11th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 16)
LSB #645Text – Isaiah 51:1
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug.
DUG FROM THE QUARRY
Monday, August 11th, the news hit that Robin Williams had died. I knew of him, as did so many people, from his work on television, in movies & as a comedian. He was, by popular opinion, a genius at making people laugh. When I saw the headline that he had died, I remember thinking, “I didn’t think he was all that old.” Then I read about the suicide.
With such a tragic end, I began to wonder, “Who was Robin Williams, besides the genius actor & comedian?” Unless one of you had some kind of personal relationship with him, all of us knew him only from quite a far distance. Not only did he live far away geographically, economically he was just as far away from us, living in Marin County, California.
In Biblical terms, Robin Williams was not our neighbor because God never brought him into contact with any of us. However, if his tragic death caused people to wonder, “Who really was Robin Williams?” then our life as neighbors to each other, brought together by our heavenly Father, should cause us to wonder about the people here this morning, “Who are you?”
Hearing that question, what comes to mind? Is it your name? Or do you answer with something like, “I’m the daughter of Tom & Wanda, or my children are Jacob & Jordan.” You might say you’re grandparents of children in our school. When they hear the question, “Who are you?” others will answer by saying, “I’m an electrician, or a nurse, or teacher.”
There are numerous ways to think about our identity. How we define ourselves says a lot about what we value in life, what’s important to us, & what we see as our purpose here on earth. If you define yourself by your occupation then what you do is what you see as important. You’re probably a task oriented person. If we define ourselves by our relationships, then we likely value who we’re with as more important than what we’re doing. As with all issues in this broken world, human beings tend to view things through the ‘either or’ glasses. Either you prefer to be one way, or you prefer to be the other. Balance is ever the elusive goal.
From the first part of the Bible verse this sermon is based on, we see a task oriented outlook, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness…” Isaiah, there, is writing to people who want to accomplish something.
Following right on the heels of that are the words, “…you who seek the Lord…” In that case we have an example of a person who is valuing relationship, yet to both of them, Isaiah writes, “Listen to me…”
So we’ve already asked the question, “Who are you?” Now we move on to an expanded version, “Who are you today?” This morning, some of you might say, “I’m an usher, or an acolyte, or an elder.” I would answer that, “Today, I’m a pastor.” Other’s might say, “I’m a visitor, or a teacher, or just a member of this congregation.”
One of the first things we do, near the beginning of the service, is referred to as the Confession & Absolution. In theology those two are always connected. Lutherans never do one without the other, because it is the Absolution part which actually enables us to do the Confession part. However, for the sermon, I’d like to focus only on the Confession for now.
“We have sinned against you in thought, word & deed, by what we have done & by what we have left undone.” Those words speak from a task orientation, & in them we are defining ourselves by the evil we have done, as well as, by the good that we have failed to do. Think of all the excuses you’ve made up in this past week; how those excuses bare our soul!
In another version of our Confession, we begin with these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…” & end with these, “a poor, sinful being.” Those are not flattering words, yet they get right to the crux of our identity. They truthfully & honestly define, “Who are we today?” In that version we’re defining ourselves in relationship to God, as poor, miserable & sinful beings.
If you’re not convinced that sin defines you in relationship to our Lord, just listen to King David’s words in Psalm 51: “Against You [O God], & You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight.” (Psalm 51:4 NLT)
Task oriented & relationship oriented; our heavenly Father interacts with us on both levels. Having looked at the Confession of our sins, we are lead us into the final portions of the text for today’s sermon. We begin that, by expanding the question even further, “Who are you… today…, as a child of God?”
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug.” The final portions of Isaiah 51:1 get to the Absolution. These are the words which enable & empower us to say in all honesty, “I, a poor, miserable sinner…”
This latter portion of the text reminds us that our sins have been made as white as snow & they’ve been removed from us as far as the east is from the west: “…look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug.”
In other words, we are righteous people, we are saved people, we are eternal people, because of the quarry from which we were dug. Abraham is our spiritual father & we are his descendants, those as numerous as the stars of heaven, & as the grains of sand by the seashore.
If you tire of hearing another chapter of encouragement & reassurance from our Savior, then you do not know how tirelessly patient our heavenly Father must be if He’s to overcome the doubts of His despairing children. It is neither simple nor easy to persuade poor, miserable sinners to believe the promise of righteousness & salvation that has been made over the millennia. Remember, it is only that change in relational identity with our Creator which can bring about the change in what we do, or fail to do. Without being a child of God, we can never even begin to confess our sins, let alone battle against them.
Conversion always begins with a change in relationship. St. Paul describes that in his letter to the Christian church at Colossae:
“This includes you who were once far away from God. You were His enemies, separated from Him by your evil thoughts & actions. Yet now He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, & you are holy & blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. (Col 1:21-22 NLT)
Yahweh takes us as He finds us, His enemies, & then changes our heart by sacrificing His own Son to pay for our crimes. Some people think the language of being a poor, miserable sinner is too strong & unfriendly, but it accurately describes the identity of our sinful nature. If we underestimate the evil within us, we certainly will fall prey to Satan’s temptations.
In a real sense, sin keeps us in bondage of a type that we can never free ourselves from. As rock does not dig itself out of the quarry, Israel did not make itself into the nation of God’s people. So also, you & I have not chosen to become children of Yahweh, but He has chosen us. That is who you are today, as a child of God – chosen & dearly loved. St. Paul wrote:
“…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male & female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29 ESV)
As Isaiah is writing about Israel’s release from the exile in Babylon, he’s assuring them that it was but a first step on the path to heaven. Today, as children of God, we’re still on that path. We have the guarantee of the life to come in Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Jesus said, from the cross, “It is finished,” we just don’t yet have the full realization of that life. Sin is still dogging us at the heals; yet God’s righteousness or deliverance is near.
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, & to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father & to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, that I might bless him & multiply him. For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places & makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy & gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving & the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:1-3)
Though our lives are full of struggle, & clearly Robin Williams’ life was as well, the never ending message of Jesus Christ is that we are His own, bought & paid for. Yet we aren’t slaves but children & fellow heirs of the kingdom. Satan hates that news, but it is who you are, today, in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet