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Music used for this service:
More Voices 62 “There Is Room for All”
Words and music: Bruce Harding, 2004; French trans. David Fines, 2000.
Voices United 469 “We Gather Here”
Words, Music: Bryan Jeffery Leech 1984 © 1984 Fred Bock Music Company, Box 570567, Tarzana, CA 91357, USA.
Voices United 321 “Maker, in Whom We Live”
Words: Charles Wesley. Music: George Job Elvey. Public Domain.
Voices United 960 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Adapted from a chant by R. Langdon. Public domain.
Voices United 884 “The Trees of the Field (You Shall Go Out with Joy)”
Words: Steffi G. Rubin. Music: Stuart Dauermann.
Words and Music: © 1975 Lillenas Publishing Company, administered by The Copyright Company – obo, P.O. Box 128139, Nashville, TN 37212-8139, tel.: 615-321-1096, fax: 615-321- 1099. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
We seek your presence under every rock, in every house,
searching for a new awareness,
something that will transform us.
But you turn our eyes outward,
to look to the face of our neighbour in need,
and it is there we truly find you.
Give us a heart for service and love,
so that we may be faithful servants of the one who served others,
and in our love for others find our salvation.
In his name we pray, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
One of the things I think that influences our idea that the “Old Testament,” more properly called the Hebrew Scriptures . . . well, most properly called Tanakh, which is what they are called in Hebrew, a portmanteau of torah, which means “teachings;” navi, which means “prophets;” and kvetim, which means “writings;” so the three parts of the Hebrew Bible, the first five books which makes up the torah, the prophets, like Isaiah here, and the writings: the psalms, proverbs, Job, etc.
Anyway, one of the things I think that influences our idea the Hebrew Scriptures only show a God of judgement and violence is that we remember most of the Hebrew Scriptures through the stories we learned in Sunday School, and there we latch onto the most dramatic, memorable stories. God destroying the world with floods, the plagues on Egypt, etc. We leave out most of the prophets, for instance, where we find clearly a God of justice and love. Like this passage from Isaiah.
When we look at the Hebrew Scriptures, what we are reading is the story of one people’s relationship with their God, over the course of a millennium. It’s a relationship that is described again and again in marital terms: a covenant. “I shall be your god and you shall be my people,” is a wedding vow. They use themes of marital fidelity; faith in the Hebrew Scriptures is not “belief in spite of evidence,” it is the faithfulness of married partners: faithfulness to the covenant, to the promises, to the wedding vows.
The Hebrew Scriptures are a collection of books from varying authors at varying points of time during this millennium, so they each have a different take on how the relationship is going. Sometimes it’s going pretty good, and sometimes it’s going terribly. But one theme that comes up again and again is that this relationship is abusive. There is faithlessness, violence, abuse, gaslighting (which, if you don’t know what that means, is the tactic of making the other person question their reality by denying they’re perceptions – “I wasn’t out late last night, you’re just paranoid about the time”). The victim in all of this, however, is not human beings; it’s God.
That may seem strange. How can God, who has the kingdom, the power, and the glory, be the victim of abuse? Well, not all abuse is physical. Israel is again and again faithless, in the relationship, and as we read through the prophets, faithless is not just worshipping other gods. It is letting the poor go hungry, committing violence upon one’s own people, building up power for themselves through military might and political intrigue.
God identifies himself with the oppressed people. Therefore violence to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, is violence to God. So when the people of Israel again and again break the covenant, they do violence to God. When we break that covenant, when we participate in systems of injustice, we do violence to God.
If there is a God of thoroughly unconditional love, who forgives everything, who bears every burden, She is fully and completely expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures. She calls out again and again for reconciliation. She says she is willing to move past the hurts of the past. To say that the God of the “Old Testament” is incomplete without the God of the “New Testament” is to ignore the many times when those qualities we associate with God—forgiveness, mercy, a desire for reconciliation—show up, like here.
This passage, one of the songs in Isaiah that speaks of a “suffering servant,” has been used by Christians as a prophecy that prefigures Jesus. That is one way to look at it; but on its own terms, this passage calls Israel the “chosen in whom my soul delights.”
This is God reminding us of our wedding vows. This shows a picture of the relationship as it should be. It is a passage of comfort in that it reminds us that, while we may be faithless, God does not leave us. “My glory I give to no other.” We who chose to be a part of this covenant, who say we believe in God, whom He has called by name, we are reminded and we are offered, once again, forgiveness.
Now, I do have to be careful, because this could easily be construed as saying that people in abusive relationships should stay in them and not get out of them. We have to remember that God is more than human. God has the power to shrug off trauma that we don’t. Abuse leaves scars on us that it doesn’t leave on Her.
But what this might do for those who experience abuse, I hope, is let you know that God is with even you. God is on the side of the abused, not the abuser, just as God is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressor. And God will make things new and right.
God is love. That truth is present through the whole Bible, and when we find passages like this, like Psalm 23 where God’s goodness and mercy follows us all our days, like Isaiah 43 where God is with us through flame and water, we know that. God has not changed in the 500 years between when the Hebrew Scriptures end and the gospels begin. God is love forever. Amen.