Sudden specificity gets my attention. Isaiah’s vision, conveyed in poetry, has a quotable timelessness. A preacher in any pulpit. The prophetic call to put an end to such evil; learn to do good. (Isaiah 1:16)
But then we are introduced to the unpleasant reality of particular armies, attacks, and alliances in Isaiah 7. The politics are real, the leaders and people are scared, and Isaiah is instructed to accost the king:
“Go out to meet Ahaz, you and your son Shear-jashub, at the end of the channel of the Upper Pool, by the road to the field where laundry is washed….” Isaiah 7:3 (CEB)
Perhaps Ahaz would not have granted Isaiah an audience, so the Lord is very specific about how to find him. Does the Lord know where we do our laundry? When we take our walks? Apparently. Does it comfort you to remember that God knows the smallest details of your life? Our going out and our coming in. The Lord sees, the Lord listens, the Lord cares.
The winged creatures shout “Holy, holy, holy” in the throne room of the Lord and Isaiah’s lips are purified by a glowing coal from the altar. That was the ecstasy. “Who will go for us?” he heard the Lord’s voice ask. “Here I am. Send me.” (Is 6:8) But the reality of the job was harsh. God’s message is for the real world of messy politics. We don’t get to stay in the sanctuary. The vision must be applied, and we are sent to speak and act. Which might get unpleasant.
In today’s gospel passage, Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus says that each town will answer for their response to what they see and hear. Champaign. Urbana. Your town, USA. Your city, the World. Real places, with real choices about whether we will change our hearts and lives collectively. Or not. Our response matters.
Each leader. Each person. Each place. In each of our political realities. God knows the specifics. We know the timeless instructions:
help the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow. Is. 1:17 (CEB)
Our experience in the presence of the Lord inspires us, gives us the vision, purifies our lips. And then we take that message to the real leaders of our time. As members of our own towns and countries, we are responsible for our response. May our eyes see the vision, may our ears hear the call, may our lips be purified, may we go where the Lord sends us, and speak the timeless message in the specificity of our situations.