- Bible Readings: Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5
- Free Resource: Let Me Sing (Youth)
- Unit Theme (November 10—November 24): Our Sin, God’s Faithfulness
- The Point: God calls us to love and respect others.
Last week, we looked at the metaphor of God as a loving parent and Israel as a rebellious child. No matter what we do, God is still going to love us, God isn’t going anywhere. No matter what our sin is, God is faithful to God’s promises. But specifically, because God loves us, God has high standards for us and even some really low bars. Loving God with your entire self and loving others as we are supposed to love ourselves is a standard that is impossible for us sinful humans to achieve. However (and I’m just making assumptions here), I don’t think God is condemning the people’s behavior because they were distracted during worship or were rude in the checkout line. I think it was more about actively oppressing the poor and vulnerable for selfish gain and building and worshipping at shrines to other gods that pushed God over the edge. Some basic decency and sense, people!
Love Song to Breakup Song
Isaiah 5 starts out using the form of an ancient Hebrew love song (so I’m told). The vineyard was a common image used to represent the people of Israel. So, the song starts out with an expression of God’s loving care for the people. But then the song turns darker and becomes a breakup song (or at least similar). Instead of acting as God’s beloved and reciprocating this love, the people committed gross injustice and bloodshed. God was left with two choices, do nothing or discipline the people. Ignoring your children’s bad behavior does not do them any favors, now or later in life. Discipline can (and should) come from a place of love. If God did nothing while people were being oppressed, then that shows that God doesn’t care about them or even about the perpetrators whose actions dehumanize themselves. Love requires anger at injustice.
As I mentioned last week, an effective parenting technique when it comes to discipline is allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their actions (assuming that these consequences are safe and immediate). The people rejected God, not wanting anything to do with their Creator and Protector. So, God stepped back. God stopped being their protector, removing the hedge of protection around them. The people had been experiencing the reality of not having God’s protection on a smaller scale, but the prophet is warning them that a much bigger consequence is coming, being conquered and exiled.
Justice & Injustice
Pairing this reading from chapter 5 to the reading in chapter 11 creates a major contrast. The people are acting like nasty grapes with injustice and bloodshed. The leader (messiah) described in Isaiah 11:1-5 is the opposite. This leader is defined by righteous and just actions. Justice, here, is not primarily about serving out punishment, but God’s justice is the protection of those who are vulnerable and dismantling the systems that keep them vulnerable and oppressed.
Justice & the Kingdom of God
Justice is one of the hallmarks of the kingdom of God. Love (see greatest commandments) is the foundation of justice. A society defined by love of God and neighbor will be necessarily defined also by justice. Justice makes sure that everyone has all that they need. This is the most basic definition of shalom, God’s peace. So, the basic qualities of God’s kingdom are inextricably connected. Love leads to justice which leads to shalom. Conversely, shalom requires justice and justice requires love.
The Peaceful Kingdom
In my opinion, the lectionary cuts off the best part of Isaiah 11, verses 6 through 9. The prophet here uses the imagery of predator and prey living together in peace. The cycle of violence is over and the difference between predator and prey has disappeared. And, to note, this situation benefits the prey most. If this is true in the natural world, so must it be true in human societies. The powerful do not bully the vulnerable, and the vulnerable are not vulnerable anymore. The oppressors and the oppressed live in peace together. Violence and inequality are gone, so the distinction disappears. And, as in the animal world, the group for which this is the best news is the oppressed.
The Progress of Justice
Put together, not only do these two passages serve to contrast each other, but they also describe a linear process. Injustice is identified and condemned. A leader comes who establishes justice. And, those who were previously oppressed can now live in peace. From a Christian perspective, this leader is Jesus of Nazareth, the promised Messiah. Jesus is the one who will usher in the kingdom of God, fully and finally. However, Jesus commissions us to emulate this leader (himself) and establish justice in our own corner of creation. We might not be able to achieve perfect justice, but we can definitely make things more just.
The march toward justice has always been difficult. One way people have both called for justice and joined with others with the same goals is through song. Our free resource today “Let Me Sing” teaches participants the importance of songs of justice. This activity was created for our Living the Word: Youth curriculum but can be easily used with adults and even adapted for a cross+generational worship or educational setting.
Faith Formation Strategy: Teaching Music
Music is an important part of worship. But for music in worship to be most effective, an individual needs to be able to participate in the singing and have a basic understanding of what the song means. For children and the less musically inclined visitor, this can be difficult if not impossible the way we often use music. Whether in worship or in a more educational setting, songs can be practiced over and over, and their meanings can be explained. Challenge yourself now to decide how best to make the music you use in worship accessible to others!
Boldly go in God’s grace!
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
If you would like to know more about our perspectives on faith formation and cross+gen ministry, you can check out the following links:
- Faith Formation: Frequently Asked Questions and relevant blog posts and the What Is Faith Formation? series.
- Cross+Gen Ministry: Frequently Asked Questions and relevant blog posts and the What Is Cross+Gen Ministry? series.
- Narrative Lectionary: Frequently Asked Questions
For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!