Sermon Ideas For Isaiah 62:1-5 Part 8
Homiletically, the metaphor of marriage is not the only important feature of our text. This particular prophetic utterance shifts address from talking about Israel's vindication in 62:1 to speaking to Israel of "your" vindication subsequently. From the hearers' perspective, this is significant. Preachers who wish to utilize this shift of address in sermons will find it makes all the difference in the world. The phrase "I love Fred," for example, sounds quite different to Fred than something like, "Fred, I love you." Such a shift of address in our sermons reinforces the evangelical character of this prophetic word today.
A sermon structure that utilizes both the marital metaphoric field and the evangelical shift of address might sound like this:
We remember God's love in the past. Problem is, now our relationship with God has soured. But listen up: God loves us still. How do we know?: `cause God's gone public with God's love for us. Now we can never be the same again.
Theologically, the sermon moves from a past-tense recollection of God's love for God's people in a homiletical anamnesis. In move two, we turn to an awareness of being a troubled church that experiences the present as a time of divine absence. With move three, we shift from self-reflection to address: God loves us still. Move four recalls Christ's cross as the public revelation of God's love for us. Finally, move five returns to a kind of self-reflection that views the outcome of God's public love as our "new-named" transformation.
A sermon following this structure starts by painting a wedding picture in the hearers' minds: there's God, and there's us right beside. In the picture's background we see flowers and candles. Yet now, looking back, we know that something's changed. The photo has yellowed, the flowers have long faded, the candles burned out. Like Isaiah, disappointed in life after the glorious return from exile, we ask: "Is that all there is?"
With move one we begin by reflecting back on our corporate memory: "Of course, we still remember God's love in the past." In this move we continue to describe elements of the church's life like old pictures in a photo album. Imagine paging through old photos of loving memories with God: romping in the Garden of Eden, a first home in Canaan, the birth of a son...." Preachers may also join these images to their congregation's present situation. What mainliners these days do not spend a good deal of its time remembering their glory days? The happy pictures on the wall at your church (many of them probably dating from the late 1940s to the early 1960s) may inspire you to help your church discover its experience of God's love as a kind of warm, though perhaps distant, memory.
In move two, "Problem is, now our relationship with God seems to have soured," the focus shifts to sensing the absence of God's love in the present. So where did it all go wrong for God's people? The decision to move to the suburbs? When the kids left? Those heated arguments over money? Whatever it was, we find ourselves in a situation analogous to Third Isaiah's: lack of a sure sense of God's presence that even the return from exile did not overcome.
Move three then shifts from reflection to evangelical address: "But listen up, people, God loves us still." Theologically, this represents a bold prophetic announcement of God's love. It's not the kind of thing we can explain or persuade someone into. It just is—because it proceeds from a God whose love is indeed inscrutable and incalculable. To illustrate, preachers might tell a story about a couple having a heated argument before one spouse goes away on a long business trip. The spouse at home is left stewing, but is surprised to find afterward little yellow post-it notes around the house. One's found stuck to the pitcher of orange juice at breakfast, another on the steering wheel of the car taken to work, and still another wedged into a favorite book on the nightstand by the bed. Yet on each little yellow post-it note, the same message appears: "Honey, I love you...still."
In move four we then ground that announcement of God's love Christologically. God has made God's love "public" for us in Christ. Here we can mention the public nature of wedding vows. Part of the significance of a marriage is the public speaking of vows before spouse, clergy and witnesses. This is something like the vindication the prophet Isaiah speaks of. It's not simply whispered in private, but spoken in public—like a marriage. Above all, however, its public character is true in our relationship to God through Christ. For us, the love of God is revealed not in a nice fancy service with all the modern wedding accouterments. For us the public ground of God's continuing announcement of love to us is none other than the cross of Christ. Of course, to some, such a powerless sign may not seem like much. Yet to us, it publicly represents God's steadfast love. Garrison Keillor tells the story of an old couple celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. For most of their married life their relationship consisted in mutual criticism. On their anniversary celebration day, she was offended to see her old husband's choice of suit. She was sure it would embarrass her in front of her friends. He, on the other hand, openly criticized her hair-do. He thought it was much too young-looking for a woman her age. At the rather strained anniversary party, both of them find themselves complaining to their friends about each other's shortcomings and failings...until an old song they both loved began to play. Then they found themselves in the center of the room, dancing together. They finally remembered how much they loved each other—even with their unseemly hair and unfashionable clothes. The spectacle would have been not much of a sight to some, sure, but to others, it was a public sign of love.
In the final move, "Now we can never be the same again," preachers bring the marital metaphor to a conclusion by envisioning our post-marital transformation. Just as many couples take on new names when joining in marriage, so God's public display of love for us changes us, too. Preachers can surely take cues from Biblical characters whose names change when their relationship to God is set in a new covenant. However, preachers may also enjoy poetically imaging what such new life looks like. Doubtless our wedding party should be big enough to include all comers—even people unlike us. Perhaps now we can better enjoy our new place settings and cutlery at the table by including the homeless. After all, in the shadow of God's public love for us on the cross, any "wedding gifts" we get, especially the gift of a new name, is not just a matter of identity, but vocation.
David Schnasa Jacobsen