We continue reading in the Book of Isaiah, well into Second Isaiah, and also enter into the 5th week of Easter. This week’s readings, like Isaiah in general, are an interesting mix of prophetic condemnation and praise. Brueggemann, in An Introduction to the Old Testament, puts it that First and Second Isaiah constitute “a core Isaianic assertion concerning inescapable judgment reliably followed by generous restoration.” (p. 184) I have to say, this reminds me of being a parent, particularly considering the way in which I was raised and my initial parental inclination, in that if my child disregards my instructions, my first inclination is to punish, rather than educate. After that initial inclination, though, I can remember what I know about research in parenting and what my understood theology means for the way I live and parent – and can then make a different, more thoughtful decision in how to deal with misbehavior and acting out. It’s helpful in parenting and with life in general to remember God’s generosity and grace when my human desire to “even things up” gets in the way of helping my child to understand, process, and manage their feelings so they can do better next time.
In like manner, I don’t think that God is interested in punishing us for things, but as humans in this world we are subject to the consequences of our actions. I think that prophets, including Isaiah, helped Israel, and continue to help us, to consider the consequences of our actions from a theological – God’s – perspective. Also, while we are subject to the consequences of our actions, it is interesting to consider how contextual those consequences are – are the consequences from physics / natural law, or are they of human creation (legislation)? Something for people of faith to consider is if our human-imposed consequences help reinforce more organic consequences, and how helpful those consequences are in helping us to learn to live more lovingly and ethically – or are they just punishment out of a desire for retribution or to get even? What are our societal goals and hoped-for outcomes, and what helps us to achieve those outcomes?
April 29 – Isaiah 46
April 30 – Isaiah 47
May 1 – Isaiah 48
May 2 – Isaiah 49
May 3 – Isaiah 50
May 4 – Isaiah 51
May 5 – Isaiah 52
In particular with this week’s readings, we encounter what is known as the “servant songs” in Isaiah. Brueggemann discusses them and their intended function: “Scholars have … identified four poems dubbed ‘Servant Songs’ that came to be regarded as distinct from the usage of the term ‘servant’ in the rest of the poetry (42:1-9; 49: 1-6; 50:4-9; and 52:13-53-12).” While earlier scholarship places these poems by themselves, “the ‘servant’ in these four poems, like the ‘servant’ elsewhere in the poetry of Second Isaiah, is none other than Israel” and “that Israel with its special relationship to YHWH is also given a special assignment” to “open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon.” (p. 183)
Do the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah have any particular meaning for you?
This week we wrap up our prayer practice of Joseph Driskill’s “Prayer for a New Earth” (in Driskill’s book Protestant Spiritual Exercises, pages 120-125) and move into our May prayer practice of journaling our prayers. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us has some really great things to say about journaling, including what I think is most profound about writing out our prayers: “On the pages of a journal, in the privacy of a moment, we can take tentative steps into truth and scour our feelings, hurts, ideas and struggles before God. … It can be the place we sound off before God so we don’t sound off in an inappropriate way to others.” (p. 66) Have you ever written an e-mail or other note in the heat of the moment that upon further reflection you decided to edit, delete, or otherwise not send? One of the things I love about prayer and talking with God is that God is bigger than any of our pain, hurt, and anger – and can take it when the rest of humanity may fail us. Bring it all to God! Remember the Psalms and how they run the gamut of human emotions – and pray to God, and this month, write your prayers down, before you say something you regret to someone.
What changes when you write your prayers to God instead of thinking, speaking, or singing them?
Jim Martin in The Just Church leaves us with some final thoughts about becoming a risk-taking, justice-seeking, disciple-making congregation: “You are invited on this adventure by a God who is in the habit of using the pilgrimage to transform the pilgrim. And while your love for God and for the vulnerable you seek to serve will be good fuel for the journey, it will be vital to remember that you know these loves only in shadow form – and that you know them only because God first loved you. So take courage and take humility. Gather your friends and be on your way.” (p. 261)
In what ways is your life a pilgrimage? To what spiritual journey is God calling you?
Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.
Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world!
What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.
Word and World: Death and Resurrection. Vol. 11. 1. Saint Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 1991. https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/issues.aspx?issue_id=41.
Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
Driskill, Joseph. Protestant Spiritual Exercises: Theology, History, and Practice. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 1999.
Martin, Jim. The Just Church: Becoming a Risk-Taking, Justice-Seeking, Disciple-Making Congregation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2012.