13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14and they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am? 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heavens and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1Listen to Me, you who pursue justice,
You who seek the LORD:
Look to the rock you were hewn from,
To the quarry you were dug from.
2Look back to Abraham your father
And to Sarah who brought you forth.
For he was only one when I called him,
But I blessed him and made him many.
3Truly the LORD has comforted Zion,
Comforted all her ruins;
He has made her wilderness like Eden,
Her desert like the Garden of the LORD.
Gladness and joy shall abide there,
Thanksgiving and the sound of music.
4Hearken to Me, My people,
And give ear to Me, O My nation,
For teaching shall go forth from Me,
My way for the light of peoples.
In a moment I will bring it;
5the triumph I grant is near,
The success I give has gone forth.
My arms shall provide for the peoples;
The coastlands shall trust in Me,
They shall look to My arm.
6Raise your eyes to the heavens,
And look upon the earth beneath:
Though the heavens should melt away like smoke,
and the earth wear out like a garment,
and its inhabitants die out as well,
My victory shall stand forever,
My triumph shall remain unbroken.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
Listen! Look! Look! Hearken! Give ear! Raise your eyes! Look!
Seven times in six verses, God gives us a word that commands us to act. The Lord of heaven and earth issues an Imperial Decree, and we are expected comply.
Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look!
We 21st century American Christians tend to shy away from talking too much about God's commands. We're much more comfortable hearing about how God invites us to join with what God is doing, we'd rather not hear as much about what God expects us. Instead, tell us again about how God loves us no matter what we do or think.
God is speaking to a people who are empty, who have spent so long trying to just get by in a world full of exile and terror. People who inherited vineyards which they did not plant, only to see the beauty of the earth melt away as they were taken from their places of comfort.
This passage is not addressed to the righteous, the delivered, the victorious. It's addressed to those who are chasing it down. “Listen to Me, you who pursue justice. “This word is for those who are desperate for hope, but haven't found it yet.
God's people are in exile, far away from the land that symbolizes the covenant, far away from the trappings of their temple worship, far away from their connection to the ancestral inheritance. They are in Babylon. Yet even in exile in Babylon, God calls them to pay attention to their roots, which are not just in Israel and Judah, or in Sinai, or even Egypt. For once, long ago, God told a man named Abram to get up and leave the city and house of his father and to go to a place where God would show him. So Abram, who would become known as Abraham, left the city of Ur, an ancient city in the Babylonian empire. Even in exile, God reminds the people of their roots, of the covenant God has bade with them. Look at the quarry from which you were hewn. Look at the rocks from which you were formed. Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look!
These divine commands, these orders from on high, God's Word made imperative, are not instructions to go on a spiritual journey or to enact some sort of ritual. The people to whom God is speaking cannot carry their end of the relationship, at least not yet. These seven verbs grab our attention and orient us to a God who is acting. Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look!
We've been waiting for a long time to see God's action. We've trained ourselves to see God in the small actions, but we long to see God really roll up his sleeves and do something amazing. We remember a time when the pews were so full we had to think creatively about how to fit everyone inside the church, and many congregations built larger grander sanctuaries as well. Now we see not only available seats, but pews which lie empty, like unplanted fields gone to weeds. We remember a time when church life was the center of whole communities. Now we see communities, even communities of faith, divided by political differences and family squabbles.
Is that the rock we were hewn from? Is that the quarry from which we were dug? Are we to remain in this desert of institutional decline? No wonder God is issuing commands! It’s time for us to turn things around, to be ready to act, if we just work a little harder at what we’re doing, everything will go back to the way it was, a whole company of believers making sure that the church is the focus of society!
God's word spoken through the prophet Isaiah does not call some spiritual army to attention, it calls us to pay attention. This text does not point us to our own action, or even our own comfort. The focus of this passage, and ideally of the life of the church, is on what God is doing. Because God is about to make the wilderness like Eden, the desert like the Garden of The Lord.
Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look!
None of these verbs are missional, or empowering, they do not invite participation in the work God is doing, they don't even require purity or the right belief. They are all observational. Listen. Look. Look. Hearken. Give ear. Raise your eyes. Look!
As God speaks these words to them, the people of God are too beaten down to participate in what God is doing. They're just too tired to respond in faith. Too many years of decline, too many years of chasing after justice, and never reaching it. God's people, in this text, need to be reminded that God is acting, that God is mighty, and that God is working for their good.
So God commands them to pay attention, and to remember to whom they belong.
We are dug from the same quarry, hewn from the same rocky ground, as our spiritual ancestors. But God can make that rocky wilderness like Eden. God transforms the desert into the Garden of The Lord. Our spiritual ancestors did not accomplish great things, or even great faith, by themselves, or grow from two old people into a nation, a childless couple into the Matriarch and Patriarch through whom all peoples bless themselves. Only God can do that. So why do we focus so much of our attention on replicating their results through our own feeble efforts, instead of trusting in the God who is leading us to a land which God will show us?
Our exile is spiritually exhausting. We’re so tired of trying to continue forward out of our own strength, which we know is not sufficient. In our anxiety, we make decisions based on what we think will make our denomination not decline as quickly. We try and hold on to our resources because we can only see the day when they run out. We forget that the church is not called to promote itself, but always to Proclaim the Lordship of Christ. We exile ourselves with our own sense of self-importance, until we find ourselves in a land where anxiety and fear abide, hand-wringing and the sound of worry.
But even in our exile, God is still at work, bringing us back to himself, to the land which God will show us. Gladness and joy shall abide there, Thanksgiving and the sound of music. Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look, for God is acting. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, even though that looks different, in our different world, than it looked for our ancestors. Even in exile we have hope in God, whose “arms shall provide for the peoples; The coastlands shall trust in [God], They shall look to [God’s] arm.”
We know that God is faithful to the covenant even when we are not. We have seen this theme played out time and again throughout scripture, church history, and our own lives. What has gone before us is not to be discarded, ”Our ancestors and their history and connected to our hope; our hope is the foundation of our future. God's promises to Sarah and Abraham flow to and infuse hope in the exile.” Out of exile comes life, and beauty, and a people who are reformed, and are always being reformed. They are different, sure, and have their own particularity, but they are also connected to all the saints in every time and place. Listen. Look. Look. Hearken. Give ear. Raise your eyes. Look!
We share hope in a new minister, and a new congregation. We see fruits beginning to flourish within ourselves and one another, we're caught up in the excitement of new life, where we had only seen a dormant grind for so long. But that newness will fade into a mature and trusting Pastoral Relationship. The hope of newness is ephemeral and will fade. the hope in God’s promises to our ancestors is sure, even though we do not know the form it will take.
God says “For teaching shall go forth from Me, My way for the light of peoples. In a moment I will bring it; the triumph I grant is near,” The teaching which shall go forth from God gives us the words to answer “Who do you say that I am?” with “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look! God’s imperative to us is not to grow in stature, or number, or to fit in with the culture, or be popular. God doesn’t issue a call to attention so that we will be ready to act immediately, God calls us to pay attention so that we will see who God is, and be able in all things to proclaim the Lordship of Christ. Listen. Look. Look. Hearken. Give ear. Raise your eyes. Look!
These commands remind us of God's love, they connect us to the narrative that gives the events of our lives meaning. Listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise your eyes, look! "Though the heavens should melt away like smoke, and the earth wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants die out as well, My victory shall stand forever, My triumph shall remain unbroken.”
So the church remains connected to the rock frown which we are hewn, to the quarry from which we were dug. We still pursue justice, but we find ourselves watching for God, exploring creation with the hope that we will find what God is already doing for us, to us, and through us. We respond in faith when we are able, and when we cannot, God commands us to Listen. Look. Look. Hearken. Give ear. Raise your eyes. Look!
God's commands remind us of the covenant, and call us to remember the wonders God has done in our sight in the past. So our obedience to God’s command is not an obligation, but a joy. God’s commands remind us of the covenant, linking our action to the reasons we act. God’s imperative empowers our declaration that Christ is Lord. QGod’s victory shall stand forever, God’s triumph shall remain unbroken,” and we listen, look, look, hearken, give ear, raise our eyes, look, and finally answer, QJesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”