“Hide and Seek”
“Hide and Seek”
Text: Isaiah 65:1–9
Proper 7, C
Where is God when tragedy strikes? What good are your thoughts and prayers? It is the harsh and all too common refrain from people who thumb their noses at Christians and the God of Holy Scripture. It is also the inner struggle of every faithful believer in the crush of so much grief in this world. Where is He? Why does He allow such harm to happen again and again? It was the lament of Israel in the days of the prophet Isaiah. And beginning in Isaiah 65, God answers the people’s cry out of the depths in the previous chapters. “There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity” (64:7). That’s the context for our reading. God’s answer to their lament forms the grand finale of the book of Isaiah, both with promises for here and now, and for all that will yet come from His love.
And while it is an answer that is hard to hear in parts because it shows us for who we truly are, it also begins and ends with nothing but pure Gospel! The point being that God’s love surrounds and engulfs us, even at our worst. God’s love will find us even when we choose not to seek Him out. And so God begins with the words: 1 I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here am I, here am I,” to a nation that was not called by my name.
The problem for Israel in their times of tragedy and grief was not a lack of revelation or an insufficient amount of God’s grace. At the root of the issue was rebellion. In other words, the problem was never divine silence; it is always a lack of human responsiveness. But God’s grace will not be thwarted even by our ignorance! If His people reject Him He will turn to the Gentiles, whom He has already invited. This is truly good news for the Gerasene man in our Gospel reading and for each of us here today. But there is more irony at work in this promise. God is willing – determined – to be found by those who don’t seek Him. This is always the way of divine grace. People only ever seek God because He first seeks them.
2 I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; Notice the use of “a” people ... no longer “my” people. The is reserved exclusively for the faithful. And yet God spreads out His hands in love even to these people! Hands that created the heavens and the earth. Hands that will recreate Zion. Hands on which are engraved the names of His people. Hands marked by the nails of a Roman crucifixion for all people seeking Him or not. He does not withhold them. His hands reach out in love.
In contrast, our hands are stained with blood and filled with violence. Have you ever noticed that so much of what we get angry with God for is done by the hands of human beings? Our greed, our hatred, our apathy, and indifference. Our need to be validated and praised, and to not be challenged or disagreed with. Our desire for ease and rewards without having to put in the work. This is at the root of so much of our suffering and grief. And you will find these seeds of suffering and grief balled up in our fists alone.
3 a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; 4 who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels; Please note that these are all activities connected to necromancy and sorcery! The Israelites were suffering because they had hands of blood and hearts that were deeply pagan. They reveled in all that God has declared unclean; the dead, the demonic, and unclean foods/appetites. And we still do exactly the same. Wilful pride in seeking to redefine what is evil into what is good. Do not feel bad for the man in the tombs in our Gospel reading. He most likely chose the path in life that led him there. Just as we all do, because we know we are better than what God says and we deserve more. What we want can’t be wrong ... because we want it!
The root of the human problem is that we are unable (or unwilling) to recognize that we have a problem. We exalt ourselves while placating things that are not a god, all the while excluding others through elitism and sanctimonious legalism. Or as God indicts: 5 who say, “Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.” These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. And then we are shocked and grieved when we find ourselves sitting in the death we chased, suffering the consequences of our selfishness and sin! And we quickly blame God for allowing us to have everything we deserve, everything we have been seeking out and grasping with our bloodied hands. If only He had shown Himself, we say ...
6 Behold, it is written before me: “I will not keep silent, but I will repay; I will indeed repay into their bosom 7 both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together, says the Lord; because they made offerings on the mountains and insulted me on the hills, I will measure into their bosom payment for their former deeds.” While we may choose to be willfully ignorant of the reality or the root causes, none of this goes unnoticed. None of this will go unpunished. God will not be silent. His day of judgment will come. He himself has tallied, by His own divine hand, the accounts which one day must be repaid. And this is a difficult word to hear. But God’s loving kindness has the final word. Just as it is the first word.
8 Thus says the Lord: “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and they say, ‘Do not destroy it, for there is a blessing in it,’ so I will do for my servants’ sake, and not destroy them all. God will deliver His servants through faith. God still preserves a remnant chosen by grace. Regardless of their outward appearance He will take them to glory for He is their strength and portion. It is precisely what Jesus did for that demoniac languishing among the tombs of his own choosing. Jesus sought him out. He found him and brought him healing and peace. He restored and returned precious his life.
The promise we find in the prophecy of Isaiah and the actions of Jesus is that those who are God’s will survive, no matter what befalls them in this life and those whom He calls will come no matter the obstacles before them. This world, as broken and sad as it may sometimes be, cannot overcome those who find themselves in God’s loving hands. Our thoughts and prayers may often be insufficient, but Christ’s never are! Our strength of will may crumble and flee, but His never will. Our hearts may seek often things that are not Him, but His heart will always find us and embrace us with an undying love and forgiveness that leads to salvation.
9 I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and from Judah possessors of my mountains; my chosen shall possess it, and my servants shall dwell there.” And so we are brought to God’s final promise. The faithful remnant will not just be preserved in their struggles now, they may never find the peace they seek in this life. But those sought and found by Christ will inherit a great and blessed reward. The faithful remnant of Israel’s place in the promised land is sure. And so is yours! They ... we ... the gentile among the tombs, are all the Suffering servant’s offspring, those who will inherit God’s kingdom, Zion’s children, because God’s love surrounds and engulfs us, even at our worst. God’s love has found us and he will not let us remain lost in the death and suffering of our own sinful and selfish choosing.