us.
Our transgressions indeed are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the LORD,
and turning away from following our God,
talking oppression and revolt,
conceiving lying words and uttering them from the heart.
Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
for truth stumbles in the public square,
and uprightness cannot enter.
Truth is lacking,
and whoever turns from evil is despoiled.
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
He saw that there was no one,
and was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm brought him victory,
and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in fury as in a mantle.
According to their deeds, so will he repay;
wrath to his adversaries, requital to his enemies;
to the coastlands he will render requital.
So those in the west shall fear the name of the LORD,
and those in the east, his glory;
for he will come like a pent-up stream
that the wind of the LORD drives on.
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save!
The New Testament calls us to die to the world and be raised into the Body of Christ, becoming a new reality. In Eucharist the Church sign acts unity, our oneness in the flesh as well as in spirit.
That is what Scripture tells us.
That is what our prayer books and Manuals testify to.
Yet in 1994 the people of Rwanda, a group that is statistically 90% Christian, took the elements on Easter, and three days later began to kill each other with machetes. In the years preceding these bloody circumstances people marveled at Christianity’s widespread adoption in the country. Some used it as a model for future evangelism. And despite them being the Church, despite them sign acting their unity in Christ they turned on each other in bloodshed.
But we don’t have to look across oceans to see the brokenness of the Church. Here in San Diego there are Churches that are suing each other for their land. How many of our bothers and sisters in Christ go hungry on the streets of San Diego? It is easy to write off our world as being broken and fallen, but when we see the Body of Christ, the Church, in shambles we cry out LORD WHY?!
WE CRY OUT “LORD, HAVE YOU NOT MADE US NEW? WHAT DOES SALVATION MEAN IF NOT THAT WE WILL STOP KILLING EACH OTHER AND SUEING EACH OTHER?!”
The words of the Prophet Isaiah call out to us from this text.
The Book of Isaiah tells us a story about Israel, but from the perspective of God’s messenger. The story goes like this.
1) God calls Isa. To preach judgment to the people of Israel. – And Israel does what they do best; ignore God’s warning.
2) The Babylonian Army invades Jerusalem, destroys the Temple and drags the Israelites off into Exile.
3) Isaiah tells the Israelites that God has not forgotten them, and that one day God will save them and send them back to Israel.
4) Seventy Years later the Israelites witness the Army of Cyrus conquer Babylon. Cyrus sends the Israelites back to Jerusalem.
For seventy years the Israelites were strangers in a foreign land. As they were growing up their families would tell them of the old Kingdom, stories of the greatness of the Temple and the beauty of Israel. I can almost picture the scene, where children were kissed goodnight and told that one-day God would save them and bring them home.
Then it happens, the mighty conqueror Cyrus is raised up as God’s tool for the destruction of Babylon; it must have been a dream come true. Their Salvation had finally come. God’s Judgment of God’s people was over…
They packed up their things and venture off to see the land that their parents and grandparents had told them of. A land flowing with milk and Honey! I land where young David’s kill Goliath.
But when they get to Jerusalem it is desolate. Is their Salvation leaving the great city of Babylon to see this pile of broken rubble?? They start to rebuild the city, but they people of Israel soon find themselves in the midst of war, and political destabilization. They fall into disobedience and take matters into their own hands, acting like everyone else in order that they survive, crying out GOD IS THIS THE SALVATION YOU PROMISED US?! LORD HAVE YOU NOT RELEASED US FROM YOUR JUDGEMENT?
To which the Prophet Isaiah replies:
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save! It is your Sins that separate you from your GOD.
The Prophet leans into his pulpit and says “Your SIN is the thing messing you up- you are wondering why things are not going so well and you still have blood on your hands! You Beg God “WHY?” with your tongue one moment and with that same tongue murmur deceit the next.”
Then the prophet starts to confess for his community-
“Heck- We can all see, our eyes work but we are acting like blind people – groping around as if we were impaired somehow.
We know what Truth is, We God’s People, know what righteousness looks like and still we are violent! Still we are liars!
We act like Bears, roaring for Justice and still eating each other…expecting that Justice will just fall into our laps as we lick our lips.”
Then turning upwards the Prophet Repents,
“LORD, we have sinned against you. We have sinned against you, we acknowledge our iniquities – how badly we have messed up.
Our Sin makes us turn from Justice, God. And even when someone does try to be righteous, they become prey to our system of injustice.
TRUTH IS NOWHERE PEOPLE!”
If the Prophet had ended there this would be a very different message. However there are two words my good Friend Zach Ellis once repeated in a sermon that change everything- BUT GOD
“ But God saw this- God saw and acted
God will come to make new those who repent.
God will send a Redeemer for those who repent.
Note that the prophet uses the past tense- showing his total confidence in the coming salvation of God, but also pointing his people to the salvation God has already completed in freeing them from Exile.
God does not leave God’s people, he sends them the prophet to lead them in repentance- and into the fullness of Salvation when one day “The Redeemer” will come.
But that Redeemer has come! Come as God in flesh- the Savior of the world Jesus Christ!
The Church claims that in Christ it enters the narrative of Israel. So then, when the text speaks of a suffering servant, or The Redeemer, the Church can say that God’s fulfillment of this Prophet’s words are in the person of its savior. In light of the Cross-and the hope of resurrection, this text speaks to YHWH’s people anew.
So when We – The Church- The Body of Christ have been freed from our Exile of Death, but do not live up to the holiness we are called to…
WE CRY OUT GOD WHY!?
To which the prophet replies:
“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short of save.”
We too are an obstinate people. Like Israel we are a sinful People.
Like Israel we see the holiness of God and still stumble as if blind.
Like the remnant people of Israel we beg for explanation, a while we have sinful blood on our hands. We are given the Holy Spirit and we still participate in a world that sets up bitter systems of injustice. All the while Christians wait for God to renew us, trusting “cheap grace” to replace repentance.
Recently I brought my Youth group to a retreat run by the Diocese. On the surface it seemed like your typical weekend, equipped with acoustic guitar music and emotional singing. Yet as the weekend progressed I realized that the message being preached was this… “Sin is not loving yourself- Jesus Loves you and forgives you- you need to feel God’s love for you and know that you are beautiful in God’s sight.”
At no point were the kids called to REPENT, at no point were they charged with their sin. This truly is cheap grace, a grace that seems sugary sweet and at the same time will give you cavities.
Bonheoffer Spoke about this “cheap grace” in describing Nazi Germany. The German church preached it as a justification for their Genocide.
Like Israel we long for God to fix everything for us, without turning our hearts to God. Yet we do not have a Deus ex Machina- a God that comes in to erase our blunders
But God saw that God’s church participates in a world without Justice! God sent the Spirit that will not depart from us.
Before the Church in Rwanda slaughtered, before the Church of England justified colonialism, before the Church in Galatia was deceived. God had already moved for the ultimate salvation of God’s people.
Like the People of Israel we must repent! Like the people of Israel we must wash our hands of our violence and cry out to God for Forgiveness.
- Because one day the Redeemer will come again. May we repent of our sin- turn to God and reach out to the world- to the Body of Christ in Love.
Lord Forgive us your Church, for you have already moved mightily on our behalf.