13th Sunday after Pentecost – B (Proper 16) LSB #’s 589, 862, 513 tune Ewing
Text – Isaiah 29:11-12
And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”
READING IS FUNDAMENTAL
I remember it as an advertising slogan from years ago. As I considered the introduction to this sermon, I did some research & discovered that it’s actually a non-profit set up way back in 1966. RIF believes every child deserves an opportunity to own books, learn how to read, & obtain the fundamental building blocks to achieve their highest potential.
According to their website, 25 million children in the U.S. cannot read proficiently. RIF believes that together we can make a real difference & set our children on a path of growth & opportunity. And you know from your own experience in life just how fundamental reading is to almost everything you do. Without the ability to read living well is a lot more difficult.
Not surprisingly our heavenly Creator is aware of that as well. So God’s Spirit inspired Isaiah to use the illustration in the sermon text to make a point. The almighty & all loving God of creation had been trying to get the attention of His people, but they were not listening. No matter how many blessings God showered upon them they ignored Him.
As Jesus put it, in the Gospel reading, they were going through the motions, but their hearts were not in it. It was obvious that the blessings God was raining down on His people were having a counter-productive effect. Like over-watering a plant, somewhere along the way you end up drowning the poor plant & it dies. For it to live you have to know when to stop.
The heavenly Father decided it was time to stop drowning His people with blessings. The blessings were doing no good anyway. No one was actually listening to Him, even though they were pretending to. If God did not gain their attention soon, they would all be lost. These are His people. He created them. He chose them. He lifted them up before the world as a beacon of light in order to bring salvation & glory out of the darkness of sin & death. In spite of all that, this is how Isaiah describes the reality of how God’s people were living:
“Woe to you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, & who say, ‘Who sees us? Who knows us?’ O what perversity! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of Him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?” (Isaiah 29:15-16)
Those words were written of an entire nation, & they were written about 2700 years ago. Do those words strike you? Do they remind you of any nation that exists today? Are these words of Jesus applicable to people in God’s house this morning:
“…Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mark 7:6-7 ESV) Where is your heart this very moment? If God is speaking to you right now what should your response be?
The people of Judah – the people God created & chose to rescue – are pictured as responding in this way:
“Astonish yourselves & be astonished; blind yourselves & be blind! Be drunk, but not with wine; stagger, but not with strong drink! For the Lord has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, & has closed your eyes (the prophets), & covered your heads (the seers). And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot, for it is sealed.’ And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.’
God’s warning gave the people of Judah pause, but even the Word of God could induce no understanding. That’s because the people did not receive the word with faith in that word. All of which revealed that, in spite of their words, they did not have faith in the God who sent His word. The blindness of unbelief then makes people increasingly even more blind. It moves their hearts even further away from the source of truth & life. The hardening of one’s own heart leads deeper into the divine judgment of hardening. Those who prefer to be blind to God shall experience to the full what that means.
And in that blindness, the people are totally oblivious to the perilous situation they are in. They themselves have chosen death, yet in their perversity they truly believe they have chosen to live. In fact, they believe that they have given themselves life.
Specifically, in verse 11 of the sermon text, because the people have rejected God, even after His blessings & after His loving discipline, Yahweh is now bringing judgment upon them. He has sealed His own Word so that they can no longer understand it. That is part of the reason why St. Paul wrote these words:
“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2b ESV) Dead or alive, you or I may not have tomorrow to repent & believe the good news.
In Isaiah, for the people of Judah, the Day of the Lord had arrived. Judgment Day was upon them. They had sealed their own fate. The Assyrians will be sent by God to destroy their cities & to rule over them. Those Assyrians were a pagan nation. There would be no more freedom of religion under that government.
Living in a free country, as we do, where we have the right to vote; where we the people are in effect responsible for our own government, it is our duty to gage the state of our nation. Have we as a nation become hypocrites who draw near to God with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him? Have we chosen to receive the Word of God without faith in that Word?
Even more important, it is your duty & it is my duty under God’s mercy, to gage the state of our own heart. Have we too become hypocrites who draw near to God with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him? Do we have mercy on the sinful people that our Lord has brought into our lives? Do we repent of our own sins & believe in the Word of God that forgives us? Do we remember our baptism where God washed away our sins? Do we put to use the Body & Blood of Christ as He offers them to us for the forgiveness of our sins?
Chapters 28-33 of Isaiah, are basically oracles of judgment on Judah & Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as the Book of Woe, because its six main prophecies are introduced by that word. Interspersed, however, are a number of alternating oracles of comfort & salvation.
Isaiah’s counsel is consistent, avoid entangling alliances with pagan countries & simply wait, trust & believe on the Lord. In our lives, we may not have personal dealings with pagan countries, but we are tempted to entangle ourselves in pagan thoughts & ways. Temptation often comes with good intentions, but with a lack of patience or willingness to wait on the Lord.
We too end up forgetting that God’s Spirit lives within us. Our body, soul & mind is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If we reject that too often, it will lead to an eternity without our Lord. Now is the Day of Salvation. Reading the Word of God is fundamental.
The people of Israel were the chosen people of God yet they walked away from Him & failed in their purpose – to be a light in the darkness.
So, the heavenly Father chose Jesus to take the place of His people. He created human flesh for His Son. He chose Him & He lifted Him up before the world as a beacon of light in order to bring salvation & glory out of the darkness of sin & death.
In the closing verses of the OT reading, Isaiah writes of a new day to come: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, & out of their gloom & darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, & the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV) Children of God long for that day, & what a
blessing it shall be. Amen.
Oh, blest the house, whate’er befall, where Jesus Christ is all in all! A home that is not wholly His – how sad & poor & dark it is! Oh, blest that house where faith is found & all in hope & love abound; they trust their God & serve Him still & do in all His holy will! Then here will I & mine today a solemn promise make & say: Though all the world forsake His Word, I & my house will serve the Lord. Amen. LSB 862:1-2, 5.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet