Exiles, Come Home: a midweek homily

Two weeks ago David Griffin spoke on Isaiah 54:1-10 at our mid-week eucharist

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It is not for nothing that book of Isaiah has earned the nickname “The Fifth Gospel.” Although it begins with warnings of judgment, the book concludes with some of the most encouraging promises of redemption that we find in the Old Testament. Indeed, our passage today is the Servant Song that comes right after the famous suffering servant of chapter 53; chapter 54 is the message of hope after the servant’s great suffering in the last chapter. That message is: God remembers his promises, so he wants you who are exiles and strangers to him to come home and dwell with him.

From chapter 40 on, Isaiah is addressing the exiled people of Judah. Because of Judah’s chasing after other gods and failure to do justice to the oppressed, God allowed the Babylonian armies to conquer his chosen people. As a result, the enemy deported a large chunk of Judah’s population to live in Babylon. All that to say, the nation of Judah finds itself trapped in a foreign land, longing for the land that God had promised to his people. They’re wondering: has God forgotten us? Can we really worship God outside of Jerusalem, the holy city where his Temple was destroyed?

Then, after the Persians take over, King Cyrus announces that all exiles can return to their foreign lands. From Chapter 40 onward, Isaiah exclaims: don’t despair! This is really happening! Don’t feel defeated and helpless, for the Lord is restoring your fortunes! Come home, all you exiles, strangers in a foreign land, displaced by war!

The imagery used here is stunning. The people of Judah in exile are compared to a barren woman, for God’s people has been reduced to a remnant of what they once were. But in just a little while the barren woman (Judah) will soon have children in abundance. You’re going to need a much bigger tent for all the kids you’ll be having!

Don’t be afraid, says Isaiah, who then compares Judah to a divorced woman, covered in shame and feeling abandoned. My absence was only temporary, says the Lord God. I am your husband, and I will always keep my vows. My momentary anger is nothing compared to my everlasting love for you! And I swear from this day forth that it will never happen again. Come home to me!

Our reading from Galatians today quotes this passage, but Paul creatively applies it now to Jesus. In the New Testament, of course, Jesus is the Suffering Servant, Israel in exile. So Paul connects the barren one to Sarah to suggest that the church fulfills the many children promised in Isaiah and, spiritually speaking, the children of the promise God made to Sarah. And because God’s people are his children by promise, they are not his children by virtue of doing the works of the law. No, they inherit the promise by faith in Jesus, in whom all God’s promises are made good. So now God’s family can encompass all the nations of the earth, and not just ethnic Israel.

And so, Isaiah speaks to us here by way of Jesus. And the overall message is: you who are far off, estranged from God and his family, the door is wide open! Come home from your exile away from the Lord Jesus, your husband, redeemer, and friend.

And for those of us already a part of God’s church, God always commands those who used to be strangers, foreigners, aliens, to welcome those who are currently displaced and estranged from their homeland—and not just spiritually, but concretely. We have a warning from Isaiah, for Israel was originally sent into exile for failing to do justice to foreigners, the homeless, the oppressed. So let us open our arms wide to displaced people from among the nations, as visible testimony to what Jesus has done for us.

Let us now lift up our prayers to God after a moment of silence.

O God and Father of all, who sent your Son to preach good news to those who are far off and those who are near:

Seek us out in those moments of loneliness and despair. When we are feeling alienated from you or from other people, let the prophet’s words dwell in us richly, to remind us that our apparent exile has come to an end, though we may not see how that may be now. We thank you and praise you for being our faithful husband, our holy redeemer, and our friend who has sworn everlasting love toward us.

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer

Let us stretch out the tent of our church, so that people from all over North Arlington, and from the world over, my find their home. Bless our missions in West Asia, Bolivia, and Cambodia; refresh the workers there, give justice to the poor there, and may your saving Gospel be preached to all in those places who haven’t heard it. We pray you also bless our upcoming church plants, so that the stranger doesn’t need to come, but home may to go to the stranger.

Lord, in your mercy…. Hear our prayer.

Finally, Lord, open our hears to those who are exiles and refugees in the most concrete sense of those words. Remind us of your great love for us, so that we may be moved to great compassion for the suffering stranger. Guide your church in all wisdom and mercy so that she may speak up for the outsider with the words of comfort like those you speak to your people through your prophets and apostles.

Lord, in your mercy… Hear our prayer

~ David Griffin

54 “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

“This is like the days of Noah[a] to me:
as I swore that the waters of Noah
should no more go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.
10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.