Evening Prayer Homily – Pr. Smith
Homily for Aug 2, on Isaiah 55:1-5
I think, sometimes, we hear words from Isaiah, the prophet and we put them in a box. They’re nice to hear, but in the end, they’re something more akin to what we read in greeting cards. We should think differently about these words, not just because we believe, teach, and confess that they are the Word of God, but because they bring life in our hearing of them.
The science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, wrote an alternate history novel called, The Man in the High Castle. It’s set in the years after World War 2, and it explores how his characters react to a world in which the US and the Allied nations lost and Nazi Germany and Japan have divvied up the United States. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, I’ll give you just a second to come to grips with the idea. In this alternate reality, the United States is divided into three parts: the Japanese-occupied West Coast, the Nazi-occupied East Coast, and a neutral zone in the middle. Now it’s not that the author wanted the Axis powers to win. They’re still bad in the book. He’s just exploring themes like resistance, collaboration, and eventually, the nature of reality. And important for what I’m trying to do this evening, the title of the book, The Man in the High Castle, refers to a mysterious figure who is rumored to be broadcasting recordings of an alternate history in which the Allies won the war. That’s an intriguing premise. As always, if I mention a book or TV show in a sermon, I’m not endorsing it. I am mentioning this one because of what I think are some parallels to the Isaiah, the prophet, and his book, and these words tonight from chapter 55.
Isaiah lived and preached at the end of the Kingdom of Judah. I know all the twists and turns of OT history are hard to keep straight. But this is one of those time periods that’s important for Christians today to understand, even if we just have the basic events, more or less, in order. David’s united Kingdom of Israel eventually split into Israel and Judah. Israel was up north and Judah was down south. That’s how I keep them straight by the way. Being closer to the enemies, the northern kingdom fell, finally, 722 BC. The southern kingdom hung on for another 135 years. Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, fell to Babylon, a different enemy of Israel, in 587.
The results of each fall are different. The ten tribes up north are carried off to Assyria and are dispersed from there. They never come back to the Promised Land. The southern tribes, mainly of Judah but also Benjamin and the Levites, are carried off to Babylon for the 70-year exile and allowed to return to the Promised Land, rebuild the temple, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and get a second chance at being who God intended them to be. They return from exile and live in the Land, but never recover their former glory under David. By the time of Jesus, at the turn of the common era, the Romans occupy the Promised Land.
But throughout their time, from the time the unfaithful kings weren’t listening to godly prophets like Isaiah, through the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, and through the 70 years of exile in a foreign land, even into NT times, when the Promised Land was occupied by another foreign power, God sent his prophets preach, to correct and rebuke, yes, but also to encourage and reassure his people. They may be suffering under unholy domination but they hear a voice, proclaiming to them not just a future victory, but an alternate reality. Their suffering is real, yes. I’m not trying to say suffering doesn’t matter. I’m saying God’s prophets proclaim not just a better future for God’s people but assure them that another reality already exists and not just in our minds, but by faith. That reality comes by our hearing the Word of God.
From chapter 40 to the end of Isaiah, Isaiah is preaching to Judah in exile in Babylon. Our reading tonight, from chapter 55, is part of a longer section of reassurance to God’s people as they endure the hardship of being separated from the promises of God, separated from the Promised Land, from the temple, from the sacrificial system, from the real visible presence of God on earth and the way He established for His people to come into His holy presence.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
This is not like the Buddhist denial of suffering. People are thirsty and hungry and without money to buy for daily needs. And to them God says, “Come.”
Everyone who reads the news knows the situation in which we find ourselves. The people of God are not living in the Promised Land protected and buffered from every enemy. We do not have a godly king leading us, embodying for us God’s grace and justice. God’s people suffer, daily, in our flesh. It is as if we are living in a reality where Jesus’ words on the cross, “It is finished,” don’t mean anything. We are living in a reality where our enemies, sin, death, and the power of the devil, have exiled us from God’s provision.
And yet, and yet, there are those Words we hear that speak to another reality. A reality we trust by grace through faith. We hear the Word of God and know that He has made an everlasting covenant with us, that He loves us. We may well be living in a desert of our enemies but to us, God says, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.” We may we be living in a land where the food we seek to often really never satisfies. To us, God says over the bread we eat, “Take and eat, this is my body.” God’s Word has created this reality and it is as sure and certain as the world we live in. It’s just a few sentences on in chapter 55 where God says:
10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God speaks His kingdom into existence and speaks us into it.
I don’t know how The Man in the High Castle ends. I’m planning to read it and find out. We can be assured of our ending because God has spoken that too. You need but “hear, that your soul may live.”