Tag Archives: Isaiah

Carolyn Moore ~ Why Christmas Is Worth It

At our downtown ministry this week, I watched a precious soul rock an invisible baby while “Away in a Manger” was being sung and I was overwhelmed by the values of God and his preference for the poor.

It is completely antithetical to our human nature to seek after and invest in the hidden places where the poorest of the poor live and yet this is the very heart of God. He refuses to forget the ones forgotten by the world: the almost-hermit with decades-old depression, the woman who rocks an imaginary baby, the mentally ill one who changed names two or three times in the course of an evening, the one who celebrated her approval for section-eight housing as if it were good news to be poor enough to need rental assistance.

Jesus doesn’t forget them.

In fact, he looks for the ones who look like him and the prophet tells me, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Which means we are left to learn how to love the unattractive, to desire the company of the undesirable. We are also left to wrestle with an uncomfortable truth: To enter into the heart of Jesus is to submit to hidden, unglamorous work.

When Isaiah was deep into the work of penning a weighty bit of prophecy about the coming Messiah, he took time to describe how this Redeemer would deal with people. He said He would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.

Glenn Penton writes about this. In the days of Isaiah, shepherds would pass the time out in the fields by making a simple flute out of a reed. It was something to do, but also a kind of protection. They’d play it at night to let predators know that the sheep were not alone out there. But a reed flute being played by a boy-shepherd is not going to last long. It gets bent, stepped on, bruised.

Rather than trying to save a broken flute, the shepherd would toss it and make a new one. Same with their candles. They’d make cheap candles by floating a piece of flax in oil. Flax makes a great flame but when the oil gets low, the flax falls over into the oil and then you just get smoke. It is easier to make a new candle than to fish out a smoldering flax and repair it.

God told Isaiah we would know the Messiah by the way he treats the broken reeds and damaged wicks — the ones with personality disorders and bi-polar conditions and divorce and addiction and poverty. From the world’s perspective, reeds and wicks are disposable. “Toss these, and get new ones.” That is the world’s take on those who are banged up, stepped on, bruised, face down and smoldering.

Not so in the Kingdom of God. The true Messiah sees hope in even the most hopeless souls and by His power makes all things new. He specializes in the reclamation of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. He makes things and people work again.

And this is what makes Christmas worth doing. Because at its core, it is so much more than warm feelings, family dinners and big gifts. Christmas is God stepping in when all hope seems lost to rescue the ones the world would just as soon give up on.

Lest I sound more holy than I am, I have to admit that this fact grates against all my unholy ambitions. It is also the very source of my sanctification. God has told me the path to righteousness. It is to love justice, do mercy, walk humbly … to fall in love with the people who break his heart. He wants my work to bear his image. This is tough spiritual work for ambitious people but it turns out to be the only option if his heart is my hope.

This is the only path that makes the anxiety and busy-ness of Christmas worth the trouble. So I pray for you and me both that in this season, we will learn what it really means to embody the very heart of Christ, to do the hidden work of incarnational ministry, to allow ourselves nothing less than that which builds the Kingdom on earth.

Andy Stoddard ~ Pretty Feet

In a world that is fascinated with beauty and fame and power, what is really beautiful?  What is a true image of beauty?  What do you think of?

Today in Isaiah 52: 7-10, we get one of the more well-known passages that reference beauty.  Listen to what it says:

7 How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, Your God reigns.
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

hiking-1189873_960_720Isaiah tells us that beautiful are the feet that announce peace.  That bring good news.  That share of salvation.  That says that God reigns.

We are told to lift up our heads.  Shout for joy.  Sing.  Because God brings comfort.

These feet are beautiful, not because they are feet, but they are beautiful because of what they bring: the good news of God’s restoration and hope.

God brings hope and restoration to a defeated and broken down people. They have lost their way, they have lost their hope, they have lost their belief.  And the reason why those feet are beautiful is because God is saying, yes, things are bleak now.  But peace and joy are coming.  Don’t give into that fear.  Live in that joyful hope.

Why?  Because God reigns.

You think we may all need that message of hope now?  God reigns.  He really does.  For real.  No joke.  God reigns.  Don’t despair.  Don’t fret.  Don’t worry.  Remember that.  God reigns.

Beautiful are the feet that carry that good news today.

So, let’s have pretty feet today.  Let’s take the good news of God’s reign to our work, to our family, to our schools, to our communities.  Everywhere we go.

God reigns.  Let’s let the world know.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ The Promise of Righteousness

Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
    and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
    and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. – Isaiah 32:16-17

The word righteousness isn’t one you see popping up on your Facebook and Twitter feed much these days.

Most people in North America would hear “righteous” and immediately translate it to “self-righteous.” And if there’s any taboo practice in an emerging or present post-Christendom culture, it’s self-righteousness: the inherent judgmental stance against others, in favor of yourself, based on supposed superiority of morality. Perhaps because of it’s very appearance and sound, there’s a halt, a slamming of the brakes. “Righteousness” begins visually and aurally, in English, with “right.” To say definitively that you’re immediately “right” in a pluralistic culture is a non-starter.

Of course “righteousness” doesn’t mean, “I’m right and therefore you’re wrong.” We speak here only of the instinctual response of the casual hearer who didn’t grow up hearing Psalms read from a teacher at the beginning of the public school day. “Righteousness” isn’t in our public vocabulary anymore.

To suggest a neutral or positive understanding of “righteousness” is challenge number one, and immediately we face challenge number two: the assertion that righteousness is the path to peace, that righteousness bears the promise of unsullied community. And yet this is what we read from Isaiah. While Sandra Richter’s powerful new study on Isaiah or John Oswalt’s classic commentary can give deeper insight to this passage, the 21st century reader still can’t escape this basic assertion: “The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

If there is a season in which Americans might be open to reconsidering the promise of righteousness, it might be now: now, when peace, quietness and trust seem long ago and far-off. We hunger for peace, quietness, and trust. A truck plows through families celebrating in France, presidential campaigns are marred by inquiries, lawsuits, violence, and murky business dealings, a man following a law enforcement officer’s instructions is shot and killed in front of a four-year-old child, police officers are targeted and assassinated, a suicide bomber brings death and grief in Syria, and Baghdad, and Kabul, heroin scourges middle America, a teenager shoots up a church Bible study, a hostile nation steals information from our computers, an explosion rocks a German cafe, an agent teaching about cyber sex crimes accidentally catches a predator just in the few minutes she’s on a website during the seminar, a drone attack racks up significant “collateral damage,” a famous reporter admits embellishing an important story, veterans are returning with epidemic levels of PTSD, athletes’ performances are rigged with doping, the Zika virus decimates newborns.

The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.

Glean from this verse a few quick observations: that righteousness exists; that righteousness has an effect; and that that effect is profoundly desirable.

In an age of global terrorism, we read: “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

In the time-worn reality of immoral leaders, we read: “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

In a century when you can wake up to bad news from all over the world instantly accessible on your nightstand smart phone, we read: “the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

If this is what righteousness brings, it just might be worth pursuing.

Our society is beginning to think that the party might not have been worth the hangover. This is what “outgrowing” the Ten Commandments looks like. As well as shows perform with titles like “Scandal” and “Pretty Little Liars,” everyone really wants their friends to be trustworthy and their enemies to be honest. We want athletes’ performances to be honest (otherwise, what’s the fun of watching sports?), we want leaders who know that they too are under the law, we want our enemies to follow old rules of engagement that attempted to protect civilians from combat rather than deliberately targeting civilians.

In the end, we all really want peace, and trust. As we mature, we realize that the lure of drama to give self-importance is quickly hollow. Who doesn’t want a deep, profound sense of safety? And you cannot have true peace, quietness and trust without righteousness, no matter what a political candidate says.

So the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me” is half right. But peace doesn’t begin with peace. Peace begins with righteousness: submitting to the boundaries of God’s covenant with us. Part of the whole theology of salvation that John Wesley preached to everyone – not just those with a head start in life, not just those with deep pockets who could help fund his ministry, but everyone – is the promise that God’s righteousness is good and just, that God’s righteousness fused with love has poured out to cover our unrighteousness, and that not only is our unrighteousness covered, but it can also be transformed. By God’s grace, we’re not only forgiven our unrighteousness, we empowered to live righteously.

“The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.” Creation groans, we eagerly await the fulfillment of the inbreaking Kingdom of God. Until that Day, we still live in a world with death and tears. But righteousness offers glimmers of that promise.

Do you want to live in a world of peace, quietness and trust?

Put your faith in God, who will bring about his Kingdom where there will be no more crying or tears –

and –

live righteously. Do not covet, do not dishonor the Sabbath, do not give false witness, do not commit adultery, do not take on the name of God flippantly, do not dishonor your parents, and even more than these and the rest, love your enemies, walk farther than you are asked, don’t let your thoughts travel down dangerous roads even if you don’t act on them, think on things that are lovely and true and noble and trustworthy, discern and test, give thanks, pray constantly…

A tall order. “Peace, quietness and trust aren’t possible, because no one can do all that,” you think. In the past one hundred years or so, Americans have set an ever-lowering bar for ourselves, shifting from being at least taught and trained and expected to adopt certain behaviors, to setting the training of our character aside, to saying, finally, that it’s just not possible and those who suggest it is are levying a moralistic power ploy. Make no mistake, as a society we’ve also improved significantly in many areas. But it is difficult to live the Christian life, and it is even more difficult if we do not train the character of our kids, ourselves, and each other.

Righteousness in part is character development. In part, it is accepting the grace of God that melts our hardened spirits and reforms us in Christlikeness. If I want to be part of a culture of righteousness, I must exert my will to pursue individual and communal character development, and I must also accept God’s transforming grace that will shape broken parts of me away from self-destruction and towards the Word Made Flesh.

“The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”

So what are you doing to live a life of character and grace? Are your words honest and above-board? Do your thoughts betray ego or humility? Do you think certain standards are for others but not yourself? Are you both bold and gentle in your truth-speaking? Do you shift what you say in one context and change it in another, or at a different time, depending on how it serves your current desire?

Because the effect of righteousness? It’s peace. And the result of righteousness? Quietness and trust, forever.

Andy Stoddard ~ Can We Really Have Peace?

I’ve been thinking a lot about peace recently.  We are in the midst of Advent, a season of hope, peace, love, and joy.  It’s in this season when we proclaim the words of Isaiah 9:6-7:

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

The Prince of Peace is born!  That’s what we say.  That’s what we believe.

That’s what we believe: as Christians, as the church, that’s what we believe. And in the world that we live in, that makes us look different.  Off.  Odd. And you know what?  Good.  We are supposed to.  We aren’t supposed to be like the world.  We aren’t supposed to be like the culture.

We are supposed to be different.

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:10 – we are fools for Christ.  We are supposed to look differently, believe differently, act differently.  We are called to have a different hope, joy, love, and peace.

As I regularly say, if you tell folks you are Christian and they say, “really?”  that’s not a good sign.  We have to look and to be different from the world.

I’m not saying that there aren’t things to be afraid of.  I’m not saying that there aren’t things that can take our peace, take our joy, take our hope, take our love. Of course there are!  There are big, scary, worrisome things.  But please hear me.

God is bigger.

God is stronger.

God is more mighty.

He is bigger than your fears.

And as Christians, believing that is who we are.

And the world needs us to believe it and know it.

Your peace will not come from an absence of conflict or absence of things that are you are afraid of.

Your peace will come from the trust and assurance of this truth: no matter what you face, no matter what you are afraid of – God is bigger. And God is good.

Jesus Christ is the prince of peace.




He is our peace.

Will you trust him today?

Featured image courtesy DAVIDSONLUNA for Unsplash.

Kimberly Reisman ~ Darkness: Why Advent Breaks My Heart

I’m an Advent geek. I love it. I treasure the familiar feelings my faith evokes during this time of year – a deep and abiding sense of hope, expectancy, and joy. I love the preparations – the feeling of my house as I finish decorating at 3 AM with only the quiet sound of Christmas music (Charlie Brown or maybe Ray Charles) playing in the background; the joy of finding just the right gift for someone I love and imagining their face when they open it; the way it smells when John (yes, John) finishes baking Bishop’s Bread.

Despite being one of my favorite times of year, it’s also a difficult time for me because the message of the season always seems out of sync with my experience of the world. There are almost too many disconnects between the Advent season of hope and peace, and our world of violence and heartbreak to mention. I hurt inside every time I scroll my newsfeed.

This internal conflict is not new for me. Every year it seems my heart sings with joy at the same it is breaking with sorrow. That’s because the disconnect isn’t just in my own mind and heart, it’s a foundational contradiction between the Jesus way and the way of the rest of the world – a contradiction and disconnect that’s been around since Jesus came on the scene in the first place.

I suppose that’s the point. It’s the disconnect that caused the prophet Isaiah to promise, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine…For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.”

As Christ followers, in all times and seasons, but especially during Advent and Christmas, we declare to the world that we’ve seen that great light. Yet even as we make that proclamation, we can’t ignore that the world remains in deep darkness – God’s dream for the world remains a far cry from the nightmare that’s the reality in so many places today.

That is why proclaiming the good news of light in the midst of darkness isn’t about sentimental visions of Bethlehem’s deep and dreamless sleep as silent stars go by. It’s about recognizing that Isaiah’s promise of a great light is twofold: not only will a son be born to us, but that son, that Prince of Peace, will be “despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Isaiah says that we will turn our backs on that Prince of Peace and look the other way. He will be despised but we won’t care. He will carry our weaknesses and our sorrows will weigh him down. He will be pierced for our rebellion and crushed for our sins. Isaiah says that the one on whose shoulders the government will rest – that Prince of Peace – the one whose peace will never end, will be beaten so we can be whole. He will be whipped so we can be healed.

Every December my heart sings with joy and breaks with sorrow because there is never a manger without a cross. The peace that the angels sing about isn’t a peace that can ever come through violence – no matter how “redemptive” we may believe that violence to be; no matter how much we believe we need to “teach our enemies a lesson.”

The peace the angels sing about is a peace that comes through self-giving love. Our Prince of Peace rules a kingdom whose goal isn’t victory on it own terms but peace on God’s terms.

That our Prince of Peace entered the world as a helpless child and left it as a crucified outcast tells me that God’s kingdom is one in which self-giving, vulnerable, love reigns supreme; a kingdom that at it’s very core is a radical repudiation of violence. And that stands in stark contrast to the kingdoms of this world.

Yet that disconnect raises as many questions about ourselves as it does about the world. I do not doubt that the issues that face us are complex, nor am immune to an intense desire to see those who are doing so much harm brought to justice. But do we not mock the One we claim to follow when we fail to offer the merciful, forgiving, healing, redemptive, saving, love of Christ to all people – even our enemies? The witness of persecuted Christians in Nigeria and across the Middle East in contrast to our own shrill rhetoric convicts me of that painful truth.

We’re about midway through this holy-day season, this Advent season of disconnect. Maybe as we proclaim the good news that will bring great joy to all people, we ought also to recall the words of our Prince of Peace, who told us that God blesses peacemakers. Maybe in this season of peace and beyond, we need to ask how might we become more active in our peacemaking?

How might we love rather than hate our enemies?

How might we turn the other cheek, give freely, walk second miles, lower barriers, and come alongside others?

In other words, how might we live more into the likeness of the son whose birth we celebrate?

The questions remain. The disconnect remains. Yet we pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray that light will penetrate darkness, that violence and war will end, that the kingdom of our Prince of Peace – a kingdom of shalom – will indeed come.

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash

Kelcy Steele ~ A Mighty God for Miserable Times


For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NRSV)

Is there anybody here who knows that God is the joy and the strength of your life? He removes all pain, misery and strife, he promised to keep you, never to leave you, and never fall short of his word.

It doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that we are living in some perilous and miserable times.

But here is the good news: He’s a Mighty God even in miserable times!

Isn’t it good to know that God always delivers a message in your misery, a word for your wilderness, and a prophesy for your predicament.

God is Mighty! He is so mighty that his office is manifold. His promise is sure. His life is matchless. His goodness is limitless. His mercy is everlasting. His love never changes. And His word is enough.


There is none who can stand before him! There will be none who will stand after him.

And if we serve a Mighty God today why do we walk around here looking so miserable?

You have the same power and authority to overcome your fears, defeat the demonic, and declare the victory. Because God is too mighty for you to be walking around miserable, tell your neighbor, “smile!”

Here it is, the Prophet Isaiah declaring, “for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseler, the mighty God.”

It is the Prophet Isaiah who stood in the gap for 40 years declaring to a people that we might be in some miserable times but God is still mighty.

It’s hard sometimes to tell people who are dealing with hell, haters, and hypocrites that greater is comingIt’s hard sometimes to tell people who are dealing with problems, pains, and predicaments that greater is coming.

You can’t allow your misery to strangle out your miracle, strip you of your joy, or rob you of your future.

Because we serve a Mighty God even in miserable times.

May I ask the question and I ain’t trying to get in your business? What does miserable look like? Look straight and don’t look at your neighbor!

The word miserable means that you are in the midst of a wretchedly unhappy or uncomfortable situation. Because injustice, tribulation, and discrimination are wretchedly uncomfortable.

That’s not the time to silence your voice, apply for medical marijuana, and pop Zoloft and Prozac, punk out, and tuck your tail in between your legs like a puppy dog and run home.

Will the real prophet please stand up?

Because whenever there is injustice, tribulation, and discrimination, that should be the calling card of every prophet whose prophetic voice hasn’t been castrated and muted due to social ignorance and hidden agendas or being overly indulged in a happy gospel.

I wonder how “Happy” Pharrell Williams feels right about now? After tuning into the news and watching protest after protest, march after march, Black Lives Matter. All lives matters because it’s hard to be happy when life seems like a living hell.

Don’t allow your happy gospel of prosperity – name it and claim it, grab it and blab it, water down the social Gospel where you forget that your Christian ethics ought to be applied to social problems.                                                                Will the real prophet please stand up?

There’s nothing wrong with the shout, but the problem begins when you stop shouting and never speak out or speak to. What’s oppressing you?

There’s nothing wrong with the dance, but the problem begins when you stop dancing and never decree like Isaiah that God is mightier than all the misery that’s in your life.


And now we are here at “Can’t Breathe” “Hands Up” miserable, still staring injustice, tribulation, and discrimination in the face.

I have some good news: we are not serving a miserable God. But we serve a Mighty God even in miserable times.

Our God is Mighty. He is not shaken by our circumstances and taunted by our troubles. His battle plans are already completed, the victory is already won.

And I don’t know about you, but our God is too mighty to sit here with our “altogether lovely selves” and not prophesy that enough is enough. Do I have any contemporary Isaiahs? Who refuse to sit back and allow the devil to floss and flex? But you are ready to prophesy that enough is enough.

Will the real prophets please stand up?

Enough of burying Black men and boys before their time. Enough of their lives being snuffed out by the very people who are trained and paid to protect and serve. Enough of America turning a blind eye to police brutality and overall violence against Blacks. Enough is enough.

Will the real prophets please stand up?

I couldn’t breathe in 2006 when Sean Bell was shot and killed by a undercover NYPD officers

I can’t breath at the mentioning of the names of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or Michael Brown.

And I don’t know about some of you. But I come like the Prophet Isaiah prophesying that God is mightier then our misery. Isn’t that Good news? That his name will be called…Mighty God.

This name Mighty God in the Hebrew is El Gibbor,

El comes from the root word meaning strength, power and might! Somebody shout, “He’s a mighty God!” Gibbor means that God is a Warrior and a Champion.

God is our Strength. God is our Power. And God is Mighty.

Gibbor means champion,

Gibbor means conqueror.

Gibbor means warrior.

Gibbor means hero.

Is there anybody here who don’t mind touching your neighbor and tell them God is my hero? Isn’t that good news, that our Savior supersedes superhero status?

Jesus is better then Superman: he knows all things, created all things, and has authority and power over all things. Kryptonite can’t stop him: he had no hidden agendas. He didn’t need a mask, a created identity or a double-lifestyle. He simply walked with God.

Tell somebody: He’s a mighty God.

Hindus acknowledge many gods, Buddhists say there is no deity, New Age followers believe they are God, Muslims believe in a powerful but unknowable God.

But we believe in a mighty God.

I dare you to touch somebody and tell them “God is my hero!”

Let me tell you how I know that God is mighty! The infinitely powerful became weak. The wonderfully majestic became humble. The creator of the universe became one of us. The infinite, eternal, self-sustaining being, who created every atom in the universe and put them all in their respective places became dependent on the nourishment of his mother’s breast and the warmth of her loving touch.

He’s a mighty God.

He is a Servant who was rejected.

He is a Substitute who was punished.

He is a Savior who made provision.

He’s a mighty God.

He became like us to free us.

He walked among us to guide us.

He stayed with us to teach us.


The eternal became the mortal. When the Word became flesh:

The infinite became the finite.

The glory put on sandals.

The majestic wore clothing.

The creator walked among us.


And the government rested on his shoulders. And that’s why we sing:

What a mighty God we serve!

What a mighty God we serve!

Angels bow before Him

Heaven and earth adore Him

What a mighty God we serve!

In the name of Jesus, we have the victory! Anybody have victory today in the name of Jesus, Satan will have to flee! Tell me who can stand before us when we call on this great name?

JESUS, JESUS, JESUS, JESUS! We have the victory!

Can somebody help me call his name today?

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

There’s just something about that Name.

Master, Savior, Jesus,

Like the fragrance after the rain.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, 

Let all heaven and earth proclaim,

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away,

But there’s something about that Name.

Do you know him?

In Genesis he’s the seed of the woman.

In Exodus he’s the Passover lamb.

In Leviticus he’s the high priest.

Do you know him?

In Numbers he’s the cloud and the fire.

In Deuteronomy he’s the prophet like Moses.

In Joshua he’s the captain of our salvation.

In Judges he’s the Judge and Lawgiver.

Do You know him?

In Ruth he’s the Kinsman Redeemer.

In 1 and 2 Samuel he’s the prophet of the Lord.

In 1 and 2 Kings he’s the Reigning King.

Do you know him?

He’s Ezra faith scribe.

He’s Nehemiah’s wall builder.

He’s Esther’s Mordecai.

He’s Job’s dayspring from on high.

He’s Psalms’ shepherd.

He’s Proverbs’ and Ecclesiastes’ wisdom.

He’s Solomon’s lover and bridegroom.

He’s Isaiah’s suffering servant.

Do You Know Him? I’m glad I know him: He’s the lily of the valley, he’s a bright and morning star. It’s good to know the Lord! He’s Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. It’s good to know the Lord! He’s joy in sorrow, he’s my hope for tomorrow. It’s good to know the Lord!

Can somebody throw back your head and throw up your hand and call his name? Jesus!


Jeff Rudy ~ If Only (Or, the Sermon I Couldn’t Deliver but My Wife Did)

There’s a story behind why I couldn’t stand up to preach…in short, I had a case of vertigo and wasn’t physically capable of standing to deliver my sermon. So at the last minute my wife volunteered to do deliver it for me. She had heard me rehearsing it the night before and fortunately I had a manuscript of what I wanted to share. So she courageously stepped in and delivered this text that I had prepared for the first Sunday in Advent.

The primary Scripture was Isaiah 64:1-9, and I used the Common English Bible, which was crucial to illumine a couple of points that were made in the sermon.

So today begins a new church year as we kick off the season of Advent this morning. I’ve come to cherish Advent more and more as the years go by. It’s not that it is my favorite because it means Christmas is so close, which was likely what I felt growing up, but because, as I see it, Advent is the season that probably gives us the most honest assessment about the way things are in the world. At its best the season of Advent and its relationship to Christmas mirrors that of Lent and its relationship to Easter. Advent, for some time, had seven weeks (not four), and was designed to be a season of repentance, fasting and preparation for the great mass, or worship celebration, for Christmas. But it was and is also a season that prepares us for the second coming of Christ, when all things will be summed up and the new heaven and new earth are joined together at last.

Now, if we can learn to fully appreciate a season of anticipation, of expectation, and waiting and not rush to December 24-25 as we are so prone to do, then we will be able to really allow the sense of aching and hope to linger long enough for us to get genuinely thirsty for the coming of the Lord. For this reason, in recent years I have found myself drawn toward the words of the prophets who so frequently spoke as people in waiting, longing for God’s appearance, during the season of Advent.

Simon and Garfunkel quipped that “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sound of silence.” At the beginning of the song, they sang, “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.” Advent meets us in the darkness, in the silence. So do the prophets.

Polish-born Jewish rabbi Abraham Heschel, who lost many family members because of the holocaust, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. for the civil rights movement in the 1960s, wrote what is in my mind the best summary work of the lives and writings of the prophets. Here are a few of his comments that I thought fit particularly well given the context and content of our passage from the prophet Isaiah from this morning:
• “This is the marvel of a prophet’s work: in his words, the invisible God becomes audible.”
• “Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums. To us a single act of injustice—cheating in business, exploitation of the poor—is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. Their breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria.”
• “The prophet’s ear is attuned to a cry imperceptible to others. The prophet’s ear perceives the silent sigh.”
• “Instead of cursing the enemy, the prophets condemn their own nation.”
• “The words of the prophet are stern, sour, stinging. But behind his austerity is love and compassion for mankind…he begins with a message of doom; he concludes with a message of hope.”
• “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven.”

There are many more that are worth quoting, but something Heschel challenges is the notion that has gotten in some of our minds that prophecy has to do with a distant, impersonal, implacable God who serves as judge and who uses these obscure persons to serve as a sort of mouthpiece, which renders the work of the prophet as a mere technical function. Heschel wrote, “The prophet is not a mouthpiece, but a person; not an instrument, but a partner, an associate of God,” and that what is behind the message of the prophets isn’t merely an emotionally detached discussion about justice, but is rather the pathos, or feeling, of God with regard to the events of the world and the behaviors of God’s people. Heschel continued, “it is more accurate to see the prophets as proclaimers of God’s pathos, speaking not for the idea of justice, but for the God of justice, for God’s concern for justice. Divine concern remembered in sympathy is the stuff of which prophecy is made.” Indeed, “God’s role is not spectatorship but involvement…The God of Israel is never impersonal.” If this is true – if God is so concerned with the plight of the people and passionate about the cause of justice and at the same time is all-powerful – then the question that rises to the surface is, what is behind the complaint of Isaiah this morning, “if only…” or “why haven’t you torn open the heavens and come down? All would be settled, mountains would quake, enemies would flee or at least tremble.”

It comes as a cry from a people who have experienced the redeeming power of a God who overtook oppressing enemies to make things right. So where is this God? Heschel said, “in a stricken hour comes the word of the prophet. There is tension between God and [humans]. In the presence of God he takes the part of the people. In the presence of the people he takes the part of God.” So Isaiah reminds God of the former deliverance that the Lord procured for his people. “From ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any god but you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” That was the distinguishing mark of the God of Israel: patience and deliberative involvement in acting for those who wait on God. As far as the prophet could tell, there weren’t any other gods who were patient or longsuffering. And this has been evidenced in cultures throughout history as the greatness of a god was directly related to the greatness of the king and his army. When the people of a god were conquered, that god would disappear and usually the survivors wouldn’t hesitate to wreck the images of the gods in whom they had previously trusted.

So in a stricken hour, will we wait on the Lord? I don’t mean sitting down twiddling our thumbs. Nor did Isaiah. John Oswalt said it well when he wrote, “biblically speaking, ‘to wait’ is to manifest the kind of trust that is willing to commit itself to God over the long haul. It is to continue to believe and expect when all others have given up. It is to believe that it is better for something to happen in God’s time than for it to happen on my initiative in my time.” It is an active type of waiting that seeks to live rightly with relation to God and neighbor.

To get there we have to come to grips with something about ourselves that is really quite difficult, and this is the part no one really enjoys preaching or hearing about. But it’s something that is absolutely necessary and is evidenced in what Isaiah admits about the behaviors and attitudes of the people – sinning and doing wrong, being unclean – to such a degree that all our righteous deeds have become like filthy cloths, or as you heard it read this morning, a menstrual rag.

I didn’t read this version to gross you out, but there is something in this statement that illumines our own brokenness as we approach the God of compassionate mercy and justice. You see “sin” is like a contaminant that infects the whole body and it had become such a problem among the people of God that it infected even those things that we would typically deem as righteous acts. Even those had been contaminated to such a degree that the works weren’t signs of new life coming, but of the lack of conception (hence, “menstrual rag”), because all they do is self-serving and self-enhancing. They’d become a charade of the real thing.

Okay, I think I’m done with that analogy for the day. I suspect my email inbox will be filled with many messages from parents letting me know their children will be coming to ask me some questions that came up because of today’s Scripture.

Now let’s get really uncomfortable and see where this passage really addresses the darkness that remains in our world – Ferguson. What is the response of the people of God to the tragic death of Michael Brown and the events that have unfolded there and elsewhere since? Chances are when I simply mentioned the name of the town just now, there were several different internal reactions and emotions among the people in this congregation. Yet let us be honest that while our political ideologies and opinions on this and related problems are various within this church, we are nonetheless a rather affluent congregation comprised primarily of white people.

We also ought to recognize that systemic injustice still exists despite our lofty dreams and naïve ideas that we have somehow arrived at a utopian society where all are equal. It is true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than white men. And if that causes us to shrug our shoulders in apathy, then we are not in tune with the God of justice. If we think it’s no big deal, we are tone deaf to the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. who wrote from a prison cell that, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If we are numb to the reality of privilege and of the responsibility that comes along with it, then we are a far cry from our movement’s founder John Wesley, whose last letter was written to encourage William Wilberforce to persevere in his cause of championing the abolition of the slave trade in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. If we remain apathetic, or even worse hold onto prejudices and fear of others because of the color of their skin, then we will be like the people for whom Isaiah and the prophets wept because they did not call on the name of the God of justice.

If only…if only you would come, God, Emmanuel. The cry of Advent is not merely a preparation for Christmas, it is really the final cry of the New Testament in the Revelation. “Maranatha! Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!” If only you would come; I mean fully and really come all this would be reconciled. No more death, no more need for protests or riots, no more destruction, just the fulfillment of all our hope – a place of eternal shalom!

But as we cry, “Maranatha!” let us at the very least be the people who actively wait. And that involves listening – for God, to our neighbors – for they have a story to tell and experiences to share that are often very different than our own. Are we willing to be clay in the potter’s hands in this season? Take us, mold us, use us.

To close this morning, I want to share with you a blessing adapted from a Benedictine prayer. It’s not any normal blessing, though; it is one that carries with it a challenge to be a prophetic witness in a world that doesn’t often care much for the prophets. So here goes:

May the Spirit bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships so that you will live deep in your heart.
May the Spirit bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people and the earth so that you will work for justice, equity and peace.
May the Spirit bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them.
May the Spirit bless you with foolishness to think that you can make a difference in the world, so that you will do the things which others say cannot be done.

In the name of the Father whose pathos, love and compassion burned hot for the people of God to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God; and of the Son, who didn’t consider his privilege as something to use for his own gain but emptied himself to become human and really the lowest of the sorts—a slave; and of the Holy Spirit, who with open arms embraces us and welcomes us into the holy mystery of being the children of God. Amen.

Ohio State students participate in a prayer vigil for Ferguson on November 24th. Photo credit: Jacob Shalkhauser for The Lantern
Ohio State students participate in a prayer vigil for Ferguson on November 24th. Photo credit: Jacob Shalkhauser for The Lantern

Carolyn Moore ~ Too Light a Thing

I encountered Jesus on a trip to a mercy ministry in Bangalore.

The people at this particular place were a mix of old, disabled, infirm and insane. But in some pairs of eyes, I could see what Mother Teresa talked about: Jesus in his most distressing disguise. I sat by a woman who was skin and bones. Half-naked and not fully conscious, she had been laid out on a concrete slab with her back side — full of bed sores and covered in flies — exposed to the sun. I don’t know how she was still alive and suspect she didn’t last long after I left. The direct sun seemed an unmerciful place for someone so fragile, but no one moved this woman and she was certainly not able to move herself. I asked about a place in the shade and was told she needed to stay where she was. I asked about food and was told she couldn’t eat.

What to do, then, when there is nothing to be done? I stood there, helpless in the face of such poverty, and wondered: as a follower of Jesus, what is my responsibility to this woman who seems to have been forgotten by the world? Do I demand justice? Throw her over my shoulder and haul her out of there? Or helplessly move on?

I decided that if nothing else, perhaps I could honor her life by noticing it, so I sat down by her side and waved flies from her face (they’d filled her nostrils). I looked at her. Really looked. This was real poverty, real suffering.

I would have suspected in a moment like this that the Word of God would dissolve in the face of such a reality. But to the contrary, it was the only thing that seemed to make sense. In fact, a word from Isaiah 49 came to mind and I spoke that word over her life: “The Lord called you from the womb. From the body of your mother he named your name … You are honored in the eyes of the Lord. God will be your strength.” Far from being irrelevant, it seemed the one thing I might want if I were in her place. I think I’d want to know I wasn’t invisible, that I mattered, that in my final moments, the truth would blanket me.

You are not forgotten. The Lord knows your name. Your life even now has value. The world has failed to treasure your life, but God has not forgotten you.

In order for that word to be true for this woman, and I absolutely believe it was, my comprehension of the Kingdom of God had to expand exponentially. Very quickly, it had to become much bigger than my middle-class existence had come to accept. And my righteous response to the Kingdom also had to expand. To be bigger. To be great.

That prophetic word spoken over the people of Israel resonates still. It is a rich and varied word, spoken first to reveal the heart of the Messiah, but also to reveal the heart of a fickle and self-centered people. Finally, it comes to speak over the heart of God’s people today. It calls us to a holy response that is bigger than our comforts will often allow.

We read from Isaiah 49:1-6:

Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
  He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
  He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
  But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

  And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
 he says:
It is too light a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

In this passage, we discover three truths about God, ourselves, and the call on every life.

God creates purpose (and God creates on purpose)

As the old saying goes, God made me, and God doesn’t make mistakes. Isaiah 49, verses one and five, remind us of this truth. He calls us from the womb. Before we are born, he names us by name. We are honored in his eyes.

A few days afunnamed (1)ter our trip to the mercy ministry where I encountered the woman described above, we visited another ministry, a place called Daughters of Hope. Founded by a young couple impassioned by the concept of business as missions, Daughters of Hope is committed to bringing hope to deeply impoverished women. Most of them come  to “Daughters” from a place of despair. Many have alcoholic husbands; all of them are the primary providers for their home. Most would be unemployable in Bangalore due to lack of  education, lack of opportunity or lack of language skills. I found myself again speaking this word from Isaiah over the 60 women employed at Daughters of Hope, as I shared with them from the Word. I got to tell them that they are not forgotten; that they are treasured, valued, remembered. And then I told them about the story Jesus tells about treasures. He once said (Matthew 13:44) that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he had and bought it. I told them that they are the treasure in this field called India, which God has purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ. He bought that field so he might have them as his own daughters.

That word is for us, too. We also are treasures, planted in this field where we live. And God has purchased our land, also, with the blood of Jesus Christ so that he might have us as his own sons and daughters. How does it change your understanding of your own worth to remember that you are a treasure, that you are honored in the eyes of the Lord?

While in India, our group stayed with a missionary who has established a home in which she and a team have raised 46 children. She told me the story of a social worker responsible for rescuing several of her kids and bring them to her home. This social worker is truly a treasure hidden in the field called India. She is quietly, faithfully following Jesus where few others would go.

The social worker once traveled into a rural area to serve a tribal community. When she got there, the people of the village made sure she knew not to go near a certain tree that grew in their midst. They told her it was cursed, a notion proven by several deaths related to the tree. Some people had hanged themselves on this tree. Others had walked under it and then experienced bad luck. The combined encounters convinced the entire village that this tree was bad news, and that anyone who passed under or near it, especially after dark, would die. The social worker knew this tree didn’t have that kind of power, but no amount of talking could convince the villagers of that fact. Finally, she announced to those who had shared this news that she would sleep under the tree that very night. Daughters of HopeBy herself. She would prove by her own experience that the tree had no power. The village leaders were mortified by this announcement and begged her not to follow through with her plan. They warned her of what would surely happen if she went near this tree, but she refused to listen. That night, the social worker went out and made a bed under this cursed tree, then laid down and proceeded to have a peaceful sleep. The next morning, the social worker awoke at dawn, to find herself surrounded by the entire village – plus a few from neighboring villages! They’d come to see if she was still alive, which indeed she was. Seeing the crowd, she stood up beneath that tree and shared the great news about Jesus Christ and the power of God Almighty. In one day, half the village became followers of Jesus.

The fact is, there are cursed trees in the world. Jesus met one. Once, on his way into Jerusalem, Jesus discovered a fig tree that bore no figs, and he cursed it because it bore no fruit. Evidently, in the Kingdom of Heaven, that is the ultimate curse. To be designed for fruit-bearing but to refuse to bear fruit. Let me say that again. In the Kingdom of God, the ultimate curse is to know, but do nothing about it.

Why? Because we were not created for nothing. We are not mistakes. Our lives matter. God made us with a purpose in mind. This is how God creates. He creates purpose, and we are designed with a destiny in mind. Do you know your destiny? Have you tapped into God’s purpose for your life? Have you explored the passions he has placed within you?

God creates salvation (but we create opportunity)

A prophet speaks for God and brings clarity around the purposes of God. When Isaiah speaks, his message first of all is a word about the coming Messiah, who will be the light of the world. But it is also about the Israelite people. God has every intention of using them — like a treasure planted in a field — to build his Kingdom on earth.

Paul reaches back into this very passage in Isaiah 49 when he and Barnabas begin preaching to Gentiles. He is battling the incessant complaints of religious people who are anxious over the mixing of races and the evangelization of foreigners. Paul’s response to them is an ancient one. He draws from Isaiah’s word to the Israelites, reminding them that truth is not a private affair. “For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47).

Paul takes this word to the people of God in Israel and makes it clear that this prophecy is not just for the Messiah or just for some special group but for all of us who follow Jesus. God has made all who worship him into partners — to be a light, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Because nothing is ever lost in God’s economy, he will even use those consigned to exile and the stuff that enslaves us to build his Kingdom. Before we were born, he called us by name. He gave us a purpose, and he is using us to take his salvation to the ends of the earth.

God creates greatness (and we bear it to the world)

In Isaiah 49:6 we read, “He says, ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” This word strikes deeply at our self-centered, individualistic worldview.

We are content, most of us, to work out our own salvation, but we neglect to cultivate a hunger for the whole world. And yet, Isaiah teaches, it is too small a thing that we should care for our own salvation only. It is too light a thing, Isaiah says, that we should serve only our own people and to keep feeding the ones who have already been preserved. It is too light a thing to think only about local missions, to go only as far as our comforts take us.

We have been called to be a light to the nations, that God’s salvation might reach to the end of the earth. That is the end toward which we are headed. One day, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And God has chosen to write that story in partnership with his people. After all, we were not created for comfort. We were created for greatness.

And that became the second half of my message to those women who work at Daughters of Hope. Most of them have come out of a Hindu worldview, where gods are small enough to fit on dashboards and hang from rearview mirrors – a worldview that emphasizes personal growth through reincarnation — a works-based mentality that assumes your hard times are your own fault and not my responsibility. And yet these women have experienced the grace of Christ through a mission effort that empowers them, that lifts them out of poverty and makes them — truly — daughters of hope. Isaiah reminds these women that this gift they’ve been given is not for them alone. It is too light a thing for them to care only for their own salvation and their own households. God has planted them into this field called India for a purpose — to bear Christ to this field, that the salvation of God might be known among every tribe and tongue of India. And I absolutely believe it will come in just that way — through hidden treasures like poor women learning to sew and social workers preaching the good news under cursed trees. Treasures hidden in this field. Greatness. A holy response bigger than our comforts will allow.

My daughter says I can trace every sermon point back to a scene from “Joe vs. The Volcano.” I don’t know if that’s true, but there is one scene in “Joe vs. The Volcano” that resonates. It comes after the title character has survived a typhoon and a shipwreck and is now stranded on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He’s been through so much and now Joe is as close to death as it gets.

And that’s when he remembers.

He is on his raft, facing the moon as it rises over the horizon of the water. It is huge and just there before him, almost as if it could be touched. Joe is delirious, and for him this moon is something supernatural — perhaps even God himself. As the moon rises, Joe sinks slowly to his knees, places both arms in the air and says, “thank you. Thank you for my life. I forgot …how…BIG …”

How easy it is, in the midst of ministry, to forget how big. All the hoops we jump through and all the personalities we juggle can sap the joy out of us, and leave us in survival mode. We pull ourselves in, and become concerned about us and ours. We forget the power of God and the call to be great. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten just what it is we signed on for, and just how big our God is.

I won’t accuse you of this, but I am so very aware of my own tendencies. I am embarrassed to admit that I probably spend more time worrying about the life of my computer battery than I do about the eternal life of my Muslim friends. Maybe you can relate? I forget how big. How all-sufficient is our El Shaddai, how great is our God. I forget that he has made me for a purpose bigger than finding a great parking spot. He has formed us in his image and breathed into us the breath of life. It is the very power of God — the same power that created me and made me for a purpose — that saves me from selfishness and gives me courage enough to cast out demons, cure diseases, proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick. It is the power of God that calls out greatness in me.

This is what it means to follow Jesus. And as we follow, we find ourselves more and more in the company of the brokenhearted, the blind, the poor, the prisoners, even those oppressed by demonic forces: people who are hungry for healing and who need spiritual leaders who have a heart for healing — not because we’re big-hearted, but because God is that big.

Have you forgotten how big the Kingdom of Heaven is? Have you forgotten how big your response to that Kingdom? I wonder how it might change the spiritual atmosphere of your home, your church, your ministry if you stopped where you are, right now, and put your hands in the air to confess: “God, I forgot how big!” He has created you for a grand purpose, he has created opportunities all around you for sharing the salvation story, and he calls you to bear the greatness of God’s Kingdom to the world.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Imagining Glory


“Now we see dimly; then, face to face.”

Not, perhaps, the most utilized portion of I Corinthians 13 at the ubiquitous summer wedding – but oddly, one of my favorite parts of the familiar chapter. It seems to distill the essence of faith: trust that we will eventually see “face to face” what we now discern only dimly, in fragments and sketches.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Do we really believe we can know in part now? Postmodern instincts have eroded much of the basic confidence necessary to make simple statements of what we know; not what we believe, but what we know. If we can know, not fully, but truly – then we have that glimpse of the reflection.

What will we see face to face? The mysteries of the atom? Perhaps. A headcount of mysterious sea creatures inhabiting Loch Ness? (Fingers crossed.) Or the knee-bending, earth-shattering reality of Glorious Love? Of Triune Love, in all its glory? We get tantalizing hints of holy glory, sneak peeks of thunderous love and galaxy-spinning Triune chuckles. The book of Revelation teases us with vibrant portraits of the cacophonous zoo that is heaven – or is it Eden? No, and yet – paradise.

Glory is a concept a bit neglected by 21st century Americans – nonbelievers and faith-followers alike. We’ve been Goodyear-blimped and hyped and wowed and spectacled. Conversely, we’ve been flooded by dystopian literature that has all the arresting charm of London’s post-war architecture. We’ve dissected ourselves in the flickering light of the basement morgue and labeled the result “monster” (vampire, anyone?). We may be impressed or depressed but rarely awed.

And that’s where love comes in. Love, the gateway to awe. Awe – the suspicion of glory. Holy love – beating from the heart of the Trinity, sacrificing itself and leaving awe in its wake, awe opening our minds to the possibility of unforeseen glory.

Imagining glory keeps us human. To glimpse glory is to receive grace, the kind that results in plain, sunburned lips uttering “truly this was the Son of God!” To glimpse glory is to receive grace, the kind that cauterizes and compels:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

We need to discipline ourselves to notice glimpses of glory; these close encounters are a means of grace.

Kimberly Reisman ~ Becoming My Prayers

I frequently lead workshops on prayer, which I always find kind of odd because I’ve never felt myself to be much of an expert on that kind of thing. Prayer is hard work for me; it’s meaningful, but it’s hard. During my workshops I always focus at some point on intercessory prayer – prayer for needs beyond our own – and every time I do, a cartoon I saw years ago pops into my head: A guy sees a friend across the church parking lot. In the bubble above his head he thinks, “Uh oh! I told Bob I’d pray for him! … Dear God, bless Bob.” Then he waves and says, “Hey Bob! Been praying for ya!”

There are a lot of levels to intercession – praying for needs beyond our own – but every time I think of this cartoon I’m reminded of an important truth: praying for others isn’t so much about rattling off the words of our prayers (even if those words are more genuine than in the cartoon). It’s about becoming our prayers. I believe God responds to our prayers – there’s mystery here I know, but I believe it despite and maybe even because of that mystery. The interesting thing about praying for needs that aren’t our own is that many times God’s response is not as much directly about those needs as it is directly about us.

When I pray for the hungry, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “I hear you, I’m working, but what are you going to do about the hungry?” When I pray for people who are lonely, I know God responds, but that response almost always includes, “Okay, Kim. You know I’m a comfort to the lonely, but what are you going to do? How are you going to bring that person comfort?” At every turn it’s the same. “What are you going to do?” At every turn I realize it’s not just about the words of my prayers, even though they’re important, it’s about becoming my prayers.

Now this shouldn’t be a massive revelation; but it’s significant for me as I approach the season of Lent. During Lent we often focus on sacrifice. People give something up as a part of their spiritual discipline. I frequently give up diet coke, which those who know me, know isn’t an easy thing. Often I also fast twice a week. Also not an easy thing, at least for me. So I know that during the next several weeks I’m going to have to decide what kind of spiritual discipline I will undertake to mark the season.

So why is the idea of becoming my prayers so significant for me right now? I’m not sure, but I think it has to do with a passage from Isaiah that seems to enter my mind every time I begin to think about engaging in any kind of “self-denial project”:

Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me.

‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’

I will tell you why! It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes.

Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal…

Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. (Isaiah 58:1-8, 10)

I often talk about “speaking faith,” which for me means (among other things) giving life to our ideas and beliefs by speaking them aloud. Moving them from the realm of our personal, interior selves to an external realm where they can become infectious and dynamic. That’s the kind of thing I want to happen to my prayers, to my fasting, to whatever self-denial I decide to undertake. I want to move them beyond my interior self. I want them to make a difference beyond the inner realm of my own personal spirituality.

In Healing of Purpose, John E. Biersdorf writes, “As an act of love, prayer is a courageous act. It is a risk we take. It is a life-and-death risk, believing in the promises of the gospel, that God’s love is indeed operative in the world. In prayer we have the courage, perhaps even the presumption and the arrogance or the audacity to claim that God’s love can be operative in the very specific situations of human need that we encounter.”

I believe God’s love can be operative in very specific situations of human need, that’s why I pray. But there’s a very real sense in which that love becomes operative only when I become my prayer, when I become my fast, when I become my self-denial. That’s when it becomes pleasing to God. That’s when God’s light shines out from the darkness and our darkness becomes as light as day.