A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Susan Allison-Hatch
There’s a back story to every conversation. Even the conversations we hear today—the conversation between God and God’s people and the conversation between God and the prophet we call Isaiah. To the prophet God says, “Comfort, o comfort my people.” And that’s just what he does for 311 verses in the fifteen chapters of the book we now call Deutero Isaiah. That nameless prophet, that poet we call Isaiah, offers comfort and hope to a people who thought they had been forgotten by God. Comfort and hope to children born in exile and comfort and hope to those grown gray in captivity. Comfort and hope to those who by the waters of Babylon cry out to God and to their captors, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” Comfort and hope to those who demand of God, “Rouse yourself. Awake.”
How do you comfort prisoners bereaved and broken? What words of solace do you give to a people tempered in a furnace of adversity? How can you soothe the souls of people who have witnessed their homes destroyed, their temple desecrated, their country brought to ruin? Where is the hope for those whose hopes have been dashed? What is the balm that heals the sores that fester when you think your God has abandoned you?
It’s a wonder that nameless prophet even took on the job. Who would blame him for, like Jonah, running fast and hard in the opposite direction? Perhaps he knew—perhaps he shared—his people’s pain, his people’s loss, his people’s grief. After all, he, too, was a child of the exile. He had to speak his truth. He had to speak God’s truth. I suspect he knew the price of silence.
And what a truth he speaks! He speaks the words of God. Actually he speaks God. The words of comfort this nameless prophet offers are not platitudes, not easy sayings. No they’re the very nature of God. And he speaks them with an urgency that cannot be ignored.
Shaking the lapels of those within his reach this prophet asks, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
This is God. God who stretches out the heavens. God who is vastly bigger than our imagination. “The God who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.” This is the God who is in it with us. This is the God of our exile. God bigger than any one moment in history. God bigger than any one moment in our lives. God—beyond our imaginations. God of forever.
Then God joins in the conversation. God says to those in exile—both then and now
You have been borne by me from your birth
Carried from the womb.
Even to your old age I am here
Even when you turn gray
I will carry you.
I have made and I will bear
I will carry and will save.
Think of it—God beyond time. God eclipsing any one moment and God as close as a partner’s breath, a mother’s womb, a potter’s hand. It’s stunning. And so reassuring.
Reassuring to Jews exiled to Babylon and reassuring to you and me as well. For we all live in exile at one time or another in our lives. Seasons of exile are part of the human condition. The exile teenagers face when they are bullied by their peers. The exile of a terminal diagnosis or a crippling disease. The searing exile of failure or shame or coming up short. Our culture doesn’t leave much room for that sort of thing. The exile of grief. The exile of those rejected even by their own church.
And yet God says to those in exile, to you and to me, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Do you not know that I am with you; that I have made you and that I will bear you? God who stretched out the heavens, who can topple princes and wipe out rulers can give us the strength to deal with our places of exile. For we belong you and I to something much bigger than ourselves. We belong to God. Though nothing erases the reality of our seasons of exile, God works even in and through our exile.
A way does come from no way.
A Child is born in Bethlehem.
A tomb is found empty.
We are renewed and borne up on eagles’ wings.
Thanks be to God.