Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the past few weeks, we have heard from the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah prophesizing to the exiled people of Israel. The people have been in exile at least 70 years, long enough for those that had originally been exiled to have died. And a new generation has been born and grown up in Babylon. These younger people have only heard of Israel in the stories their parents told them. Isaiah is writing to encourage these people to return to Israel, but they might be hesitating. Their life is settled in Babylon. Yes, they are in exile, but as the prophet Jeremiah had encouraged them, they have built houses and raised children, become part of the community. They have put down roots in Babylon, and now Isaiah is calling them to return.
The new king of Babylon has said they are free to return to Israel, but are they ready to give up what they are familiar with to an unknown future? Isaiah calls the people to return to their homeland. And God promises a new and everlasting covenant with the people. All the things that are broken in their lives will be renewed by God. People who are hungry and thirsty will be filled. And the exiled Israelites are hungry and thirsty. Life in exile has been hard – not just economically, but spiritually as well. So, the words of Isaiah speaking to them – God's word of hope and return – is life-giving, reminding them, as Isaiah speaks, that God has not abandoned God's people.
Their time in exile has ended. They are free to return to the homeland that they have only heard about. And what a homecoming it will be! Hear God's promise: “The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” That is God's word. And we hear in this reading about the power of God's word just as we heard God's power in Genesis when God's word brought all things into being.
So, what is the power of God's word for us today? How do we hear God speak? Do we hear God speak to us? Where can we best find God's word? Next Sunday, we will hear the first words of John’s Gospel. John identifies Jesus as the Word of God. And we will talk more about John’s words next week, but consider this a preview and a huge sign for us today. Jesus is the Word of God. And that word is just as powerful today as it was in the beginning, and when Isaiah spoke God's word to the exiles.
So, if God's word creates everything, and God's word can save the exiles and return them to their homeland, what does God's word do for us today? When we hear God speak through Jesus, how are we to respond? Isaiah spoke God’s words of hope and restoration for the people who had no hope at all. If God's word can create and make things happen, then God's word can change us and lead us to make things happen, too. I have been speaking about the call of God, and that call is for us as well.
So, what is God calling you to do? God's call may be a whisper in your ear when you see discrimination and decide to take action, or a word of hope you are called to give to friends who need to hear that they are worthy of love. God also calls us to serve others in many ways: gathering food for the food pantry, donating to Lutheran World Relief to help the tornado victims in the Midwest.
And God calls us to ministry in this church, too. We are in the midst of a pandemic, and it has affected our ability to support each other and continue our ministry. Joining church Council, or helping with the property committee may not sound like a ministry, but it is. Without this building and the volunteers that give of their time and talents, we would not be here. That may sound scary, but we are in scary times right now. And we all need to make God's word active and visible for each other and for the community around us. I ask you to listen for God calling you to be part of sharing God's word in thought and deed. Amen.