Elephant in the Room, Isaiah 51:1–6, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16), August 23, 2020
There was an elephant in the room, one of those things which everyone knew about, but no one wanted to talk about. There was a lot of shame involved with what he had done. People had been hurt, but all he could really see was how much it had cost him, he saw his fortune and life decline in so many ways.
This person was contemplating how exactly to address this when a faithful Christian pre-empted him. She simply and bluntly asked him to verify what she had heard. He admitted it. She assessed it frankly. It was wrong.
Then, she redirected his feelings: Rather than feeling sorry for himself, he should feel sorry for what he had done. Finally, he needed forgiveness, not pity. The first person he should talk to is the one whose trust he had betrayed. Then this faithful Christian went on being his neighbor and friend, because she never expected perfection, just honesty.
Today we boldly confess Jesus to be the Christ. All sorts of things can get in the way of that bold confession, including the odd desire to avoid offending someone who has done something offensive. It is appealing to take the easy road, to let the sin slide, to be quiet. One rarely gets chastised for being quiet. It might take boldness to open your mouth and confront. It might make you uncomfortable. But Jesus died for that sin which you are quietly enabling.
In these days of pandemic, everyone is stressed a little bit. But stress is often a moment when ears and hearts are more open to loving, honest, and forthright conversations. We all need to consider and pray about our conversations. There is a time to love someone gently and simply, without judgment or condemnation. But there is also a time to be bold and acknowledge the fact that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He died for sinners so they would not walk in their sin anymore.
The Old Testament Lesson for this Sunday is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah. The text is Isaiah 51:1-6 and can be divided into two sections. In verses 1-3, Isaiah points the people to the past, to what is behind to prepare them for what is ahead. It is Isaiah’s way of encouraging the people as they are struggling through difficult times with even more suffering on the horizon.
In these verses, Isaiah invokes the Covenant in reminding the people of their father and mother, Abraham and Sarah. Because God has made the covenant and has remained faithful to it, they can be comforted and assured He will continue to follow the same path. In a sense, it is Isaiah showing them a lifetime guarantee given by the Lord.
The next three verses have a distinct “missional” characteristic to them. In these verses Isaiah invokes the teachings of the Lord, which will go forward to all peoples. The Lord will establish His justice and, along with His teachings, they will be a light to the Gentiles, to all peoples. The Lord’s desire that all would believe in Him and be saved is true for both the Old Testament and the New.
And today, Isaiah urges us to consider our roots, the rock from which we were carved, the quarry from which we were hewn. Abraham and Sarah started out as nothing: an old, childless couple, wandering around a place they could not call their own. All they really had was a promise from God. But we know the rest of that story. They had a miracle baby. Then there were more miracle babies in the next generations, finally a mighty nation, David the king, and much more.
Isaiah writes to a people who have seen their fortunes and lives decline in so many ways. Their once mighty empire has been reduced to a tiny little area around Jerusalem. Their armies are defeated. They pay tribute to the Assyrians and Babylonians for the right to keep the few freedoms they have. They are sad and depressed.
Isaiah reminds them that God has always worked with resources and people that seem inadequate. Look around this morning. Think about how we are worshipping in a building designed for so many more than are gathered here today. Maybe you remember the days when the Sunday school was full, and some thought we might even need a second or third service.
It may be hard to imagine, but I’m sure there was a day, even before that, when Pastor Frederick H. Zucker, Missionary-at-Large, and who first led our congregation, was glad to see 20 in church on a Sunday and three or four children in Sunday school.
Please indulge me with a side note here. Today is very likely my last Sunday Sermon at Good Shepherd. Next week we get a word of encouragement from our District President. Today we boldly confess Jesus to be the Christ.
There have been some wonderful and happy times the Lord has given us here during these last six and a half years together as brothers and sisters in Christ. And there have been some struggles and suffering that we have endured together too. But there is nothing, nothing that anyone can change or undo the love that you and I share together in Christ Jesus. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38–39). That is the bright and glorious future that the Lord has in store for you and me!
Like Abraham, we have a promise from God. Abraham looked up to the heavens and counted his offspring, more numerous than the stars. He did not have a single child that night, he believed. We are to look up to heaven and note that it is only a vapor compared to what God has promised us. It will pass away, but God’s salvation is forever.
We too have a lifetime guarantee. Unlike the ones sold on TV for $19.95, as God’s people we are reminded of our connection to the Covenant even amid ruin and impending disaster, even when it may seem like our fortunes and lives are declining in so many ways.
Just as the prophet Isaiah was looking around at his country, he saw the beauty of his land being destroyed, everything was in ruins. Things were not good; they were being wiped out by a foreign power. So what does the prophet do? He digs around in the kitchen drawer until he finally finds the lifetime guarantee, the warrantee card worth far more than $19.95. He pulls it out and he shows it to God and then to God’s people.
I am not certain how the people reacted, but I do know how the Lord reacts. Isaiah shows this to the people to give them hope. The guarantee Isaiah showed them was the promise, the Covenant the Lord made long ago with Abraham and Sarah.
God gave a son to an aged couple. God caused His own Son to be born of a virgin. God, in love, sacrificed His own Son on the cross of Calvary for your forgiveness and life. This same God helps you endure hardships and disappointments. He helps you endure any difficulty.
That is a great guarantee and bigger than any elephant in the room! And our Lord who cannot lie, promised! God’s call to listen is a call to look to Him, and away from all the false hopes that the world offers. It is a call to seek His eternal salvation, to yearn for it more than we do food, friendship, or financial gain. While none of us can claim to do this perfectly, it is precisely for this reason that God’s salvation is so precious and pure.
This morning, one final time, I want to remind you of His lifetime guarantee: “But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail“ says the Lord. He calls all to receive what He has provided, and He promises that you will be forever glad. Amen.