Sermon Ideas For Isaiah 62:1-5 Part 6
Isaiah 62:1-5 are part of a prophesy designed to vindicate and eulogize the people of God. They are filled with flowery language, much of it using the image of marriage to describe both the people and their land.
To be sure, there were marriages in Isaiah's time that were marred by violence and abuse, but even so it is difficult to say whether Isaiah would have turned to the image of marriage if he were writing today, when we have so many more singles and divorces. In any case, marriage serves as a microcosm of the larger community, including both the human community and the divine-human community (to which today's text refers). Marriage is but one example of the many kinds of relationship into which we enter. Moreover, marriage exemplifies both the joys (of which Isaiah speaks) and the sorrows of community, and even more strikingly, of the way in which positive values can transform the negatives.
"You shall no more be termed Forsaken and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married" (Is 62:4). Striking words. How shall we make sense of them?
Since Isaiah's imagery of being married to the land and to God is so rich and multifaceted, there are a multitude of films that can help us to ponder deeper meanings in today's text. One example is Nobody's Fool (Robert Benton, 1994). At first, this film may not seem to have much to offer, since it portrays dysfunctional families. But the characters in this film learn what it takes to make a family and why it is worth it.
Donald Sullivan, or Sully, (Paul Newman) is a happy-go-lucky laborer in North Bath, in upstate New York. He is quite lovable, but not very responsible. When there is conflict, he runs. Years ago, he walked out on his wife and young child and now he is alienated not only from them but also from his grandsons.
Nonetheless, Sully has developed several significant relationships. One is with his landlady, Miss Beryl (Jessica Tandy, to whom the film is dedicated). The landlady's son (Josef Sommer), derisively but accurately referred to by Sully as "the banker," urges his mother to kick Sully out. While the son pretends to have a concern for the family, his concern really goes no further than his own self-interest. When a money-making scheme, in which he wants his mother and the whole town to invest, goes sour, "the banker" skips town, deserting his mother and fellow townsfolk. So "the banker" becomes the runner while Sully remains as companion.
Sully has a close relationship with a simple, lonely young man with whom he works. Sully treats him with consideration and respect, reassuring him that they are best friends.
Sully is also sensitive in helping Miss Hattie (Alice Drummond), who is senile. The editing contrasts this sensitivity with his rough and abrupt treatment of "the banker."
Sully further has a semi-romantic relationship with a married woman, Toby Roebuck (Melanie Griffith). When Toby's husband philanders one time too many, she is finally ready to ditch him and go off to Hawaii with Sully. Earlier in his life, Sully would gladly have gone with her. But he has begun to develop, for the first time, a responsible family relationship, first with a grandson, Will (Alexander Goodwin), and then with his son, Peter (Dylan Walsh). Sully has witnessed the strains, leading to separation, in his own son's marriage and its effect on the kids, with one going with each parent. Even more, he has learned the importance of responding to conflicts by coping rather than running. As a result, he says that he cannot go to Hawaii because he has rediscovered a grandson and a son.
Sully is still the same old Sully in many respects. But he is also a new Sully because he now has a sense of commitment. That is a significant element of what today's text is talking about.
Certainly, we can be trapped by relationships. Sully apparently felt trapped early in his marriage and broke free. But eventually Sully discovered that he was not as free as he thought. We can also be trapped by ourselves—by the narrow confines of our own self-interests and desires. To be free is not to run off to Hawaii, or whatever I might contemplate as pleasurable. It is to be free from the limitations of my own selfishness by making a commitment to God and to others—spouse, children, friends, colleagues—and through this network of interdependence to become truly free.
Another example of an unlikely source for insight into the nature of the marriage relationship can be found in Ride the High Country (Sam Peckinpah, 1962), a story of two aging gunmen who team up as security guards for a gold shipment. In the wedding sequence, the tinny piano music reminds us that the setting is the bar in Kate's place, with Kate's girls as the bridesmaids. The tipsy judge who officiates at the ceremony reminds the couple that a good marriage, like a rare animal, is difficult to find. The judge also emphasizes that a good marriage has a simple glory about it. But this glory does not come at the beginning—only later on. A good marriage takes a lot of hard work, because people change and you have to keep working at the relationship.
From this unlikely setting and unlikely source, we have some helpful words of wisdom. They are helpful both to newlyweds and to those celebrating wedding anniversaries in the double digits. They are also helpful to the people of God—from ancient Israel to today and into the future—as the people of God strive to make the most of being "married" to God and to the land God has given us.