16 January 2022

The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

Isaiah 62:2

Vindication is the action of clearing someone of blame or suspicion.  When I was a chaplain at Mansfield Correctional Institution, there was one inmate who believed that he was innocent.  He was still working with the courts to appeal and either shorten or eliminate his time.  Each week, when we checked in for Bible Study, he liked to let me know any updates on his family as well as on the appeals process.  He had been able to convince his family to believe in him, and he assured them that he was coming home soon.  A lot of inmates lose connection with their family when they are in prison, either because they are moved far away or because their family does not forgive them or believe in them.  This is most devastating for someone at a time when they need someone, anyone, to believe in them.  One of the reasons I loved participating in the weekly Bible Study at prison so much was the hope in Christ that they all shared with each other.  They shared stories from unique perspectives.  Many of them joined because they were required to take some class.  Many did not want to be there until a month or two in, when they saw how much the chaplains believed in them as human beings.  Some professed their new belief in Christ right there in class.  It is often when we are at our lowest, when we have no one else that seems to believe in us, when we turn to our last hope left.  Another friend, who is currently homeless, told me what keeps her going: It is not that it is easy to keep trusting in God, but trusting in God is all that she has left.  It is all she has left to hope in.  God seems to be the only one who believes that she is still someone to care about.  The inmate at MCI did end up winning his case and getting freed; and a large part of what kept him going through that is the Bible Group who never stopped supporting and loving him.  Wherever you are at right now, and whatever you have been feeling toward God, God understands you.  God knows your fear.  God knows your anger.  Perhaps your anger is even justified in some cases.  Hear this: God will never turn his back on you.  Whatever you have done, and whatever slurs you have thrown at him, God listens whenever you choose to return to him.  Many may not realize this until God is the only remaining hope, when all else seems lost.  Some may even have felt like giving up on God.  But then something, or someone, encouraged reconsideration.  And the fact that you are here now shows that you have heard God’s call.  The fact that you are here now shows that God is listening to your heart, to your fear, and to your prayer.  Even in the lowest moments of our lives, God still lends a listening hear and a helping hand.

We live lives of service for God, praising God, praying to God, listening to God, and sharing God with others.  We have talked about how important it is to praise God continually in all circumstances.  Praising God renews our confidence and hope in God’s goodness and majesty.  Even when we have lost everything, we can look to the example of Job, who said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  We have touched on coming to God in prayer, and noted that God wants to hear any prayer no matter how small it may seem to us.  It is crucial that we all realize that we have access to God through prayer, and there is no such thing as a bad prayer.  Prayer is my word of focus for this year, which I will challenge all of you to focus more on too.  Last week, we talked about listening to God.  We noted that we listen to God by carrying out the will of God, by hearing God through scripture, prayer, friends, and more, by opening our eyes to God’s creation, and by humbling ourselves and allowing God to speak.  We need to allow more time in our lives that are filled with silence, so that God has the opportunity to speak to us sometimes more than we speak to God.  This week, we focus on sharing God with others.  This is the last element of living lives of service, which makes this the concluding message of this series.  But even though this is a conclusion, it is also the beginning.  It is the beginning of a new way of looking at God.  It is a new way of experiencing God.  When we make more time for praise, prayer, listening, and sharing, we are making more time for God to speak into our lives.

Isaiah 62 speaks of the vindication of Jerusalem.  The prophet writes, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch” (Isaiah 62:1).  The prophet notes that he will not stop prophesizing until the prophecy of the Lord is fulfilled for all the nations to see.  He knows that the glory of the Lord is about to be revealed.  Isaiah 62 is a part of what is known as Third Isaiah.  First Isaiah tells of the coming Babylonian capture of Jerusalem.  Second Isaiah, beginning with Chapter 40, is a prophecy that is told from exile, promising a return to the land of their ancestors after fifty years of captivity.  Third Isaiah is told after they have returned to the Holy City, where they discover the temple in ruins and nothing feels like home.  Here, the prophet speaks hope into a moment of despair and discouragement for the Israelites.  He tells them that all the nations will see the vindication of Jerusalem; that is, Jerusalem will again be the city of wonders, with a magnificent temple, and a trade center of the known world.  The prophet promises, “You shall be a crown of beauty in the land of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.  You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate” (Isaiah 62:3-4).

What a beautiful hope this is that is proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah!  Who among us is feeling like Jerusalem did at the time that this prophecy was proclaimed?  New covid spikes have added fear and depression back into our already overtaxed lives.  People don’t appreciate our efforts.  We are never enough for some people.  Yet hear this: there will always be people who don’t have your back, who even talk about you behind your back, who accuse you of wrongdoing even when it is not your fault, and ultimately seek to break you.  But not God.  The brokenness that you face is all of the world, not from God.  Jesus said to his disciples, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servantsare not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20).  Isaiah promises a new hope.  Isaiah tells us that even if our temples look like Jerusalem upon the return from exile, there is no reason to despair.  For we have hope in the Lord our God, who has hope in us, believes in us, and will rebuild us.  Isaiah tells the hearers that he will not rest until God’s promise is fulfilled; that is, until all the nations hear and see that God’s glory has been revealed in spite of what the world has done to it.  Your task is to hear and see this prophecy, believe in it as best as you are able, and then to go on to share it with others.  We are not to rest as the faithful disciples of Jesus until the whole world sees and hears with their own eyes that God is the one true Lord.

The other scriptures that we read today also reflect being made new.  Psalm 36 is a prayer to God; it is actually a praising psalm: “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgements are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.  … All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings, for with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:5-9).  In John 2, we see Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry.  He tells his mother, “My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).  Apparently, his mother expects him to fix all the problems just because he can: “Jesus, they have no wine.  What can you do about it?”  We can imagine Jesus saying back, “Look, I was just invited to this wedding; I am not running it!  I am not responsible for the wine; it’s not my fault that they didn’t bring enough!”  And in fact Jesus does say, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me?” (John 2:4).  Mary doesn’t even seem to hear Jesus, as she ignores him and tells a servant, who does actually work at the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).  I can hear the exasperated sigh of Jesus even 2,000 years later.  His mother has forced him into something he doesn’t want to do yet again.  But his response is the response that we have come to expect of God.  Even when he is not working, when he is having his time off from being the Son of God and is just trying to enjoy a wedding, he responds to the need at hand.  We never get time off from being Christian either.  We are called to share God with others.  God promises a new way from the old, a new hope for the future, and a new light in which to find life.  If you are having trouble feeling that new way right now, and the true love of God in this moment, I invite you to pray this prayer with me: “Dear God, I am lost.  I may not be sure why I am here, but I am.  I am not used to praying to you and I’m not sure I even understand who you are.  I’m not sure why you allow some of the things that you do.  But I will never know those answers on this side of life.  Help me to trust you anyway.  Help me to see you in the helpers that come to me, that believe in me, and that see me for my potential.  Help me to trust in you to be my guide and my future.  Help me to shake the dust off my feet in the houses that scorn and mock me, and may they not affect who I am, and who I am becoming.  I place my faith, trust, and hope in you, God, the Father, and in the Savior that you sent in Jesus, the son of God.  Amen.”

If you are having trouble seeing and feeling God, God is your vindication.  God is your way to turn your attitude around.  Depression is just a downward spiral that goes deeper and deeper until you feel that there is no way out.  This is the battle that Satan wages; it is a victory for him to get a Bible believer to give up on God.  This is what he tries to do all along.  Do not let him get this victory.  Let people of the church journey with you and support you and love you.  And for those who feel close to God right now and understand God’s hope, with God’s peace, take a look at the way you currently live a life of service for God.  Where can you improve?  You can find some area of the four to focus on as you place God as priority number one this year: Can you praise God more often?  Do you need to reimagine your prayer dedication?  Do you need to get better at listening?  Or do you need get better at sharing so that all the nations might see the glory of the Lord, and so that someone new might come to find the hope that you have found?  You may need growth in all four; but I challenge you to pick one to focus on in 2022.  I have chosen to focus on prayer.  Only you know your own deepest need.  But whatever your choice; know this.  God is your vindication.  God is your turnaround.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 62:1-5
62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.
62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.
62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
62:4 You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.
62:5 For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.

Psalm 36:5-10
36:5 Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
36:6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
36:7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
36:8 They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
36:9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
36:10 O continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright of heart!

John 2:1-11
2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.
2:2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.
2:3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.”
2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”
2:5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
2:6 Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.
2:7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.
2:8 He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it.
2:9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom
2:10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
2:11 Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

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