Here's my homily from yesterday's noon Eucharist.
Over the past six months, I have watched the Veggie Tales version of the Jonah story more times than a good parent would care to admit. I have learned a lot from the adventures of the poor asparagus names Jonah: his escape to Tarshesh, his time in the belly of a big fish, and the repentance of the people of Nineveh. One thing of which I am certain, the life of a prophet is never dull. Hosea was called by God to marry a prostitute who would cheat on him so that he could experience the pain God felt as Israel worshiped idols. Ezekiel was told to lay on his left side for 390 days while God laid the iniquity of Israel upon him. Isaiah walked around naked for three years to show Isreal's enemies the shame that was to come upon them. Prophets spoke words of correction and rebuke to people of all strata – from peasants to kings – individuals and whole nations. They found themselves, unsurprisingly, in all sorts of jams and in need of the very God who sent them into the storm for safety. My spiritual director in seminary told me she thought I had the gift of prophecy, and I've been scared to death that she was right ever since. Being a prophet is a life of unease, at best.
There are moments, however, when being a prophet is a pretty sweet gig, and not just on the other side of the River Styx. There are scores of stories in Scripture where, when all the prophecy and rebuke is over, when wars have come and gone, when people have been killed, exiled, and humiliated, when God gives the prophet a word of restoration – a promise that even in the midst of the worst possible situation, God promises goodness for his people. We get a piece of that in the Isaiah lesson.
Chapter fifty-five ends what is called Second Isaiah, the portion of the book that takes place during the Babylonian Exile, and this word is desperately needed. Their time in exile has been almost too much to bear. Their beloved holy city of Jerusalem was destroyed, families were torn apart, houses burnt to the ground, and their country leveled. Jeremiah and a group were left in Israel while others were taken by force to Babylon where they could no longer follow the rules of their religion. Their God, who resided in the Temple Court, was no where to be found. Hope is almost lost, when the man who warned them all of this would happen, offers a new word, one filled with hope.
His word of rain and snow comes to a people, not unlike us, who know the dangers of parched ground. They've seen crops fail, fires rage, and livelihoods lost. They know what it is to hope for rain to come and refresh the earth, and, Isaiah says, that is exactly what God's word is like. His word comes, and renews the face of the earth. People who see nothing but sadness, will have their hopeful vision restored. People who in the midst of death and mourning, long for a glimpse of life, will have their lives renewed. God will pour out his word of hope upon his people and they will rise up with joy and singing. The restoration will be so joyous, so spirited, so lively that even the very mountains and hill will sing and rejoice. The words of condemnation, the thorns and the briers, will be transformed into luscious green myrtles and cypress trees. Where Babylon scorched the earth, God's word will bring forth fresh life.
Today marks the middle of our ninth real week of summer. We've had 0.05 inches of rain in July, 2.17 inches of rain in June, and 0.11 inches in May – putting us nearly 8 inches behind for these 9 weeks. We watched 1000 acres of Gulf State Park burn as we smelled smoke for more than a week. We've been stuck in traffic on 59, long lines at the grocery store, and found slivers of sand on crowded beaches. We've got 13 weeks until hurricane season ends. And we can't even begin to understand how desperate the Isrealites in Babylon felt, but there is still hope for us in the words of Isaiah,
God keeps his promises, and he promises to restore his whole creation. No matter how dry, how frustrating, how messy, how fearful the earth becomes, God promises to restore it and us in due time. He's done it before. He's given Jonah, Hosea, Ezekiel and Isaiah good news to share, and been true to their word. May God continue to prove faithful to his word as we seek to faithfully serve him, even in the midst of dry times. Amen.