Preaching Isaiah 62:1-5
Nothing is more impressive about Isaiah's faith in Yahweh than his commitment to intercede unceasingly for Jerusalem. "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch." (v. 1)
Whatever his political convictions, it is not so much to political harangue as to intercessory prayer that Isaiah is committed. Prayer that is unceasing. Prayer that is heartfelt and personal. Prayer that keeps "speaking out" on behalf of all Zion's people until the liberating fire of Yahweh's salvation brightens the sky.
In our time talk of the sky's being "brightened" may trigger memories both joyful and tragic. Who can forget the sight of joyful Bicentennial fireworks brightening the sky around the Statue of Liberty's freedom torch? And, on the other hand, after we tuned in expecting to see the first teacher soar into space, who can forget the dazzling horror of the Challenger explosion tragically brightening the sky. When we had hoped that war with Iraq might be avoided, those watching the news on that fateful night in January, 1991 saw a sky that looked like the Fourth of July signal the burning torch of destruction over Baghdad. As the War with Iraq came to an end, the Allied forces understandably concluded that it was their "vindication" which indeed went forth as brightness. I know that the tragic realities of war are hard to remember when victory celebrations brighten the sky.
"Jerusalem, the nations will see you victorious." That is the way Today's English Version translates the first sentence of verse 2. Whatever the current situation in the Middle East, I am sure that there must be tensions that play around present day interpretation of such scriptural words. Isaiah prayed for yahweh's victory over the darkness in Jerusalem--darkness resulting from wrecked buildings and wrecked hopes for freedom. So in our time we prayed for Israel's victory over the destruction brought by Saddam's "Scud" missile attacks. But I believe we may only be true to the universal aspects of the Christian gospel by saying something more. Victory for the Israelis in our time cannot be won unless there is also victory for the Palestinians. There is a pressing need for such recognition, and despite all the complexities and difficulties of the international politics involved, it has for me become an unavoidable conclusion. In making decisions for our world we simply must keep God's universal love for all persons in view. Seeking the Spirit's guidance, the preacher might take the risk of constructing a passionate, present day statement translating Isaiah's ancient message for the present time:
"O yes, I will speak out to encourage Jerusalem. I want her victory to shine out like a torch in the night. But do not insist that this torch was to be seen in the fireworks caused by Allied bombs over Baghdad. There are strange echoes in your history of my Bible stories. The Babylonian exile saw the people I had chosen taken far from home into the territory that i snow Iraq. Cyrus the Persian, through whom I provided deliverance for my people so long ago--he was from the country you now call Iran. In the present time my torch is for justice not only for Jerusalem but for all peoples of the Middle East, and the new name I will give you is the name I now hold out for all of the oppressed people of my world. you know that those I see as "forsaken" were not only the Jerusalem Jews of 529 B.C. "Forsaken" were also those 1991 Jews who donned gas masks out of fear of Saddam's chemical warheads. Remember that there are many others besides the Jews who know the experience of being forsaken. The Palestinians are forsaken on the West Bank and Gaza. Some of my black American children are forsaken in their urban wilderness jungle by drugs, and my people in Central America are "forsaken" is their powerless poverty. Kuwaitis and Iraqis, Lithuanians and South Africans. My word is that none must be forsaken. Remember that in 1991 even though my promises of deliverance must be universalized, they must still be applied locally. Be ready for the light of my Word to shine forth even through bumper sticker words." One that truly reflects my 1992 Word reads: "THINK GLOBALLY ACT LOCALLY" "Think globally to keep in mind all my children, but act locally" to deliver those of your neighbors, perhaps even those who sit near you this morning, who know something of what it is be "forsaken".
You, my people, must also pray for the freedom of Jerusalem. You must pray for justice for the Palestinians, You must pray for my people to be freed from the oppression of tyrants like Saddam, and you must pray even for my people whose armies were so overwhelmingly defeated in the Gulf War of Jan.-Feb. 1991.
Pray for families under attack from so many sources. Pray for the mothers of my world--pray that these mothers gain the power to nourish the world's future as they now seek to nourish their children. And intercede with all your heart for the men of the world. Start with the men you know but include also the televised men of political and military fame whose choices may cause my creation to "groan in travail." (Rom 8:22) Pray most of all for the children of my world. "Ain't gonna study war no more." yes, I long to have some version of that song sung by the children of my world in every language.
O my people--all my people! As I promised, I will bring to you in my time the victory, but in this interim time you must stand against the world's darkness. I know that you have your own darkness to contend with. But you must be true to me--who I dwell with you in a holy marriage that will ultimately bless all the face of the earth. "Like a young man taking a virgin as his bride, He who formed you will marry you. As a groom is delighted with his bride, So your God will delight in you." (v. 5)
My promised marriage has deeply personal meaning for each of you. But when I make my marriage vows, I make them not so much with one of you as with all of you. I Yahweh, Lord of Heaven and Earth, am married to all my children from every culture and creed. I am always seeking to make love reign, among my marriage partners on earth and in heaven. It is my will to delight in you and for you to delight in me and in one another. Delight also in my whole creation. "LOVE YOUR MOTHER" according to another of your bumper stickers. Recycle and restrain your energy consumption so as to revive and renew your Mother Earth.
I, Mother and Father of all I have given my children in Jerusalem new names. Hephzibah ("My delight is in her"" and Beulah ("Married"). (v. 4) As I will for you even now a new life and name, will you share the new life and the new names with all my children? Will you too speak out in prayer until Jerusalem and all my earthly cities are saved? The great victory of my Shalom that "shines like a torch in the night" is reflected in my tiny flames lit on your church altar every Sunday morning. Small flickers from my torch of Shalom also help to ignite the cook fires of the most destitute among you. The ones who light those fires around my world are so often the ones who seek merely to survive. It is my will that those barely surviving among my children know more of life's intended joy, that Shalom describes.
So pray for them. Intercede for the world's poorest and for those poor in body and soul in your own community.
Do not forget that through the name of Christ you have already found your salvation blazing forth. your new name in Christ brings for you, my people, a new calling. TOWARD PEACE FOR THE WORLD is my name for one of your new callings. The new wine my Son made at the wedding at Cana so long ago--may you find in it today a sing, a sacrament of the peace which I will for the world. Hold to this faith, and know that your prayers will help to win the victory for all my children!
John Pinder Rochester, Vermont