I created this blog as a way to process and record my experience as a seminary student. I also hope it will provide a platform for my friends and family to participate in the journey. Some of the entries are kind of long, but what can I say--I was in graduate school, they made us do that...


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


We had to write mini sermons from Isaiah in my Bible: Violence and Nonviolence class and read them to each other today. Here's what I came up with-

Isaiah: Chapter 24

  • Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled; for the Lord has spoken this word. (24:1-3)
This text offers an utterance of judgment and desolation. These are the first few verses in a chapter that continues to convey doom to all peoples, the earth, the sun and the moon; even the host of heaven. No one and nothing will be saved from the wrath this text speaks of.

In the middle of this chapter, however, there are a few verses of praise:
  • They lift up their voices, they sing for joy; they shout from the west over the majesty of the Lord. Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord; in the coastland of the sea glorify the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise, of glory to the Righteous One. (14-16a)
There is unity in both desolation and praise. These verses speak of all people, both easterners and westerners from the ends of the earth. This praise, however, feels jarring and odd in the middle of a chapter of doom. But just as the judgment was interrupted with spontaneous praise, so the praise will be interrupted with an odd, secretive word of warning “But I say, I pine away, I pine away. Woe is me! For the treacherous deal treacherously, the treacherous deal very treacherously” (16b). This is not a chapter of joy and two and a half verses of praise cannot detract from the images of prisoners in pits and snares and an utterly broken earth.

This chapter is apocalyptic. In vivid, sometimes sublimely beautiful language, it communicates the destruction of the earth and of unending punishment. Yet, oddly enough, this isn’t what I heard when I first read it. The second verse struck me and pulled me into a sudden awareness. I stopped and re-read it:
  • And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. (24:2)
To this list I would add, as with the mentally stable, so with the mentally ill; as with the fulfilled, so with the downtrodden; as with the pious, so with the atheists; as with those with all the answers, so with those filled with questions. The list could continue for pages. What surprises me is how well the original list in Isaiah still speaks to my era. People are still doing the same things, filling the same roles.

But this isn’t what struck me, what struck me was the fact of unity in both existence and in death. Human beings seem to find distinctions between everything and everyone. I understand that we need these distinctions in some ways to make sense of the world and to understand who we are as individuals. But, too often we allow these distinctions to take over and remove all mystery from our existence.

We miss the connection that we have to everything else in our world, simply through our shared existence and inescapable death. The world is an unexplainable miracle. The fact that I can think enough to even come up with distinctions is a miracle. The fact that I can feel both love and hate, happiness and anger is miraculous. To the list in vs. 2 I should also add, as with me, so with you. We all exist and we will all die. This is the mystery and the miracle that we all share and that we are all blessed and cursed by.

It is important to remember that the twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah not only cuts down the distinctions between you and me, but also between you and me and the dirt, you and me and the sun and the moon, even between you and me and the mysterious hosts of heaven. The mystery of creation extends ever outward from every small, visible piece of existence towards every invisible and unknowable thing. When it comes to existence and death, we are a unified creation. In horrific and terrifying terms, the twenty-fourth chapter of Isaiah reminds us of this fact.

And yet, the book of Isaiah ends in terms of separation. The thirteenth and fourteenth verses of chapter sixty-five read:
  • Therefore thus says the Lord God: My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; my servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; my servants shall rejoice, but you shall be put to shame; my servants shall sing for gladness of heart, but you shall cry out for pain of heart, and shall wail for anguish of spirit. (65:13-14)
These verses read as an antithesis to Isaiah 24:2. I understand that directly comparing these two sections might be considered unfair to the text. I know that this book is about worshipping God correctly and speaks of God’s punishment of his people through their enemies. I know that various parts of this book speak of the desolation of God’s people and in other parts of the restoration of God’s people. And that at various times, God is punishing various people. But, I still find the direct comparison helpful. These two sections offer me a choice.

In the painful words of chapter 24, I feel a reminder of my relationship to all of creation. I feel the mystery of my connection to every other existent thing. In chapter 65, however, I read words of separation. Words that do not fill me with hope of restoration. The last two verses of Isaiah speak of this separation in even bolder terms:

  • From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord. And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (65:23-24)
I do not want to stand over the dead in celebration. I do not want victory and restoration at the cost of someone else's suffering. I also don’t want someone else’s victory and restoration at the cost of my suffering. I want the irrational possibility of unity. I want the irrational possibility that restoration will come and that it will look like vs. 2 in Isaiah 24: as with you, so with me. I don’t want this unity to come in desolation though, I want it to come with a word of hope. I want it to come with a continued and sustainable remembrance of our unity. A unity that comes through the mysterious, miraculous fact of our shared existence.

1 comment:

Ally said...

1) Wow. Good job! This was a great sermon.

2) I am amazed at how much you *THINK* each day; what seminary requires of you.

3) I miss you and love you!