and the words of the prophet were written...
In Isaiah 30:8-18, we hear the words of the prophet to the people.
The immediate context deals with the threat of invasion by the Assyrians. People are scared and wondering what to do. There is talk of forming an alliance with Egypt. Maybe the Assyrians will think twice about taking us on.
It’s interesting how many times in the Old Testament we hear plans of “going back to Egypt”!
Isaiah says “no,” we’re all done with that. It’s time to move forward, to trust Yahweh, the Lord.
They reply, “Why do you have to make it so difficult? Just tell us smooth things. We don’t want to hear all that other stuff.”
The prophet says, “No, I’m not done yet. Your Lord has more to say. You build your lives—your build your society—on wrongdoing. You put your trust in lies. So do you know what’s going to happen? Everything will come crashing down, like a Jenga tower.”
Lies and violence. Doing wrong and casting stones. I don’t know. Does this sound familiar?
The horror of a week ago in Buffalo—the horror of the mass murder of black people shopping at Top’s—will unfortunately not be the last of such crimes. After a time, I must confess, I would forget it, living in a country where mass murder seems to happen every couple of weeks.
Although, this isn’t one I’ll fail to remember. Living in Jamestown, Banu and I served in the Presbytery of Western New York for nine years. We became familiar with Buffalo. I went to see the Sabres play hockey on a regular basis!
We frequently ask, can we learn anything from this? Will we do anything about it?
What does the prophet say? After the word of destruction, after the collapsing of that Jenga tower, the Lord presents an alternative: “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
There is a tone of Sabbath, which as Abraham Heschel put it, is “a palace in time which we build.”
But we don’t want to build. We want to run. We want to run, run, run. Let’s jump on some horses. Better yet, let’s run to mindless entertainment. Give us bread and circuses. Let’s run from ourselves. Let’s run from the awareness that we will reap the whirlwind.
Again, I ask, “Does this sound familiar?”
“A thousand shall flee at the threat of one.” We get scared of our own shadow.
A first step to avoid becoming awash in the tragedies that happen over and over is to resurrect the slain. They aren’t nameless victims. They are Ruth Whitfield, Roberta Drury, Aaron Salter, Heyward Patterson, Pearl Young, Geraldine Talley, Celestine Chaney, Katherine Massey, Margus Morrison, and Andre Mackneil. Children of God.
And yet… And yet… The Lord still reaches out. “Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you.” We might think, “Time’s up. It’s too late.” But no. “Therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.”