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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, August 14, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Isaiah 1:1, 10–20                               

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (NRSV)

Eleventh-century Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux once wrote, “Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you need is not a scepter but a hoe.” We are always curious about how the ancient prophets managed their lives, how they could speak a word from the Almighty with such force and not get run out of the country or killed for that matter (though many did), because the word of God is often a hard word, a word that does not go down easily, a word that finds the community wanting.

This reading from Isaiah provides little background for the reader. What is clear is that some kind of a rebellion has taken place, and the nation is sinful and estranged from God, and we can imagine, from each other. They have been punished, and the God who has accompanied them from slavery to promise is quite exasperated with them. Their worship is a mockery; God can’t stomach the sacrifices, because they are far from sincere. Their attempts at piety are pitiful, and the prophet who brings this word shows up with a hoe—a pruning fork—to “clean out the barn,” to quote the late Ross Perot.

How do we react when the whole system is seemingly set up to sweep even our very best efforts, our most solemn assemblies into a pot of self-serving slop? How can we stand over against or endure such a mess? The clue may be the hoe that is wielded by a prophet. Rather than clearing out the slop of it all, the prophet steps right in it, up to his knees in the pressing disarray. Isaiah, the prophet tapped by God to do none other than speak God’s word, thinks scepter and holds the hoe. Though hell, both within and without, endeavors to shake us, God gives us the tools to work for life, this very day.

Give us courage, O God, to hold on to the hoe of justice with a steady hand and our eyes on you. Give us courage to face up to all that gets in the way of your holy way among us. Through Christ. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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