God delivers and restores (June 5, 2022)

Uniform Lesson for June 5, 2022
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Isaiah 47:10-15

We begin a new series this week with the title: “Partners in a New Creation.” We will travel from the Hebrew prophets, through the Gospel of John and on to John of Patmos’ revelations of the new world to come. We begin in Isaiah as God prepares to do a “new thing” (Isaiah 43:19). This new thing will require deliverance and restoration but begins with things God must tear down in order to build up.

The school of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah soars with the sounds of poetry and dreams of a day when all the world’s people might be gathered and comforted and fed with a feast of “rich food” and “well-aged wines” (Isaiah 25:6). But many roads must be traveled to get there and following the path in Isaiah is difficult. The prophecies contained in this one book span several centuries and include words of judgment prior to exile and challenges to unity afterwards. The book of Isaiah documents Israel’s banishment to Babylon followed by a “second Exodus” leading them back home. Though they will pass through many waters, God promises to be with them, and even if they walk through fire, “the flame will not consume them” (Isaiah 43:2).

In this series, we will be listening to the story of God’s deliverance and restoration of Israel as an invitation to join in partnership with God’s work of deliverance and restoration today. Just as Israel’s return from exile caused transformations in God’s created order – “The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches,” (Isaiah 43:20) – so God’s desire for a new creation today has implications for the church, our communities, and our cosmos. This week, we are confronted with the hard truth that some things may need to be torn down in order for something new to be built.

Daughter Babylon

According to the prophet, the main obstacle to the restoration of God’s people and the re-creation of God’s order in the cosmos is the pride and accompanying blindness of the Babylonian empire, here addressed as a pampered young woman. She is apparently “secure” in her wickedness, because she thinks no one “sees” her (v. 10). (Read Psalm 14.) She is so certain of her wisdom and her knowledge that she says in her heart: “I am, and there is no one besides me” (v. 10). Readers of Scripture will hear the blasphemous nature of this claim (See Exodus 3). She trusts in her knowledge of the stars and the moon to predict the future (v. 13), a future she assumes could bring nothing but more success and more prosperity for her. (Compare this with our confidence in science and technology and human progress.) The prophet Isaiah is addressing the leaders of Babylon prior to the rise of the Persian Empire, but these words might be targeted toward us as well.

If God declares the impending destruction of the Babylonian Empire as God’s first step toward restoration and re-creation, what does God need to break down today? I’m watching as many of the structures for mainline worship and service and denominational health and stability teeter amidst the pandemics and economic shifts and cultural revolutions all around us. I’m thinking of our talk of “superpowers” and “multinational corporations” and “world orders,” which seem to declare “I am, and there is no one besides me.” I’m struck by the way even science and technology can lull us into a complacency regarding our future, trusting that our smarts alone will deliver us from any need to radically change the ways we eat and drink and consume. As we, in the words of Isaiah, “all wander about in [our] own paths” (v. 15), might we discover there is no one to “save” us from the necessary destruction coming our way?

Tearing down in order to build up

The book of Ecclesiastes declares that there is “a time to break down, and a time to build up” (3:3). Maybe we should spend most of this week’s class thinking about the obstacles to God’s restorative work in our world. Might we live better lives with the sure and certain knowledge that a divine being is watching us, who wants all God’s creatures to live and thrive? Might our fascination with futurists and algorithms and technological progress lull us to sleep while the clock is ticking? There are surely things “out there” that need to be torn down for something new to be built (systems of injustice and racism and environmental degradation, for instance). But are there things in us that need to be torn down as well?

For discussion:

What in us must be torn down for something new to be built?

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