Isaiah 29:11 For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I can’t; it is sealed.” 12 Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” they will answer, “I don’t know how to read.” 13 The Lord says: “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. 14 Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” 15 Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” 16 You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”?
In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest? 18 In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. 19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
About the context. Chapter 29 begins with a condemnation of the city of Ariel. Many scholars say this really means Jerusalem. They add that the city boasted that they were the only ones who worshipped God correctly. We see in our text it meant that they were saying the right words at the right time. But what does our text say? “These people come near to Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”
Unfortunately, this is not just history because it speaks to you and me today! It boils now to us right now. Is our liturgy just repeated or is it said with the heart, soul and mind as well as with our lips and mouth???
There is a problem with traditional worship. It is indeed saying the right thing at the right time–but that leaves open the opportunity for us to mouth it–out of memory instead of really meaning what we say.
Now don’t get me wrong–I am not for contemporary worship for that also has flaws in it. Do people attend these services to worship God or to be entertained? Those who lead such worship, such as the musicians and song leaders–are they trying to lead the people into spiritual worship or a chance to perform and feel good about themselves?
There is a problem with traditional worship as well as there is with contemporary and why is that? Because Satan wants to take our attention away from God almighty to other things. You have heard me say this before: (Mouth) “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth– (Mind) but I wonder how my roast is doing in the oven?”
You can change that to whatever it is your mind wanders away to. How long is this sermon going to be? Do I have enough in the bank to cover my checks? I wonder where Mrs. Smith is and why she is not here?
Our text challenged the Jews and it now challenges us to consider our station. You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? Isaiah is saying, some people seem to believe they know more than God.
We don’t come right out and say it but the end result is still the same. “Why does God allow this or that to happen?” “Why did this good person have to die while that bad person is still alive?” “This world is so terrible, why aren’t the trumpets blowing and Jesus ushering in the New Kingdom?” And how about this? “Why me Lord? Why me?”
Now don’t think that I am holier than thou. My mind sometimes wanders during worship. Sometimes I want to be entertained. Sometimes I am more sad over Mrs. Smith not being here than am happy for those of you who are here.
In my last parish in Louisiana I complained to the small group that had gathered that so many were missing. The organist said, “Pastor! Shut up! Why can’t you be happy for those of us that are here!” Now that was the clay saying to the potter–basically–“Why don’t you practice what you preach!”
So now what do we do about not always being whole hearted about our worship? As an example–repeating the Apostles Creed and be thinking about that roast in the oven? About a lot of other things?
For my part while sharing the Apostles’ Creed I try to concentrate. I picture God the Father Almighty creating this planet. I picture Jesus and the manger scene. I picture the beating and the crown of thorns. I picture the open tomb and Mary as He comforted her simply saying her name-, “Mary.” I picture the Holy Christian Church and its members gathering around each other and the Sacrament. I picture us here at worship and sometimes other churches I have served.
I do the same thing in the Lord’s Prayer and when it comes to forgiving those who wronged us, I can certainly picture a face or two and offered them forgiveness.
As for the hymns–so many of them are so well written that I only need let them speak to me. Last May the hymn spoke so plainly to me that I had to leave the service in tears. It seems like ever Sunday at least one hymn–you might say–preaches to me personally!
Then the closing words of our text: “In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest? ( Recall that song” “half as high as an elephant’s eye!”) In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
While this offered a certain hope to the people of Isaiah’s time, it certainty speaks more clearly to us. It speaks to us of Jesus who made the blind to see, the deaf to hear an the lame to walk and promised us that indeed—“Thy kingdom come! “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” And again, “Surely I am coming soon.” And again. “In Thy presence there is fulness of Joy.”
All this is by grace alone, through faith alone and as the catechism says, “without any merit or worthiness in us.” And in the meantime, “For all which it is my duty to thank and praise serve and obey Him.” What is the rest? This is most certainly true! Amen!
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