For those who want a change from the Gospel
Easter 6 – Isaiah 55:1-11
I must confess that I absolutely love this passage. I am also a great fan of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. For any who haven’t heard of this model, it’s basically a way of dividing the human race up into 16 different personality types, and then using insights about yourself in areas as diverse as your marriage, your working life, parenting, spirituality, preaching, and even which Bible books you prefer. I have found it immensely helpful over the years, but I can still remember the retreat I went on when we were sorted out into our types (no hats were involved) and taught what it all meant and how it might be applied. The climax of the weekend was when we were put into groups of the same personality type. I have rarely felt so comfortable in my life, being with a small group of people who thought in exactly the same way as I did. Each group was given two sheets of flipchart paper, and asked to write two things: what we would most like to say to the world, and what we would most like to hear the world saying to us. It took us all of 10 seconds to come up with ours: we would like to say ‘Trust us, we know what we’re doing!’ and we would most like to hear ‘You were right all along!’ I’ll never forget that moment.
This passage, which dates from the end of Israel’s exile and which promises liberation and return to their homeland, has Israel’s enemies saying to her ‘You were right all along!’ It is one of several passages in the OT where those who have not been part of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh come flocking to his people to receive from his riches, his wisdom and his blessing because they have seen Israel’s splendour. Zechariah 8:23 is a great example: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”’ I love the idea of those who have rejected God finally getting it, and saying to the Christians ‘You were right all along!’
As a visionary I’m very good at seeing what’s wrong with things, and as a thinker I like to believe that I’m always coming up with workable solutions for improvement. But as an introvert I rarely show my working-out, so that the net result is that like John Lennon people often say I’m a dreamer. We’re all very well aware that we live in a Church which, at least in the West, is far from effective, is in desperate need of an overhaul, and is being increasingly marginalised by the world around, with fewer and fewer people apparently having any interest at all in what we have to say. Add into the mix a year of lockdown when we have been unable to do one of the main things we think we do know how to do, and everything seems to be up in the air. So the promise of people coming to us and saying ‘People of God, what must we do?’ seems a highly remote one. Show us how to be saved, teach us the wisdom to live well, and share with us your splendour and God’s blessings. Yeah, right. Not going to happen.
And yet the promise of this text is that it will, and I for one find this immensely comforting as I come to terms with the decline of the organisation I have given most of my life for. I take home two things from this passage. The first is the importance of personality in reading Scripture. All of us will have different bits, books, or passages which we most love, and that isn’t a sin: it’s because of how God has wired each of us up uniquely. That of course doesn’t let us off the hook from exploring other passages which we are less immediately drawn towards, or which we find downright difficult. But to enjoy those passages which most speak to us because of who God has made us can be a real tonic for our spirituality.
But the second thing this to listen to the message of this text, especially when we are tempted to feel despair at the state of the Church and the state of the world because of the state of the Church. I pray fervently towards that promised day when people will flock to us to say ‘You were right all along!’
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