Week Five October 9, 2016
READ: Isaiah 43:16-21
Why Study the Bible?
Christians read and meditate on the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Christian (New Testament) Scriptures because in them we meet God and learn from the teaching of Jesus and the letters of Paul the Christian way of life. Every time I read a Bible story, a parable of Jesus or section of one of Paul’s letters, I always discover something I have not seen before or understood in this way. With my heart open to what I am reading, God speaks to me and to my life.
Followers of Jesus read and prayerfully ponder Scripture because it forms and shapes us by pointing out our shortcomings as well as pointing us in a direction for a more fulfilling life. This is not just inward fulfillment but rather an outward call to love and serve others as well as a pulse on how I treat or mistreat others. Meeting Jesus in Scriptures invites me back to a path I may have left. He invites me deeper into his word. We study to learn and put into practice the life for which God has created us to live.
Here are a couple of questions for you as you read and study:
- First pray: Holy Spirit, open my mind and heart to hear your voice afresh. What jumped out at me as I read?
- As you read it a second time: what is God trying to say to me?
- After a third reading: how is God calling me to respond or take action?
- Thank God for what the Lord has shown you.
Deborah and her two young children live in government subsidized housing. Deborah suffers from mental health issues not the least of which is significant anxiety. Medication helps but the residual effect of illness is still evident. The reality is that only way Deborah and my path crossed is because I intentionally went into this neighborhood to meet neighbors living in the apartments. While these subsidized apartments get a bad name, I have met some pretty cool people including Deborah because I wanted to meet a few more of our neighbors
The church is seen as a place of last resort help for Deborah. She has sent her kids to VBS week after week at different churches oftentimes even offering the same VBS program the kids just did last week. She sends her kids on Sunday mornings on a church bus for Sunday School so she can get some additional rest. Deborah is a good mom trying her best to give her kids what they need.
Deborah does not have car and is limited to rides she gets from friends or family. When she heard I was a pastor, she asked me if there was anything she could do from her home as a volunteer. She said if I got her a computer she could enter data for me. Or, if I gave her a list of the members and had a need, she could make phone calls and pass on messages. For a person who has never worshiped at our church, I have never met a more willing volunteer. Deborah has taught me to not overlook anyone as a potential partner, volunteer and contributor. Unless our eyes and ears are wide open, we can miss what God is doing all around us.
One of the great contributions that Second Isaiah makes to us is retelling the stories of God’s interaction with people in the past so that we can better see how God is at work in our life. Families that know and retell the stories of their ancestors are more deeply rooted than those who simply live for today with no regard for the past. In the midst of the devastating flooding that happened in August 2016 in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana region, a woman made this point clear when she said about the complete loss of her possessions, “All I really care about are my family photos.” Our genealogical trees, journals of family members, the family Bible, verbal stories and pictures, all contribute to the story of our family roots. They serve to anchor us in time, place and history.
With all of the changes going on in our life, culture and world, we all need something to hold on to that grounds us and gives us confidence. Our family story is part of that anchoring but even more so is found in the solid ground of our faith. Isaiah 43:16-17 beings our reading by retelling the saving acts of God who delivered the Jews from the hand of the Egyptians by way of the Red Sea. Israel’s history is launched in the Exodus story (Exodus 14-15). When Moses is called by God in the shadow of the Sinai, the God of the Jews, Yahweh: I Am Who I Am, Exodus 3:14) is revealed.
While Genesis tells of the call of God to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Joseph and Asenath, it is story of Moses, the Jews and Yahweh in Exodus that defines Israel and God. It is this story that gives birth to the annual feast of Passover, the rock solid contribution of the gift of the Ten Commandments, the Ark of the Covenant and its abiding presence of God in the cloud by day and fire by night, and Moses’ brother Aaron and the formation of the priesthood to serve in the presence of God.
The Psalms carry forth the importance of the Exodus event in the life of the Jews. Whenever the Psalmist uses language like “brought out” or “delivered,” these were code words the Jews would know that reminded them of the Exodus from Egypt. Good examples of the usage of the Exodus story in the Psalms are: 25:17; 68:8, 22; 80:8, and 107:14, 25. Second Isaiah refers back to the Exodus story in 43:16-17 and 51:9-11. Third Isaiah, (56-66) written after the return of the Jews to the Promised Land refers to the Exodus story in 63:11-14.
While the story of Exodus remains even today as a major story of faith for Jews, listen closely to what Second Isaiah is saying in 43:18-19. Verse 18 says in paraphrase: do not even bother with the Exodus because Yahweh is going to do an even greater thing in the return from the Babylonian exile through the desert to Jerusalem (43:19). The animals will not harm you and there will be an abundance of water for your thirst (43:20). Yahweh has chosen and formed you to give God praise (43:21).
Claus Westermann has a challenging word for us as church in postmodern age as he reflects on Israel’s faith in Isaiah 43:16-21: ‘Behold, I am doing a new thing’ (v. 19a). Israel requires to be shaken out of a faith that has nothing to learn about God’s activity, and therefore nothing to learn what is possible with him, the great danger which threatens any faith that is hidebound in dogmatism, faith that has ceased to be able to expect anything really new from him, ibid., p. 129. While God is the same in past, present and future (Hebrews 13:8), God is always doing a new thing. There is only one burning bush story. When Moses heard God’s message and left, the flames died never to return. While we celebrate the activity of God in the past, we must listen to the guiding voice of the Spirit who leads a faithful people into activity of God today and will do so tomorrow. Listen and follow: this is the call of the Holy Spirit.
- What is a story that your family values about one of your ancestors? Why is this story retold? What does it tell you about who you are?
- What are the family treasures you value from your family who has gone before you? What pictures are most meaningful to you? How will you pass them on to your grandchildren?
- As the stories of the deliverance of God in Exodus and from exile are vital to the Jews, what stories about Jesus are most important to you? Have you shared these stories with your family? What is it about these Jesus stories that mean so much to you?
- What stuck you as you read the story of Linda and Fred? Where do they fit in God’s story? Who is God calling you to notice and love?