I have a confession to make, I love the Book of Isaiah, I mean properly love it! I love it in a slightly nerdy sort of way. I do understand that it is not good to have favourites, that all of the books are divinely inspired and that just cherry picking the parts that I already agree with or enjoy leads to all sorts of problem in theology and the way that I end up perceiving the world with but deep in my heart I have to say that some bits of the Bible leave me cold whilst others really do float my boat.
For instance, I have been known to eat shellfish, I have been known to eat a cheeseburger and I am probably wearing mixed fibres as I speak (all of which are prohibited in the Levitical laws) but Isaiah shines like a beacon amongst all the other books around it. I love its poetry, I love its message, it points more directly to the coming of Christ and is staggering in its range and scope. It was written at a time when the nation of Israel was in exile, dragged from their homeland by the Babylonians. The nation of Israel was looking for deliverance, for some sort of divine intervention to rescue them from their captivity. What I find staggering is that although the Israelites were suffering the book is not merely blind fist shaking in blind fury, blaming everyone else for the mess that they are in.
It is instead full of contrition, readily accepting that much of their misfortune they have brought upon themselves. They fully understand that they messed up, have strayed and they are looking for solutions, to resolutions to their predicament and how they can reset their relationship with God. It is miles away from the book of Genesis, when God asked Adam, “Who told you to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge?” and Adam, like any toddler does, points straight at Eve and says, “It was her, she told me to do it!” And so it continues with this passage, it is asking God, how do I get this right? What can I do to get back on good terms with you? And we have the answer to hand.
On Thursday I joined some school children to a visit to Keach’s meeting house in Winslow. It is the oldest Baptist chapel in the area. If you haven’t been I really do recommend it. It is a small building, tucked away, hidden. Inside it is stripped bare, no stained-glass windows, no altar, aside from the pulpit the only other hint to its use is a very simple candle holder suspended from the ceiling which holds 3 candles. Those candles, as well as being the only source of light in the building, are there to represent the Holy Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit, the 3 parts of God that are in constantly changing, dynamic relation with each other. The way that they interact with each other is sometimes portrayed as an equilateral triangle. And it is that where the importance lies. Our faith is all about relationships.
Every time that we look up to heaven, we are also invited to look out to others. We instinctively, just as the Israelites did, want to look vertically up to God and God, in his turn tells us to look horizontally, towards others. The simple fact is that everyone wants to be blessed, but not everyone wants to be a blessing.
God tells us in this passage and in this whole book, “When you reach out to others, I’ll reach out to you”. We believe not just in a God who loves but in a God who IS love, and by loving each other we bring ourselves into his presence.
If we are ever in any doubt the answer is simple. We need to ask ourselves are we the conduit to the blessing that we are asking for, does it reside in us and the relationships we have with our neighbours throughout the world and the entirety of God’s creation?
Do God’s blessings flow through us or do we expect them to just flow to us? It is a big difference and that difference could mean the world.