The Lord is going to turn the earth into a desolate wasteland.
He will mar the face of the earth and scatter the people living on it.
The same will happen to people and priests,
male slaves and masters,
female slaves and masters,
buyers and sellers,
lenders and borrowers,
debtors and creditors.
The earth will be completely laid waste and stripped
because the Lord has spoken.
The earth dries up and withers.
The world wastes away and withers.
The great leaders of the earth waste away.
The earth is polluted by those who live on it
because they’ve disobeyed the Lord’s teachings,
violated his laws,
and rejected the everlasting promise.
That is why a curse devours the earth,
and its people are punished for their guilt.
That is why those who live on the earth are burned up,
and only a few people are left.
New wine dries up, and grapevines waste away.
All happy people groan.
Joyful tambourine music stops.
Noisy celebrations cease.
Joyful harp music stops.
People no longer drink wine when they sing.
Liquor tastes bad to its drinkers.
The ruined city lies desolate.
The entrance to every house is barred shut.
People in the streets call for wine.
All joy passes away,
and the earth’s happiness is banished.
The city is left in ruins.
Its gate is battered to pieces.
That is the way it will be on earth among the nations.
They will be like an olive tree which has been shaken
or like what’s left after the grape harvest. (God’s Word Translation)
A lot of people shy away from biblical passages, like today’s Old Testament lesson from Isaiah. Too negative, not enough positivity.
Like it, or not, Isaiah 24, along with many other texts of a similar vein, exist in Holy Scripture. And I insist we must pay attention to such texts of doom and gloom. For if we only choose to deal with the encouraging and inspirational texts of the Bible, we will have a severely truncated faith which will not stand in the hard times.
The voice I offer, however, isn’t a beat-you-up tone. I seek to have a pastoral voice that upholds the best of biblical ethics and human dignity.
People do and say terrible things every day. Because of that reality, it doesn’t mean God’s image has left or taken a vacation, or that someone deserves a pejorative label which stigmatizes and ostracizes them from the human family.
For the Christian, the supreme ethic of life is love. We hold to the Great Commandment: Love God and love neighbor. All other commands of Holy Scripture hang on the commands to love, upheld by Jesus himself.
Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40, GNT)
It is because of the presence of God and Love that difficult biblical texts occur in Scripture. When people, in God’s image, defile that image through oppressing fellow image-bearers and turning from commands to live ethically and lovingly in the world, God has something to say about it. And we get texts like today’s from the prophet Isaiah.
Therefore, we must all ask ourselves if we are loving others in this world as intended by our Creator and Redeemer.
We routinely hear, through social media posts, political pundits, religious prognosticators, and daily interactions around the water cooler, opinions laced with profound hate, disrespect, and misunderstanding.
Whenever disasters occur – whether yet another act of gun violence, a natural calamity, or economic ruin – there are a host of stories which surround them all. Some of those stories are heartwarming tales of people rushing in to bring comfort, solace, and support. And there are far too many stories of abject fear, ignorance, and calloused behavior directed at others, even victims, with selfish and misguided tools of wrath.
There is such a constellation of issues and problems to unpack and deal with in this world that I do not nor cannot even begin to try to do such a task. I only want to bring a small bit of light to the shadows of the human heart which inevitably tries to dehumanize others who do not agree with his/her opinion and group-think.
For example, there is no lack of people who persist in dehumanizing LGBTQ individuals and gay communities. One man told me recently, in a matter-of-fact manner, that the Orlando, Florida shooting from 2016 was most likely a judgment from God upon homosexuals because of our government’s straying from godliness.
Those in LGBTQ circles are quite familiar with this kind of speech. To label it correctly: It is hate speech – dehumanizing speech – the kind of attitude and talk which pollutes the world and raises the hackles of a holy and loving God.
When people of any particular kind of group, whether gay or straight, Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, are verbally (and actually) mowed-down like animals, it is because they are being looked at as nothing but animals, or monsters, or anything but a human being.
The apple does not fall far from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
We must come to grips with the fact that every person killed on this planet is a destruction of God’s image. And we are not the judges of whether any loss of life is God’s judgment, or not. To make any sort of claim to knowing this is, at best, extreme hubris, and, at worst, germinating the seeds of a future holocaust of killing.
Whenever any one person or group places a superimposed label upon another person or subculture of people of being monstrous, hateful, and undeserving of justice, then that person or group must come to grips with their own poverty of spirit and embrace the real love which Jesus has demonstrated and offers. And, if they don’t, they ought not be surprised when their tree gets shaken by God, or even cut down and thrown into the fire.
No matter what side one falls on, there is no biblical precedent or place to dehumanize another person or group of people, period.
Christians and churches, especially, need to stop acting and reacting to the parts of culture and society they don’t like and start living and loving like Jesus by building relationships with a broad spectrum of groups and individuals.
It falls to the faith communities of this land to initiate love and to live above hate speech. And the onus is on Christians to model a supremely loving ethic toward all people.
I admit that many Christians do not have a good track record on this. And I further admit that I have observed an eerie silence from far too many of them in the face of great human tragedy, as if nothing of particular consequence has happened.
This post is a very small and meager attempt on my part to offer something of the loving Christ to others. For, the church is nothing at all, if it isn’t all about Jesus and his gospel of grace.
Gracious Father, lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust. Let peace fill our hearts and our world. Let us dream together, pray together and work together, to build one world of peace and justice for all, through the One who made peace possible, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign as one God, now and forever. Amen.