This isn’t what I said, and its not even what I meant to say

Yesterday morning I spoke at 3 services- an 8am service with just a few of us, a 9.30 service with about 50 adults (fortunately those two services had the same theme), and then at an 11am carol service… so what to put on the blog today?

Well, it would help if I’d actually written out enough of my talks, or if the bits that I did write made some kind of sense. It might help anyway, and probably wouldn’t hurt.

It probably doesn’t help that the two things I got most animated about- one being some stuff around ‘I am saved, I’m being saved and I will be saved’, and the other some thoughts inspired by my colleague’s blog here (no, not the Douglas Adams bit, I’m afraid to say). Anyway, I was speaking about Isaiah 35 for the first two services- and you can read my initial thoughts, but not what I said on that below.

For the carol service i was assisted by 3 toy sheep and a story that originated on the barnabas website… with a few variations and random bits here and there…

Isaiah 35…

At this point in Isaiah a shift happens. It marks the end of an extended message of God’s judgment on the nations- on those who reject him. Instead, we begin to read of hope, and a future joy, and of promises that will come to be- instead of devastation, the wilderness will be transformed into a place of life.  The desert is compared to Lebanon, Carmel and Sharon- places known for the plantlife. I guess an equivalent for us might be to compare it to a rainforest.  The important thing is that the sense of a promise, that has been held at a distance in some of the earlier parts of Isaiah, is now coming closer, and is more identifiable… just as in our own gardens, we don’t generally plant bulbs haphazardly and at any old time, but when we know where we want them to grow…

A seed growing to life has another important idea contained within it- that of growth… and not just in size.  There are seeds that are beautiful, but for the most part they’re a functional thing, but as they germinate and grow a plant unfolds and grows to something much bigger and much more beautiful, something that is truly able to live out its purpose.  So the promise of Isaiah- spoken to the fearful, the weak, the tired is one of hope and transformation.  They will enter the city of God singing with joy, filled with gladness- everlasting joy… When we worship, when we find ourselves close to God whether through prayer, singing, serving others or in other ways, we are experiencing at best, a glimpse of the future promise…

There is in this passage much that evokes John the Baptist- the man who stood in the desert and called out ‘Prepare the way for the Lord!’, calling people to repentance and a fresh commitment to follow God.  He brought into focus the teaching of those who’d gone before him, drawing their attention and saying that the promises they’d been aware of were about to be fulfilled, by one who would open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, who’d enable the lame to walk and leap and put words into the mouths of the mute.

The word redeem is used to capture all of this. It’s a word we often underappreciate, with our coupons and vouchers that need redeeming, but it’s a really important word- it means to set free, originally to buy back (from slavery).

Captives need redeeming. Prisoners and slaves need redeeming.  We don’t need redeeming, do we?

Not unless we’re slaves or prisoners. Isaiah is, of course, talking firstly to his countrymen who’re living in actual slavery- in exile, but he’s also talking about spiritual slavery- needing to be set free spiritually.

What might that mean? We use the phrase ‘slave to sin’ often enough, but rarely do we think about how that works in reality. To put it another way- what things rule our lives? We might joke that its our children, or our boss, but somewhere there’re things like fear that have a powerful influence on us… self-image might be another one. And the things that seem insignificant but actually dominate our thinking and use of time- it doesn’t have to be a major addiction to have control over us… and the promise of God is to set us free from those things- we won’t suddenly be free from debt or bills, but they’ll stop controlling us, if we choose to turn our attention to God.

The promise of Isaiah is that with the messiah- the chosen one, the whole world will look different. The opportunity for us is to have that difference in our lives…

I felt, and feel, that this idea of being enslaved by small things is really important- we don’t notice them, or deny their power, but just as Gulliver was trapped by the Liliputians, many small things can hold us immobile.


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