Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 18B (9/6/2009)

With Eyes Fixed on God

Lessons:     Isaiah 35:4-7a     Psalm 146     James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17     St. Mark 7:24-37     Semicontinuous Series         Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23         Psalm 125

Prayer of the Day:     Gracious God, throughout the ages you transform sickness into health and death into life. Open us to the power of your presence, and make us a people ready to proclaim your promises to the whole world, through Jesus Christ, our healer and Lord. Amen.

35:4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7 the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water;

Isaiah 35:4-7a New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was a prophet to Judah and Jerusalem from 742 bc until 701 bc, or perhaps as late as 687 bc. That is the time when Judah's northern neighbor, Israel, was defeated by Assyria, and became a vassal state. During that time, Judah lived uneasily in the shadow of powerful military forces. As the powers of the world swirled around Judah, Isaiah called them to remember that it is God who is ultimately in control. They should not fear the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Egyptians. God is in charge of history: those other entities are minor players.

God's ancient people knew what it was like to be surrounded by hostile enemies - they also knew what it was like to have a desert experience. Their forty years of wandering from slavery to freedom had become part of their common experience -- even those born many years later heard the story so often that they came to see it as their own story. They wrestled an existence out of the dry and inhospitable Palestinian countryside. They had been taken captive by a foreign power, and understood the feeling of living in a desolate environment.

So Isaiah's image here is undoubtedly a powerful one for them. Waters break forth in the wilderness. Streams flow through the desert. Burning sand becomes a pool of cool water. From the thirsty ground come springs of water. These are images of hope in the midst of death -- gift in the midst of despair. For Isaiah, God is a powerful source of life and refreshment. God is one who allows the chosen people to have hope, even when their surroundings might not seem to call for it. If their present is like a desert, then the future God had designed for them is like a lush, green garden.

Isaiah calls the people of his day to keep their eyes fixed on God. Isaiah here presents an image of what the end of time will be like. Not only will desert experiences turn lush and green, but other signs will accompany God's final victory: The blind will see. The deaf will hear. The lame will dance. The speechless will sing. Isaiah teaches that at the completion of time, God's power will be clearly evident. He encourages the people of Judah to have hope -- and not fear the powers that surround them. God, who is far more powerful, has chosen them, and will take care of them.

Those were words of great comfort for God's ancient people, and they are for us as well. There are times when we too are tempted to respond to our world in fear. Times of uncertainty in a struggling economy. Times when the family seems to be tearing at the seams. Times when young people turn to drugs or violence or suicide to cope with their world. Times when nations are at war, when people face starvation, when the whole human project seems in jeopardy... In those kinds of times, we are reminded that our God is more powerful than anything we know. And we are encouraged to keep our eyes fixed on God, instead of the dangers around us.

That's what the life of faith is about: keeping our eyes fixed on God, and allowing that vision to guide us through the midst of all difficulties. As we turn our attention to the preaching and teaching of God's word; as we meet the presence of the risen Christ in the bread and wine; as we seek to deepen the bonds we have with one another in our communities of faith; we develop our ability to keep our eyes fixed on God, and to know the strength that comes from our faith. Over the years, God's ancient people learned to do that -- and Isaiah's words to them stand as a reminder for us to do the same.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What caused ancient Israel to be afraid during Isaiah's lifetime?
  2. What did their fear of foreign powers say about their trust in God?
  3. How did Isaiah try to keep them focused on God, and hopeful about their future?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. What is it that causes me to be afraid today?
  2. What does the promise of God's presence in my life say to that fear?
  3. How can I, by entering into the classical spiritual disciplines (like worship, prayer, meditation, Bible study, service, charity...), prepare myself spiritually for those times of fear that inevitably affect me?