Wednesday Scripture Isaiah 61: 2-3
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Wednesday Quote - Miroslav Volf
“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”
The prophets Joel and Jeremiah, who have preceded this week's prophet, Isaiah, were quite clear about the causes of despair and dismay that inspired warning, their lament and even eventually, their hope. We've already reviewed the fact that Jeremiah is compelled by the impending rush of the Babylonian Army and that Joel is brought to action by either natural disaster or military threat. But what about Isaiah? Just reading the scripture for Sunday without knowledge of what has inspired this message leaves us bereft of the full force of the message.
Isaiah (or the disciple who writes in his name) is NOW writing after the people of Israel have made it through the long Babylonian captivity. King Cyrus of Persia has liberated the Israelites and allowed them to return to their homeland. If you take the time to review chapter 40-55 of Isaiah, you will see the joy, excitement, and hope that springs to life at about this time. But Isaiah 61 happens AFTER that return home from exile. And all the hopes, dreams, and wishes, lie disappointingly unfulfilled as Isaiah writes. Construction of the walls of the city, the palace and temple are woefully and depressingly behind schedule. It seems that the people have divided into factions and cannot cooperate. And the economic and social division that Isaiah warned against BEFORE the captivity, have reared their ugly and unjust heads again. All those hopes and dreams with nothing to show.
Which is where the words of Isaiah for this week find their full force and effect. The buoyant words from Isaiah are not inspired by success or ease. On the contrary it is the hard work and challenge of embodying God's promises and the disappointment at failing that is the foundation for this weeks promises. These verses aren't a celebration, they instead, are an empowering utterance from beyond. What seems impossible, a rebuild, beautiful, just and peaceful Jerusalem, is indeed possible. What they experience in the present; ashes, mourning, despair, will be replaced by new gifts from the anointed one, gifts such as, a crown of beauty, oil of joy and a garment of praise. Isaiah urges Israel to reflect upon the grace of God, the merciful goodness, the powerful gift-giving nature of God to give them hope in hopeless times. This is an appropriate message for this season. It reminds us that beyond our usual gift-giving, we too are anointed by the spirit to give the gift of hope, dignity, and joy to those in despair.
Wednesday Explore - Romans 8:18-39; Matthew 10:1-15
Wednesday Prayer - Always gifting God, remind me today of the many gifts we have received from you. Bring to mind the many ways you have provided for us in when we felt the sting of lack, as if we had lost out or did not have enough. Continue to shape us to be generous givers in a society in which acquisition is so important. Remind us each day to be grateful and show gratitude to you and to others.