This week we have two interesting passages, one from Isaiah and companion from 1 Corinthians. The two passages are really very interesting because in very different ways they are saying the same thing, that God has to be at the heart of faith.
We have been going back and forth with Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians for the past month. In today’s passage, Paul is lifting up the importance of the Gospel being at the center of one’s faith. Now this is not the Gospel as in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they were not written yet; this is the Gospel as in the Good News of Christ. This Gospel is the central focus of the faith and nothing else.
For the reformers and many critics of Christianity today, it seems that Paul was dealing with a community that was using faith for gain and salvation as a goal. For Paul and traditions like ours, any gain, even salvation itself, that comes from being Christian is seen only as a bonus and should never be the motivation. If gain becomes the motivation, the underlying message of Christ and the gospel become corrupted into selfishness.
The more interesting passage is this Isaiah one. Whereas the Corinthian passage is concerned with people getting personal gain from “using faith,” the Isaiah passage is speaking to a people who are having a hard time seeing any use in faith. This passage is part of a “pretrial” exhortation by Isaiah making a plea to the Hebrew people before judgment. This is a pivotal passage especially for a community that has found itself in exile, because it affirms a couple very important points. First is that God has not abandoned the people.
Honestly, anytime I have ever been in a crisis the very first thing that is raised is the worry that God had abandoned them. The truth is that God does not abandon his people; it is more that we turn from God, or block our ability to see God because we are so overwrought with our own circumstances. Moreover, if you were to place yourself in the situation of being in exile, the constant assurance of connection is crucial for perseverance.
Which leads us to the second promise of this passage, and that is the recognition that the road ahead is one that will tire out even the most energetic among us. The passage highlights young boys and teens because of their insatiable energy, but even that goes weary when the fight is so strong. So at the end of this speech, Isaiah promises that those who keep the connection to God, no matter how hard they fight and how weak they get, they will always be able to find renewal from God. This is very important because even today, because we who are no longer young children or teens, have to find the energy to keep going even when the journey ahead seems untenable.
In our lives we can probably see people in both of these situations, where some use their faith to assert power, and others abandon faith because they see no use for it. As you prepare for worship, I challenge you to think of someone in both camps and pray for them. Also, I want you to think about your own journey and when you might have let your own feelings and needs trump what God is asking from you.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen