Toorak Uniting Church

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Sermon in three parts

Isaiah 35   Matthew 11: 2 – 6   James 5: 7 – 10
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15 am, 16 December 2007

Isaiah 35 – The highway through the wilderness

Short reflection
This passage in Isaiah is aimed at exiles who were separated from their homeland by a huge desert. For many, Jerusalem was only a memory passed down from a previous generation. Some had achieved levels of comfort and prosperity that made it hard for them to want to leave.

Rich imagery around land and water and the transformation of creation by God’s life giving power play a big role in Isaiah’s message. If creation is within God’s power, then recreation and transformation is too. If there is a power big and strong enough to create the wilderness, the desert and the dry land, then there is a power who can bring transformation to these places by making streams, pools and springs of water flow and making life possible where it was not deemed possible before. Is it possible that where we see a rocky desert between us and the place God calls us to, that we will discover there is a highway teeming with water and life all the way there as soon as we start out his way.

Sometimes in life we are as stuck as those living in exile in Isaiah’s day. Knowing we should do this, that or the other to be more in tune with God’s calling for us but hesitant to move because we are daunted by what we perceive to be between us and the realizing of that call.

Isaiah’s call is to have faith and to move in trust that God, if we move his way, will support our transformation with his recreative power. As people, as a Church, as a community.

An example of that faithful and trusting moving into an unknown and daunting future we see in Mary as she receives the words of the angel. She sings a song which is way too big for a young girl and joins the long line of prophets and visionaries who had the courage to look beyond the immediate into a future where dryness, barrenness and wilderness would be changed into a place of life and abundance for all, let us listen to her sing:

Anthem: Magnificat in B flat         Charles Villiers Stanford     1852 – 1924.

Matthew 11: 2 - 6 – Is it really you?

Short reflection

John had expected something completely different when he announced the imminent coming of the Messiah. He had expected judgement and punishment: axe and fire and winnowing shovel. Jesus does not meet his parameters at all. And he starts to doubt. Deep in Herod’s dungeons he starts to wonder if perhaps he has been wrong all along and sends his disciples to ask: Are you really him?
Jesus points them towards the prophecy of Isaiah: The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see......... Do you need to know more?

What does the Messiah look like when he comes? And what does he do? What will the Messiah look like when we encounter him personally in our lives? And what will he do?

The images scripture gives us are those of a vulnerable child, of a man who puts others first with healing in his step who lives life with a deep respect for every person, big or small, he encounters. A man who dies a violent and undeserved death on a cross.

That’s what the Messiah looks like: A suffering fellow human being, a vulnerable child inviting our care, a man with healing and peace reaching into the places in our soul where pain, hurt and anger reside.
And this is what he will do: make the lame leap, the blind see, and the deaf hear, change wilderness into a highway, the desert into a place abounding with pools and springs of water, our aridness into streams of life giving love.

James 5: 7 -10 – Patience and hard work.

Short reflection

When will this all happen? When will Isaiah’s dream come true and the expectancy of the return of the Messiah come to fulfillment? The people in the days of James started to wonder, to doubt, to grumble, to lose heart.

James calls them to be patient, and like Isaiah, uses the imagery of creation, of the land, to help them understand: "For the farmer waits, being patient, until he receives the early and the late rains before his crop is ready."

Two thousand years on we have found what our siblings of the Jewish faith have discovered long ago: That the journey, the patient waiting, the trek is actually equally if not more important than the actually getting there. That the Kingdom needs to take shape in us, every day, that the Messiah needs to be born in us, every day. That our community, faithfully waiting, praising God in our worship, reading the scripture and celebrating the sacraments among us actually is Christ taking shape in the world, life blooming in the deserts, springs welling up in dry land.

While that happens, while we cross the desert and trust that somehow God will create a highway through it wherever we go, we keep our eyes on where we are going, the place of life, of peace, of reconciliation and healing for all the world God has promised and prophecy like Isaiah did, sing like Mary did, trust like John did and hope like James did until that day comes where we will see no longer dimly but face to face.

Confession of faith, prayer of commitment:

Hymn TIS 90 – I’ll praise my maker while I have breath.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2007

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