Give Thanks | Proper 28

Isaiah 12

1 You will say on that day: “I thank you, LORD. Though you were angry with me, your anger turned away and you comforted me. 2 God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid. Yah, the LORD, is my strength and my shield; he has become my salvation.”

3 You will draw water with joy from the springs of salvation. 4 And you will say on that day: “Thank the LORD; call on God’s name; proclaim God’s deeds among the peoples; declare that God’s name is exalted. 5 Sing to the LORD, who has done glorious things; proclaim this throughout all the earth.” 6 Shout and sing for joy, city of Zion, because the holy one of Israel is great among you. (CEB)

Give Thanks

Isaiah 12 is a Psalm of praise which serves as the capstone to chapters one through eleven. It really can’t be properly understood if it is excised from these preceding chapters. Chapters one through eleven are mostly filled with oracles of judgment and doom on the unfaithfulness of God’s people. And, it’s curious what the unfaithfulness Isaiah preaches against looks like.

Most of it is the failure of those with means and those in power to defend the poor and vulnerable among them. It’s a failure to defend and care for orphans and widows who, in that time and place, were the most vulnerable people in Jewish culture. God tells the people of Judah, “Wash! Be clean! Remove your ugly deeds from my sight. Put an end to such evil; learn to do good. Seek justice: help the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow” (Is. 1:16-17, CEB).

But doom is also pronounced on the wealthy who take more than what they need to live, which essentially keeps the poor from escaping their destitution. Isaiah says, “Doom to those who acquire house after house, who annex field to field until there is no more space left and only you live alone in the land” (Is. 5:8, CEB). It is an injustice when people gain at the expense of the poor. God declares that their wealth won’t enrich them. Rather, they will suffer desolation and emptiness.

Doom is pronounced on those who mock God’s plan, and those who think they are so wise that they utterly dismiss the idea of justice for others and dismiss judgment for the injustice they instigate and in which they participate. Doom is also pronounced on nations which oppress and make self-interested war on other nations to steal their land and resources.

As we read through those first chapters of Isaiah, there is anger on God’s part. There is judgment and punishment for people whose words and deeds such as those I just mentioned, are contrary to God’s design for righteous human life. Those judgments aren’t easy to hear.

Yet, those judgments are interspersed with God’s plan which gives hope to the future: words of hope that are incredibly familiar to us. “God will judge between the nations, and settle disputes of mighty nations. Then they will beat their swords into iron plows and their spears into pruning tools. Nation will not take up sword against nation; they will no longer learn how to make war (Isaiah 2:4, CEB).

And, “Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, CEB).

And, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned… A child is born to us, a son is given to us, and authority will be on his shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be vast authority and endless peace for David’s throne and for his kingdom, establishing and sustaining it with justice and righteousness now and forever. The zeal of the LORD of heavenly forces will do this” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7, CEB).

And, “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse; a branch will sprout up from his roots. The LORD’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD… The wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; and the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 6, CEB).

In our text, we are told that there will come a day when we will give thanks to God for God’s comfort and salvation. It acknowledges God’s anger. And let’s be honest, God’s anger scares us. Anyone’s anger scares us, but especially the anger of those we love and respect. The reason anger frightens us is because we fear the loss of love from those who are angry. When my children do something wrong and I get angry, I make sure I tell them that I love them. I may be angry about what they did, but I love them and I always will. The way those situations usually resolve is with a tear-filled hug with my children clinging to me because they know that, while I’m angry and disappointed in their actions, I still love them deeply.

A few months ago, in my sermon on August 14, I mentioned a quote from C.S. Lewis in his book, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly About Prayer, where he said, “Anger—no peevish fit of temper, but just, generous, scalding indignation—passes (not necessarily at once) into embracing, exultant, re-welcoming love. That is how friends and lovers are truly reconciled. Hot wrath, hot love. Such anger is the fluid love bleeds when you cut it” (Lewis, 126). I love that last part of the quote: “Anger is the fluid love bleeds when you cut it.”

So, when we talk about God’s anger, it’s never about a loss of love. God still loves us. God always loves us. In fact, it’s God’s unbreakable, unshakable, undeniable, relentlessly pursuing, unyielding, never-ending, till-death-and-beyond love that is the source of our rejoicing, the reason for our thanksgiving, and the thing that undergirds our purposeful living as we strive for the kingdom of God in our midst alongside God who is unfolding it around us so that it encompasses the whole world.

Yes, we sin, and we will, unfortunately, continue to sin in impressively big ways and in ways so small we think we can ignore them. But God loves us still. God calls us back. God offers us salvation. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, God loves you. God loves us. God wants better for us. I am preaching to myself here, too. The pronouns are in the first-person in verses one and two. The beauty of the prophet’s instructions for how we can rejoice is that each one of us can say, “God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and won’t be afraid. Yah, the LORD is my strength and my shield; he has become my salvation” (CEB).

The fact that God loves us always, even when we’ve messed up, is a truth that offers hope. It allows us to view God’s anger and judgment as part of salvation. When we fail to live faithfully by abusing the weak, or making peace with injustice, or excusing hatred, or overlooking violence, it is God’s judgment that calls us to repent; to seek forgiveness and purification because of our sins. It is God’s judgment that encourages us to recommit our lives to God’s design for human community: a design in which people do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. A design where people put away evil, learn to do good, and defend our weaker and more vulnerable sisters and brothers within our communities.

Most of the language in this hymn of praise is closely related to the Psalms, but verse three is something unique that doesn’t come from the Psalms. The image of drawing water with joy from the springs of salvation does a couple of things. In one sense, it offers a contrast of the “waters of Shiloah that flow gently” (c.f. Is. 8:6), to the mighty floodwaters representing the king of Assyria. Isaiah 8:7-8 says, “therefore, look, the Lord is raising up against them the powerful floodwaters of the Euphrates, the king of Assyria and all his glory. It will rise up over all its channels, overflowing all its banks, and sweep into Judah, flooding, overflowing, and reaching up to the neck. But God is with us; the span of his wings will cover the width of the land” (CEB). The Neo-Assyrian Empire would wash over territory all around it, swallowing nations in every direction.

In another sense, the gentle water of Shiloah was a small stream that flowed from the Gihon Spring. It was called the Pool of Siloam in the Gospel of John (c.f. John 9:7, 11). Shiloah, or Siloam, is the spring from which, according to the Babylonian Talmud, priests would draw water every day during the festival celebration of Sukkot. Then, they would carry the water in procession to the Temple with trumpets blasting, and pour it as an offering on the altar. The Talmud describes the offering of this libation as so joyful that it says, “He who has not witnessed the rejoicings at the water-drawing has, throughout the whole of his life, witnessed no real rejoicing” (Rodkinson, p.77).

The waters of Shiloah, themselves, represented God’s provision. That’s why we have this call in Isaiah to trust in the Lord because God is our salvation. That’s why we have this call to give thanks and make God’s deeds known among the nations. Those singular pronouns give way to plural pronouns in verse 3. One voice calls to another, inviting them to join in the thanksgiving and celebration. Those voices call to still others to do the same. It’s not about one person only but the community of people, and that community then extends to the nations of people who will also come to recognize God’s saving deeds and offer praise.

There is a mighty hope of salvation on the other side of death, but the prophets also envision and voice a joyful hope for our future in this life. A future in which all people can offer thanks together for the things God richly provides. Especially for those among us who are living in the midst of pain, fear, sickness, or sorrow, these words encourage us—they are an opportunity for us—to pray with anticipation for the day when our joy returns.

Whether that moment is now, or something we yet hope for in the future, we are called to give thanks in such a way that the world around us cannot help but join in the celebration of thanksgiving and praise, shouting aloud and singing for joy. For, God has become our salvation, and the Holy One of Israel is in our midst. The Lord has done glorious things for us, and they are worth celebrating.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirt, Amen!

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