Most of us enjoy stories about naïve amateurs who make bizarre mistakes. We chuckle knowingly over the man who complained about the performance of his new powerboat, only to have the marina staff discover that he’d launched the boat without taking it off the trailer, or the woman who mistook the CD-ROM drive on her computer for a retractable cup holder.
The reading from Isaiah reminds us that the world is a turbulent and unsettling place. Even Isaiah is not immune; his time was one of great national grief and uncertainty, and he retreats to the temple to try and recover a sense of perspective and peace of mind.
No one knows her name. She may have been widowed, for she lived with two younger men who were not her sons. Their boyish enthusiasms might have made her laugh. It’s also pleasant to think that her daughter had inherited her features—whether she was stocky, or had a slender build and expressive eyes.
Last fall a friend of mine attended a lecture at the University of Mississippi delivered by Stanley Hauerwas. His talk was followed by an invigorating, hour-long question-and-answer dialogue. My friend reported that afterward he and some students, another minister and several laypeople went to someone’s house and talked about God for another hour or so.How novel.
Several decades ago, when I was filling out my application for seminary admission, I came to a question that asked me to provide biblical justification for my calling. I knew I wanted to attend seminary, but found it difficult to state why. Then I remembered my Wesley Foundation pastor preaching on 1 Corinthians 9:16b, and I wrote, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” The text expressed the urgency I felt and even a tinge of divine necessity—although I think I knew even then that I was going a bit too far.
It’s too soon in Luke or the new year for an Easter story. Still, any time we’re working the night shift with Jesus, we must be prepared for an outbreak of Easter. We witness what it’s like to be astounded by a death-defying Jesus, moved from failure and scarcity to life and triumph. It’s wonderful.
Isaiah faced a challenge. How was he to awaken an exiled community from the lethargy of despair? The people’s confidence had been shattered; their entire worldview was drained of its mimetic properties. Former glories lay in ruins. Now the people lived in the land of the dreaded enemy, a people who goaded them with “Sing us some of those songs of Zion, miserable losers!"
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