2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall


Sermon Briefs: Isaiah 63:16-64:12

David Read's 1982 sermon on Isaiah 63:15-19 centers on the wonderful work of God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer and on the nature of our response.

Isaiah, he says, is appealing to people who intellectually acknowledge, but effectively ignore, God. Our rebellion is not in belief but in response.

We ignore God when we worry constantly about what is going to happen to us, when we make plans and take no account of God's will in the matter, when we settle down with our sins as though nothing can be done about them, when we decide there is nothing to be done about world starvation and world peace and when we tuck God away in a corner called "religion." What we need, he says, is "a faith that soars beyond the surface of the mind, a God whom we really and truly adore."

He then describes human experiences of adoration, the wonder elicited from us by the music of Mozart, the beauty of a sunset, the kindness of a stranger, the presence of a lover, and concludes that "adoration means being drawn out of ourselves in a mood of wonder and ecstasy that somehow transforms and enriches our lives." The more we let ourselves be overwhelmed by the mystery of God's love, the more naturally we are led to adore God.

And the more we adore the more our lives are transformed. As we are influenced and changed by people whom we "adore"—parents, spouses, mentors, friends—so we are changed by our adoration of God.

In Isaiah's view, the reason his people were not being deeply influenced by God was that they were not adoring God. Our need, therefore, is continually to come together in the presence of God to celebrate the wonder of God's love, "for the God who is truly adored can never be ignored."

The text for Henry Sloane Coffin's 1934 sermon, God's Turn, was Isaiah 64:4 in which the prophet extols "a God who works for those who wait for him."

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century was an era of high confidence in the capacity of humankind to build a just and prosperous and peaceful world. World War I and The Great Depression wrecked that confidence. The problem, says Coffin, was that "in the minds of not a few, God seemed an elderly partner who had retired from active business and left affairs in the hands of the sons of men." Instead of seeing God as one who works for those who wait for him, people had pushed God into the passive role of doing the waiting.

Our need, he says, is always to remember that the God of the Bible is the initiator, the one who leads the way, in the reclamation and restoration of the world. The appropriate role of God's people is to wait upon God first, to listen attentively to what God is saying, and then to respond with work that is congruent with God's will. As Isaiah writes in 64:8, "We are the clay, and thou art our potter." We need to be careful to follow God and to avoid the pitfall of stepping out in front of God. When we take "our turns" and come up short, it is time to honor "God's turn."

J. Campbell Morgan's sermon on the same text was entitled Waiting for God. It was preached in Westminster Chapel in London at a time when England was beset by the threat and darkness of World War II. It is a passionate plea that God's people will remember God's saving work in the past and will use the strength which love of God provides to wait for and to obey God's commands. Morgan says that the Hebrew word translated "wait" in Isaiah 64:4 has affinity with a word that means "to entrench." He says that "the idea of waiting for God here is that of digging ourselves into God." Although especially resonant with wartime, the image of entrenching ourselves, grounding ourselves, rooting ourselves in God is a suggestive one as we think about the attitude and spiritual activity appropriate for Advent.

The Crimson in the Leaf is a short, beautiful and compelling sermon by John A. Hutton, a great Scottish preacher who succeeded John Henry Jowett at Westminster Chapel in London in 1923. The text is Isaiah 64:4, "We all fade like a leaf."

The central idea is that the beauty of the autumn leaf—its warm red and russet and yellow—"was always lurking in the leaf. It did not come into the leaf in the dying days; it only came out of the leaf then." In the beauty of the dying leaf we see it giving back all that it garnered from sun and sky in the course of its life.

Just so, the beauty and peace which we hope will dwell in us toward the close of our day "are not to be won in the evening itself, but are to be gathered in through all the hours and days of our life." What we will be at the end is being determined by what we are now. "In the matter of character and destiny, we shall all get what, in our true and innermost soul, we were always looking for."

This theme has a rich resonance, not only with the season of autumn, but with the season of Advent which should prompt us to consider who and what we want to be when the Lord comes to us.

J. Harold McKeithen, Jr.

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