Tumbling in the Sand
The texts for Sunday, October 9, 2011 are: Isaiah 25:1–9; Psalm 23; Philippians 4:1–9; and Matthew 22:1–14
“Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.” -Isaiah 25: 3-4
I had to reread this a couple of times. It seemed, at first, that Isaiah was saying that the strong people would glorify God and the ruthless nations would fear God because of God’s acts of destruction—because God had destroyed the city and left the aliens (read conquerors of God’s people) in shambles. But, that’s not what Isaiah is saying! At least not in whole… no, it says that the strong will glorify God and the ruthless will fear God because God cares about the poor. Let me say that again: it says that the strong will glorify God and the ruthless will fear God because God cares about the poor. And more than cares, protects…
Why would the strong and powerful and ruthless need to fear a God who notices the people at the bottom of the heap? And more than notices, but cares for … loves even? Why would someone fear that God? I mean, wouldn’t that God be—as William Placher suggests—vulnerable? Wouldn’t that God be weak? Like Placher suggests in his Narratives of a Vulnerable God, “To read the biblical narratives is to encounter a God who is, first of all, love (1 John 4:8). Love involves a willingness to put oneself at risk, and God is in fact vulnerable in love, vulnerable even to great suffering.”
It seems to me that the kind of God that would be a refuge for those who are the least and the last—a God who loves the least and the last—would end up being a God who is least and last. A God who you could laugh at. A God that an empire, a ruthless nation, would not fear but rather crucify. As Placher continues, “God’s self-revelation is Jesus Christ, and, as readers encounter him in the biblical stories, he wanders with nowhere to lay his head, washes the feet of his disciples like a servant, and suffers and dies on a cross—condemned by the authorities of his time, undergoing great pain, “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity” (Is. 53:3). Just this Jesus is the human face of God, not merely a messenger or a prophet but God’s own self come as self-revelation to humankind. “
But what is there to fear in that? What is there to glorify in that?
I suppose one thing: that what we think is power, God exposes as weakness. In our death making—our use of the power of domination to destroy—God is crushed with the poor at the bottom of the heap. But from the bottom of the heap, God’s cries of justice well up in the tears of the poor. From the bottom of the heap, new life springs forth. From the bottom of the heap, the world is turned on its head. From the bottom of the heap God teaches us what it means to be truly human. To quote Placher one more time, “If God becomes human in just this way, moreover, then that tells us something about how we might seek our own fullest humanity—not in quests of power and wealth and fame but in service, solidarity with the despised and rejected, and the willingness to be vulnerable in love.”
I suppose if I had spent my entire life and being attempting to be strong and powerful and ruthless (or even just really independent), the prospect of a God calling me to the vulnerability of love would be terrifying … well, and the most glorious thing imaginable.
The featured picture was taken at Dadaab Refugee Camp, the largest refugee settlement in the world. Dadaab is partially managed by and aid efforts there are primarily coordinated by the Lutheran World Federation and Lutheran World Relief.