For lots of folks, opening the morning paper includes checking their daily horoscope, a prediction of what the day or the week holds for them, based on the astrological positioning of stars and planets. It’s usually short and often seems a little vague, which is understandable because it has to cover 1/12th of the population. Some will find parts of their horoscope that seem new or unexpected, others won’t find anything interesting, exciting or even possible as they read the same thing. Whether they actually believe the horoscope or not, though, many will read them just for the amusement of seeing how close to reality they can be.
Hebrew Bible prophets weren’t in the astrology business with a day-to-day short blurb about people’s (possible) future. Prophets looked around, saw what was wrong and warned the people of consequences if those wrongs should go unrighted. A lot of prophecy was in the form of poetry, not because the language was pretty or beguiling, but because it could be recited or sung more easily than just prose. Memorization was an important thing to them since they lacked reading skills or books from which they could pull the passages or answers they needed. Memorization is a talent we’ve pretty much lost in our technological internet-has-all-the-answers age. We no longer need to memorize when all we have to do is Google a question and have it return an answer for us.
God, speaking through Isaiah, told the people that even though they did not seek or call for God, God was there waiting. The people had forgotten God in their search for pleasure, rich living and very possibly what we would consider being spiritual without being religious. Incense was burned on bricks rather than stone altars, meetings held in secret places for possibly illicit acts, and violations of dietary law were just some of the things God pointed out through Isaiah. But God would not be patient forever; there would be consequences laid square in the laps of those who were guilty. They would not be destroyed although they would be punished, and out of it God would bring good things and plentiful descendants.
We sometimes seem to be of two minds about God in our lives. On the one hand, we see disasters of greater or lesser proportions falling on people and we say, rather glibly, that it must have been God’s will. Yet when it comes our turn, we have difficulty making the same claim because, after all, we haven’t done anything that was really that bad, really. We forget that God has been there with hands outstretched all along but we’ve ignored them, preferring to go our own way until we really find ourselves in a mess and then go running to God to make it all better. The sins are not just on an individual basis, however; our corporate sins are worse because we allow things that are wrong and hurtful to others to continue just so we can continue on with our own lives unhindered. There are consequences for that too.
We hear modern prophets telling of global sins that desperately need correction but, like the people in Isaiah’s passage, we are too busy with our own gardens, meetings and fine dining. We hear that God is just waiting for us to turn around and reach out, but somehow we never really take it to heart until we need something or we feel we’re being punished.
Our modern prophets don’t speak in iambic pentameter or even blank verse, yet they speak to us of the world’s needs–and our own. They may not mention God’s name, but it seems clear that what they say is in line with what God wants for and from us. These prophets speak of peace, care for others, equality of all, and the kinship of all people. Jesus and the prophets spoke of the same things, but somehow we keep missing the message just as Isaiah’s audience (and yes, Jesus’ too). That’s why in each generation, God puts voices to remind us of our responsibilities and our duties, not just to God but to our world and those who live in it.
The kingdom of God will come when we listen and obey. That’s the focus of prophecy — to pay attention to the warnings, to seek the best for all parts of creation, and to remember that God is only as far away as a breath.
And no one, no matter how grievous the sin, is beyond redemption. Now that is very good news indeed.