A sermon on Isaiah 62
preached at the Reformed Church of Port Ewen, New York
on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost 2020
Do you remember that first time you fell in love? You saw him from across the library at college. You watched her as she made her way to your table to take your order. Then you left your number on the receipt at the end of the night and to your surprise, she called. You grew up together and one day you realized you loved her and couldn’t take your eyes off of her. That first time you fell in love. It was after the first date and you returned back to your dorm room. Your stomach twisted in knots, full of butterflies — excitement, anxiety, dread. You couldn’t sleep. You couldn’t stop thinking about them. From that day forward you were determined to have them. You were going to doggedly pursue them.
It felt as if you couldn’t live without her, couldn’t live without him. Maybe your story ended with marriage, the raising of a family, the happily ever after — though we know nothing is happily ever after, it takes more work than that. All these years later that same delight remains when they look up from the newspaper across the kitchen table on a rare slow Saturday morning. Maybe it ended in divorce, wounds that have never healed. Maybe it ended way before that, before it even began. Your love was not reciprocated. You were never married. Single and alone in a world that doesn’t know what to do with single people.You are married of course . . . married to the pain of your rejection and isolation. Or maybe your spouse died a long time ago. You miss their warmth next to you in bed. You miss the way they looked at you in the morning as you waited together for the coffee pot to finish. The way they delighted in you, made you to feel as if the world revolved around you.
Now I want shift gears and invite you to take a moment and imagine what you think God is doing right now, right this moment.
Maybe it was hard for you to imagine God doing anything. You didn’t even know how to begin to imagine God, let alone think about what God is doing.
Maybe you imagined God like you often do, a moral busybody up there in the sky, angry at you again. He heard what you said about that driver that cut you off on your way into church this morning and He is so disappointed in you. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that He’s always angry with you. He has a long list of your faults, your sins, your shortcomings. He has it memorized — He is God after all — and He never tires of letting you know about it.
Maybe you imagined God, an old, old white-bearded man, up there taking a nap. He’s on heavens north beach this morning , getting some sun with King David. He created the world and humankind, more work than anyone can do in a lifetime, and He’s in retirement mode now. Golf on Mondays . . . and Wednesdays . . . and Fridays . . . and absolutely nothing to do the rest of the week. He’s just content to let us humans run the show. The cosmos has been set in motion and God’s work is done.
Or maybe you imagined God to be like a distant, hands-off father. You try to talk to Him. You try to get His attention. But you know He has way more important things to do. He’s God after-all. There are more important people to care about. Why would He pay attention to you?
God, the Creator of the cosmos, the One whose very voice thunders and all was brought into being, is so beyond your imagination you can’t even begin to picture God. God, full of judgment and anger, always disappointed in you, always reminding you how far short you’ve come. God, hands-off, content to let the world turn. God, so distant, so uninterested, with way too much to do to even begin to care about you, to think about you.
I don’t know how you imagine God, or what God is doing, but what if I told you God was like you that first time you fell in love? Or, more correct to say, that that first time you fell in love, you experienced something that God always experiences. God is your lover who delights in you. So what if I told you God was not apathetic and indifferent, too busy and important to care. What if I told you that God was not constantly angry with you? What if I told you that God, instead, was a lover, your lover, who doggedly pursues you with that never-can-stop-thinking-about-you, I-can’t-sleep-cause-your-always-on-my- mind sort of love?
Well, don’t just take my word for it. Here it from God Himself:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest…
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no longer 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…
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. (Isaiah 62: 1a, 3-5)
We don’t often imagine God as a lover, as our lover. We don’t often imagine God as our bridegroom, our husband. And yet it is one of the most commonly used metaphors in Scripture to reveal who God is, and who we are. God the faithful lover of Israel, her husband. Israel His bride. It is the same metaphor taken up by Christ in the New Testament. Jesus, who when questioned why his disciples did not fast said you do not fast when the bridegroom has come (Mark 2:18-20). Jesus, who tells us the Parable of the Ten Virgins, reminding us that we are those virgins waiting up all night, longing and waiting for our betrothed to return (Matthew 25:1-13). It is the metaphor Paul picks up when he writes in Ephesians that the Church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33). It is the metaphor that saturates the imagination and the soul of John the Revelator with a God-inspired vision in Revelation of the marriage supper of the lamb at the end of all things — where at last, we, the bride of Christ, those longing virgins, will finally and fully be united to our lover, Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:9).
No, we don’t often imagine God as our lover. But it is one of the most consistent ways the Bible talks about God from beginning to end. God delights in you. God loves you. God will never rest in His dogged pursuit of you.
* * *
And yes, love is scary. It is dangerous. It makes us to feel exposed and vulnerable. Those butterflies in our stomach are there both because of our excitement but also because of our dread. We do all sorts of things to protect ourselves from love. Especially when it comes to God. Easier to imagine God as distant, or as angry, than to think about what it means that God delights in us.
For we all know what it is like to feel consumed by our own desires for another, or to be consumed by the desires of another. In love we can hurt or be hurt, we can devour and be devoured. And if God, the all-powerful Creator of the universe loves us, how easily we can be devoured by His passion for us. There is nothing that could stop God from harming us with His jealous love.
Except that God’s love is true and pure and holy. God’s love is incapable of harm. It can only heal and redeem and give life. God does not love with a lustful passion. God does love passionately. We do not worship the god of stoicism. Isaiah 62 makes that clear. God is full of passionate desire for us. But God’s passionate desire is never a desire that overwhelms Him, that controls Him. God’s love is not a lustful devouring of us. No, it is a Love whose power is known in self-emptying sacrificial love. It is the love, the perfect love of God, that in tenderness and kindness casts out all fear.
And yes, we are exposed and vulnerable before this Lover of ours. That is the danger of love. But it is also its power. For when we learn to trust another, when we feel safe enough to submit and give ourselves over to them, even in all the vulnerability and danger, we are transformed and never the same. And we learn with God that we can trust God. God will not harm us in His love. It might hurt, as we are changed and transformed. But it will not harm.
* * *
That is what Israel discovers. God’s love changes them. They are never left the same. Love does that to us. Because of God’s love, no longer can Israel trust the voice in them that whispers constantly: you are Forsaken. You are worthless. No one wants you. Because of God’s love, no longer can Israel believe their land to be barren, desolate, bleak and void of life. No. Because of the love of God, the stories they’ve been told about themselves, the stories they tell themselves, are challenged. Instead of Forsaken, unworthy, unloved, they are now called: My Delight Is in Her. God delights in Israel. And instead of Desolate, bleak, and barren, they are Married — fertile, a place of life, and joy, and hope. This is what the love of God does. It renews us. It heals us. It changes and transforms us. And it gives us a new name.
* * *
I say us, because though this passage is addressed to Israel, it is also addressed to us.
Say to daughter Zion,
‘See your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.” (v. 11)
When this verse was translated to the Greek, a couple centuries before the time of Jesus, it was translated: “See, your Savior comes.” And so when the early Christians were making sense of who Jesus was, many of them familiar with the Greek translation of these verses, they knew that this Savior, this salvation was Jesus. Jesus is the Savior who comes bearing our salvation with Him. Jesus is our bridegroom, who when he appears we break our fast and rejoice. Jesus is the bridegroom who at last will unite us to him and there will be a wedding reception, a wedding feast, like the earth has never seen.
And in Jesus, we experience the delight that God has for us. In Jesus, you experience the passionate, never-ending, I-can’t-sleep love that God has for you. In Jesus, we experience the healing love of God that changes us.
Yes, God’s love changes us and gives us a new name. When we meet Jesus, this lover of ours, we can never, ever be the same. We are given a new name, and this name, like all names, is not just a name. It means something. It reveals something about ourselves to us and to those around us.
Baptized into Christ, united to Him as a bride united to her bridegroom, you have been given the name “The Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord.” Baptized into Christ, united to Him as a bride, the people of the Reformed Church of Port Ewen shall be called, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.” Yes, sought out, sought out by God — the hound of heaven.
* * *
I asked you, a few minutes ago, to imagine who you think God is, what you think God is up to this morning. Can you imagine God as a lover, your lover, who delights in you, who pursues you?
But that’s only half of it. If this is true about God — that God is your lover who delights in you, then what does that say about you?
Take a moment and think about how you imagine yourself. What stories do you tell about yourself? What is most true about you?
Maybe you think your worthless, unlovable. Maybe you think your sin is too great, you are too marred and dirty to belong to anyone. Maybe you feel invisible, ignored, alone, isolated. Maybe you feel forgotten. Maybe you feel tired and bitter and angry — you’ve been hurt and it cuts deep.
But what if the most true thing about you is that God loves you. God loves you with a tender, healing, redeeming, life-giving love. It is a love that gives you a new name, a new story to live into, a new reality to imagine. No longer are you Forsaken. No longer are you Desolate. No longer are you unlovable, invisible, too dirty and too messed up. No. You have been united to Christ and your name is now “My Delight Is in Her”. You are now “The Holy People of God, The Redeemed of the Lord.” You are now, “Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken.”
Who is God? God is your passionate lover. And what does that make you? His cherished Beloved.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
2 Replies to “The Lover’s Dogged Pursuit”
Thank you, Kevin! Powerful and delightful!
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Thank you so much, Dr. Billings!