17th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 20) LSB #’s 699, 648, 720
Text – Isaiah 55:9
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways & my thoughts than your thoughts.
There’s a story of a small town in New Mexico that held an auction to raise money for a community center. The townsfolk looked through their closets & drawers, searched their attics & garages. They collected trinkets, odds & ends of furniture, & white elephants, bringing them all to the auction center.
The auctioneer began to hold up the items, one by one, for a bid & so they were sold. The last item to be auctioned was an old violin. It was dusty & dirty, covered with spatterings of paint. It obviously had lain in the back of someone’s garage, unused for many years. The auctioneer held it up, “What am I bid?” There was only silence.
He persisted, “Come on, bid something!” A man yelled out, “Fifty cents,” & everyone laughed. Then, from the back of the group an old man came to the front & asked to see the violin. He took it into his arms & began to play it. A beautiful sound filled the room & touched everyone’s heart. When he finished, he handed it back to the auctioneer.
“What am I bid,” the auctioneer called out again. $200 – $300 – $400, & so the bidding went on. Can you see how each of us is like that old violin? What becomes of us, & of the things we do in life, depends upon who is playing us. Is it God, or is it the Devil?
For example, what becomes of your illness depends upon who plays you. For some, illness is a random tragedy without purpose or meaning, because Satan is playing them in order to steal, to kill & to destroy. Yet, when it is Jesus who is playing your life, not only your illnesses but also your health will have a very different sound to them. When Jesus is playing your life, not only your sins but also your obedience will have a very different sound to them. Illness & tragedy are never fun times, yet the Word of God assures us that our Creator is wise & powerful enough to work through them to accomplish good. He worked through the suffering & death of His own Son to defeat Satan’s efforts to steal, kill & destroy.
Who of you would send to death your only son to pay for the crimes of others? God’s ways are not ours, but God does aim to save sinners. It was the Father’s way to show no mercy to His Son so that He now is able to show mercy to us. That enables Yahweh to remain just & to give us a free & complete pardon.
God’s ways bring life. Satan’s ways bring death & there’s a very definite, absolute difference between them. Our brain, corrupted by sin, can see that difference only because of the faith that God’s Spirit creates within us. Without faith, we are hopelessly lost in the darkness of sin. The chief aim of all God’s ways is to draw us out of the darkness with His marvelous light.
Isaiah was directed to write to people who had the same defect that we have. Yahweh was also then working to create, within people, faith in His salvation promises. God’s people would be in exile in Babylon because they had forsaken God’s ways. They were already in bondage to their sin. Now they’d be in bondage to a pagan king.
God’s people were struggling to understand how being exiled in a foreign land could be the way of God. Even more, they were struggling to believe that God’s way of rescuing them would be through that pagan king. Though our nation was founded for the purpose of religious freedom, increasingly our people have been electing pagan leaders.
The ancient prophet Isaiah wants to assure us, today, that God’s ways will include bringing you & me to salvation even through our own pagan government. We may not be in bondage in a foreign land, but we are certainly in bondage to our sins. Our ways are not God’s ways, & our ways stink to high heaven. Our Creator sees our plight & our despair, which moves Him to come to our rescue. In spite of the several thousand year time gap, our nation has much in common with the ancient people of Jerusalem.
Like them, God brought our people to a land that would become prosperous & overflowing with blessings. Like the ancient Israelites, our people would become dull-hearted & wander off the ways that Yahweh set for us. He set those ways as He created each of us individually for lives of purpose & meaning, for our time in history & for eternity.
Yet, we become bored with God’s blessings & seek other gods to tickle our fancy. We are no longer satisfied with the ways & the purposes for which God created us. We want to strike out on our own to find meaning & glory in our lives. In our nation we don’t bow down to statues of gold or bronze, but we do worship many things that are powerless to help us.
In spite of the all the complaining, we do worship the leaders we try to elect. We turn to them for hope in our lives, instead of turning in prayer to our Creator. As a nation, we devote multiple times more money to sports of every kind than we do to God’s kingdom. We devote multiple times more money to our own entertainment than we do to helping people in need.
Instead of following the ways that our Creator set before us, we deny His creation & the purpose & meaning for which He created us. Our culture now celebrates the ‘courage’ of any who defy the will & the ways of God. You & I would do well to confess that we are drawn to temptation. We are tempted by the music that Satan offers to make with our lives.
In Isaiah 55, the Holy Spirit encourages the people to receive His free gift of grace. We can’t receive God’s gifts if we are actively filling our hands with Satan’s! Isaiah 55 emphasizes the response which brings the benefits of Jesus’ work into our personal experience. In V. 1 Yahweh invites His people to come, & in V. 12 He concludes with the promise that in joy you will go forth. It is time to leave Babylon & come home to Zion because all who are in bondage to sin are in a type of Babylonian exile. God calls us to His ways because salvation has been accomplished for us by the Servant of God in Isaiah, chapters 52 & 53. Jerusalem has been vindicated & Yahweh invites the new Israel to enter into abundant life.
This very morning, again, your Savior is calling you back to His way, for He is the Way & the Truth & the Life. Chapters 52 & 53 of Isaiah speak of the work that Jesus would do as the ultimate Servant of God. He is the One who suffers on the cross in our place, that we might live in His kingdom of everlasting righteousness, innocence & blessedness.
Then, in Isaiah 55, we are called to respond to God’s ways of love, mercy & forgiveness. When Jesus is playing your life, not only your sins but also your obedience will have a very different sound to them. Your sins will be silenced as He washes them away. Your obedience will be joyful because of the new heart that God’s Spirit is creating within.
Yes, those new sounds will not be perfect yet in this life. Our sinful nature is constantly trying to dance to the Devil’s fiddle, but our Lord is faithful & He promises to bring us through all the trials of life in this sinful world. He also promises that the joy of heaven to come will make all the suffering of this life fade into oblivion.
When your conscience burdens you, remember what Isaiah wrote in chapter 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; & the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” He would not have risen from the dead if He had not conquered our iniquity, sin, death & the devil.
As Isaiah calls us to seek the Lord while He may be found, he also calls us to “…return to the Lord, that He may have compassion... for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7 ESV) In the Gospel reading, the ones who work only an hour at the end of the day get paid the same amount as those who worked through the whole day & the heat of the day. How do you think the UAW would respond to that contract offer? As a child I remember struggling to “hear” that word of God. The point of the Gospel lesson though is that God’s ways are to show equal mercy to everyone. Some people reject that equality. Jesus paid the penalty for their rejection.
Isaiah 55:9 offers good news when we hear, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways & my thoughts than your thoughts.” (ESV) Some of us suffer longer under Yahweh’s chastening yoke. Others have an easier path. Yet mercy & eternal life is the final word for all of His people.
When Satan is playing our life, inevitably our music turns inward & it turns sour. When Jesus is playing your life, all the joys & all the sorrows will have a different sound to them. Certainly, it will not be perfectly joyful. That will be heaven, but for now we can sing in joy even in our failures, because the perfect life that Jesus lived is what God credits to us. Amen.
See, the streams of living waters, springing from eternal love, well supply your sons & daughters & all fear of want remove. Who can faint while such a river ever will their thirst assuage? Grace, which like the Lord, the giver, never fails from age to age. Savior, since of Zion’s city I through grace a member am, let the world deride or pity, I will glory in Your name. Fading are the world’s vain pleasures, all their boasted pomp & show; solid joys & lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know. Amen. LSB 648:2, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet