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Summary: Sermon on trusting God, especially in difficult situations.

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The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

August 21, 2011 Proper 16 A

St. Andrew’s Church

The Rev. M. Anthony Seel, Jr.

Isaiah 51:1-6

Listen and Look Back

That great American philosopher Woody Allen once said,

More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads.

One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other to

total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose

correctly. [“My Speech to the Graduates,” New York Times,

August 10, 1979]

That’s more that a bit pessimistic, but it could have been the general attitude of the Jewish people during their exile in Babylon. Jerusalem was attacked and destroyed in 586 BC; the Temple was reduced to rubble and ashes. The Jews were taken captive and deported to Babylon.

The Northern and Southern Kingdoms of divided Israel had suffered at the hands of the Assyrians before they suffered at the hands of the Babylonians, but exile from their homeland brought a whole new dimension to their anguish. Big changes lead to disorientation and confusion and that’s what God’s people experienced while in exile in Babylon. 700 miles separated Judah from Babylon and every step that took them further away from their homeland increased the sense of loss and remorse of the Jews.

Then came Cyrus, King of Persia. Isaiah prophesied that one would come who would deliver Judah from Babylonian control (Is. 44:28). In 539 BC, Cyrus defeated Babylon and began to repatriate the Jews. Moreover, he ordered that the temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt, he returned the temple vessels, and he funded the restoration work in Jerusalem.

Isaiah’s words in our first lesson are directed toward the Jewish people who are still living in Babylon, waiting for their deliverance.

1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Listen and look, says the prophet Isaiah. In v. 4, the prophet says,

4 “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation;

Listen, look, give attention, give ear – this is important stuff! You don’t want to miss this!

“You who pursue righteousness…” Isaiah is speaking to those who are waking with God, who are walking in God’s ways.

“You who seek the Lord…” He is speaking to those who hunger for God.

“…look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. “

He appeals to his listeners to look back – to reach back to their ancestry and history.

2 Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him and multiply him.

Their story begins with Abraham and Sarah whom God called to leave their country and kin and travel to “the land that [God] will show [them]” (Gen. 12:1). God calls Abraham and Sarah to venture forth from the known to the unknown. Because of Abraham’s willingness to do so we now know him as the father of faith. Sarah and Abraham head out, having no idea where they are headed, but following God every step of the way.

Sarah is old and barren, yet God’s plan is dependent on her having a baby. In time, in a new land, Sarah gives birth to Isaac, the seed of Israel. From Isaac and Rebecca comes Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. This story of faith begins with Abraham and Sarah, the rock from whom Israel was hewn. Abraham and Sarah are the quarry from which Israel was dug. From one man whom God called, and one woman, who was also faithful to God’s call, came the many that grew into the nation of Israel.

3 For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

What does God do for Israel? God comforts them while they are in exile. Jerusalem has been reduced to ruins. Judah, the southern kingdom of divided Israel where Jerusalem sits is now a wasteland. But God promises restoration.

In “My Speech to the Graduates,” Woody Allen follows his crossroads statement about despair and utter hopelessness or total extinction with this:

I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky

conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could

easily be misinterpreted as pessimism. It is not. It is merely a healthy

concern for the predicament of modern man.

Allen explains,

(modern man is here defined as any person born after Nietzsche’s

edict that “God is dead,” but before the hit recording “I Wanna

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