St John’s Episcopal, Kirkland
Isaiah 66:10-14, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Today’s passage is what makes Isaiah a prophet. Being a prophet of Israel is nothing like being a Greek Oracle. An oracle communes with their deity to predict the future. A Jewish Prophet reveals the present as it is (and if there’s a prophet involved then the present isn’t great), and then (the important bit) they reveal God’s alternative. They reveal what could be if human beings got on board with God. The world Isaiah lived in was as broken, violent, and corrupt as our own era. The poor were starved, beaten, and sold into slavery. Their land was seized for bad debts and they were forced into homelessness. People killed one another over who was a “real” Jew and who wasn’t. War raged, exile was a reality. The world was upside down, out of control, and fearful.
The people of Israel over the years had created for themselves, hell. A far more effective one than any fallen angel could think up. We human beings are excellent at building hell on Earth. It is this hell on Earth the whole of the Hebrew scripture is interested in, and God’s work to save us from ourselves. Those weary, hurting folks finally, finally hear a word of hope from Isaiah. I too am ready for such a word, I think our world is in need of such a word. Too many people dead, too many people suffering, too many people living in desperate fear. Too much hatred and greed twisting this beautiful world into a real life hell.
Into that void of hopelessness and suffering Isaiah gives God’s message of love and hope. There is another way. The good news is: God is not like us. We repay violence for violence, wrong for wrong. God does something else.
Isaiah’s God is a loving Mother. Her family is filled with hurting children. Children who fight and harm, or who are the broken victims of their siblings. Isaiah doesn’t give a simple pat on the hand, a bland reassurance that it will be OK. He doesn’t promise a conquering hero. Neither is he isn’t concerned with some future spiritual heaven. Isaiah’s God is embodied and immediate. She scoops her children into her arms and puts them to her breast to feed on real, wholesome food. On food that will fill and satisfy, that will console their sorrows, that will fill our hearts with delight. That will remake us once again into God’s own image.
Think back, way back to the smell of a woman who loved you as a child. Your Mother, or Grandmother, Aunt, Step Mom, whomever filled that maternal role for you. Remember the way she bounced you on her knee when you fussed, making faces to coax laughter out of your tears. Smacking your with big noisy kisses instead of reprimands. Wiping the dirt from your cheek with her licked thumb. Making sure you were full of nourishing food, safe and protected.
Isaiah 66 is one of the most tender and loving descriptions of God that we have. It is one of the earliest descriptions of God as parent to humanity. And it is absolutely a vision of love and care. The same God that Isaiah earlier in his writings cowers before, describes in such fantastic terms that a six winged creature with a thousand eyes seems totally reasonable to have around. This wild, grand, immense God carries children in her arms tenderly, feeds them and loves them.
Isaiah’s words stand in stark contrast to the angry, judgmental God so often preached in our world. We need God as loving Mother. (Though to be sure Mothers can be fierce as well, generally in defense of their children!) Our weary world needs the reminder of God’s love and care for us, for all of us. That there is a different way, but that to get there we have to do something different than we’ve tried before. We have to trust in something other than our own worldly power, than the systems and structures that we have built.
The connection between the Mothering God of Isaiah’s reborn Israel and Jesus’s commissioning of the 70 might not be immediately obvious; but it’s there. It’s there in how Jesus sends out the 70. Jesus sends this group out to everywhere he intends to go, implying his friends are going to Jews and non-Jews alike as Jesus is traveling through Samaritan land at this point.
He doesn’t arm them to do battle with a hostile world or to be conquering heroes, he doesn’t have them make provision against the unexpected. He sends out these 70 folks without so much as a stick to defend themselves, without any provisions or savings, and with strict instructions to let things happen as they happen, no trying to game the system. All they take with them is blessing, and peace. They take nothing with them because they are being sent to God who is everywhere they will go, who is already in all those places. The God who is preparing a way in hearts and minds for the blessing they will bring. God in Luke’s world is the one who does the growing. God is the one who plants the seeds and carefully tends them. God is the one who is bringing about the Kingdom. A dutiful parent caring for her children, building for them a better world if they’ll only chose it.
The 70, those laborers sent out into God’s harvest, do two really, really hard things: they trust and are vulnerable. Jesus sends them out as lambs among wolves, as children running into the arms of God blindfolded. God, who Isaiah likens to a mother waits to scoop us up. Our job is to trust. Luke told this story in part to remind the early Christians that he was writing for what their job was, what it looks like to live as a community of God. We’re not so different from them. For us too it looks much the same, to live faithfully as laborers in God’s harvest means that as a congregation we must remember that we aren’t the ones that grow the church. It is God who creates growth in our communities. It is God who nurtures and feeds. It is our job to live our lives as a community, in the way we plan, the way we organize ourselves, and the way we work together that trusts God is doing work with us. That anticipates the things that God is causing to grow in our midst, instead of stepping on them. That makes room for the new things that God is trying to show us.
We must be vulnerable, because God’s growth always brings change. We are not to arm ourselves, we are not to go prepared. We are to trust the God who loves us as a Mother. Who dries our tears, and bounces us on her knee, and feeds us good food of her own self. God is faithful, and amidst all the ugliness in our world there is another way. In a very few days now, I know we’ve got a count down to at last the hour at this point, we will send out a group of laborers into God’s harvest in the Bahamas.
They go to discover what God is already doing among the people they will meet. They go to discover the faithful love of God in another community. Each of us has our own mission field, each of us is sent from this altar into a world where God is already at work and where we are invited to join in the harvest.