Wednesday, March 27: Faith is a Highway

Written by Matt Benton, Pastor, Bethel United Methodist Church, Woodbridge, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Isaiah 35: 1-4

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

 Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.’

_______________

He strode out on stage like it was going to be any other normal interview.  A comedic actor with a new book going to be interviewed by the comedian host of a late night talk show.  Initially it seemed like a normal interview, the comedian talking about how he got into comedy.  But when he started talking about his book it became clear this was not any other normal interview.  Actor Rob Delaney said, “Around the time of my third son Henry’s first birthday, he got really sick.”  The book is called A Heart that Works and it’s about Henry’s life, illness, and death and how a father and a family cope with the death of a one year old. 

In Rob’s interview with Stephen Colbert, Colbert asked him what it was like for him to watch his surviving sons experience this loss.  He said one day he looked out his kitchen window and saw one of his sons in the backyard.  He’d taken a big box and with his kindergarten spelling written tumor on it.  And he was stabbing the box with a steak knife.  Rob said normally you see your child playing with a steak knife and you take it away from him, but in this case he said, stab away buddy. 

Stabbing a box on which you’ve written “tumor” is the sort of thing that would make the Biblical prophets proud.  The Biblical prophets would often do things outside of normal, polite behavior in order to prove a larger point, in order to show the people what was really going on.  And they used vivid, poetic language to describe how the world is and what God wants to make the world into.

Isaiah uses pretty vivid metaphors in this passage.  We see images of the wilderness and the desert.  We hear of people walking on hot sand and ground so arid it is crying out for water.  And he does this because in our world there are literal deserts and because in our lives there are times we go through that feel like we are living in a desert.  And we don’t want to live in a desert.  And we just want there to be some place we can go and live and thrive and be normal. 

Rob and his family lived in a desert for a long time.  They walked on hot sand daily.  But the point of Isaiah’s text is not to describe the desert.  It’s not to revel in the hot sand. Rather Isaiah wants to declare what God can do, even and especially in the desert.

In an interview with CBS Mornings, Rob talked about an interaction he had with Gayle King prior to the show.  He said that she approached him before the show and broke down in tears in front of him while asking him specific questions, hard questions, human questions.  And when she went to apologize for that, Rob said her tears were like water in the desert. 

It was water in the desert. 

It is what our God offers us.

“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”  ” For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.” 

This is a complete and total transformation, a complete and total redemption.  This is God setting all the things right that this world and this life and this sin have made wrong.  This is God coming and doing what we cannot do on ourselves.

The good news is, as Isaiah says, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.  He will come and save you.”

And when God comes, everything changes.  Everything is different.  Our response to this promise is joy.

But ours is not a joy that is rooted in some sort of denial of the tragic aspects of life.  It is not a joy that is unaware that we live in a world where death touches us, marks us, and our grief separates us from others. 

Rather ours is a joy and a hope that have drunk deeply of life in this world, with its blessings and its tragedies, ours is a joy and a hope that have drunk the earthly cup to the dregs and have heard the voice of truth say “Be strong, do not fear.  Here is your God.  He will come and save you.”  It is the type of joy that comes when someone who was crucified is raised from the dead.  It is the hope and the joy that comes from knowing God has not just overcome the tragedy of this life but has redeemed it, has made it right.  Has caused the desert to flourish.  Has caused the hot sand to become a cooling pool.  Who has brought about a complete transformation, a complete redemption of all of this life. 

Our God is coming to save us.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, through the cross and an empty tomb, God has saved us.  In the death of His Son, and in the Father’s insatiable and hopeful desire to be with His Son and with all who share His flesh for all eternity, the glory of God has been revealed.  Be strong and do not fear.  Here is your God.  He will come and save you.

Rob recounted in an interview how they told their other two sons their brother was going to die.  And then he said “Because they’re kids they ask again and again.  Which we kind of do in our own heads as adults because we have to repeat these things because we don’t believe them.” 

There are some things we have to tell ourselves over and over again because we don’t believe them.  Be strong, do not fear.  Here is your God.  He will come and save you.

Be strong, do not fear.  Here is your God.  He will come and save you.

Be strong, do not fear.  Here is your God.  He will come and save you.  I promise.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24