Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. When I was middle school aged (probably 12 or 13), my family got a new cat—an orange tabby named Tomba. (You can ask me about the meaning of his name later if you’re interested… it’s a long story.) Tomba was the most easy-going, trusting cat that I have ever met. Any chance that he got, he would come near you, rub his head against your leg or arm (or whatever part of your body was accessible) and then proceed to roll over on his back and practically beg you to rub his tummy. Now, most of the time he did this on the floor where it was nice and safe, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. When he was feeling particularly deprived of his tummy rubs, he would be a little less subtle about his desire for attention.
I can remember one time in particular when Grandpa and Grandma were visiting and Tomba decided that we had been spending too much time talking and playing games and not enough time with him. So, he jumped up on the back of one of the armchairs next to where I was standing. Mind you, the back of this armchair was maybe three feet wide and 4-6 inches deep with a fairly aggressive slope down on all sides. But Tomba didn’t care. He rubbed up against me and then flopped over onto his back. What he hadn’t accounted for was the fact that he was a 15-pound cat, and there wasn’t room for him to roll over on the back of this chair. And so, he rolled right off the back of the chair and I had to lunge to catch him. And as I was thinking to myself, “dumb cat,” my Grandma said some insightful words, “Wow, he sure is a trusting cat!” She’s right. He wasn’t dumb—he was trusting. What I viewed as “dumb” turned out to actually be a radical trust. This morning, as we turn to our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 64, we’ll see that the Lord calls us to trust him with this kind of radical trust.
2. Let’s take a closer look at the text, starting with the first four and a half verses. Isaiah writes: Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him. You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways (Isaiah 64:1-5a). Isaiah begins our text for this morning with a plea to the Lord that he would split open the skies and come to save his people, as he had done for his people in the past. As verse 4 notes, God has a reputation for acting in unexpected, striking ways to rescue his people. Think, for example, of the incident at the Red Sea, where the Israelites were trapped up against the sea and God split the waters open and provided a way of escape. Or think about the battle of Jericho (if you can even call it a battle), where the Lord split open the city of Jericho after the people had merely marched around it a few times. Or there’s even the incident with Gideon where he led an army of 300 severely overmatched men against the Midianites and the Lord defeated them by splitting the Midianites in disarray. The Lord has a history of miraculously saving his people, and Isaiah calls on the Lord to do this again.
3. But halfway through verse 5, Isaiah’s tone shifts dramatically. He continues: Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities (Isaiah 64:5b-7). So, what exactly is it that Isaiah is asking the Lord to save his people from? Well, these verses make it clear that Israel needs saving from themselves—specifically their own sins. Isaiah says that God’s anger against his people is justified. We have sinned, he says. We have become like a “polluted garment”, which is a much more polite translation of what’s actually being said here. But then Isaiah gets to the heart of the matter: “There is no one who calls upon your name.” This was Israel’s greatest sin. And, my friends, I would suggest that this is our greatest sin. There is no one among us who calls on the name of the Lord as we should. Think about it. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, is your first thought, “Lord, help me”, or do you reserve that request for when you’ve realized you can’t get yourself out of the mess you’re in? When you find yourself in an abundant, fruitful stage in life, is your first thought, “Thank you Lord”, or do you reserve your thanks for after you’ve patted yourself on the back for your achievements? The bottom line is, we’re not that different from Isaiah’s Israel. We may give lip service to our trust in the Lord, but we fail to truly trust in God as our Father, as Jesus calls us to do in the Lord’s Prayer.
4. But this isn’t the end of Isaiah’s words, and so it shouldn’t be the end of our thoughts on this matter. Isaiah concludes our reading with these words: But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people (Isaiah 64:8-9). Even though we have sinned greatly against our God, Isaiah concludes with words of confident trust: “You are our Father.” …and true, good, loving Fathers never abandon their children, no matter what they have done. Earthly Fathers can and will fail us, but our Heavenly Father confirmed his great love for us when he sent his son Jesus to die on the cross to forgive our sins and to restore us as his dear children. Or, as Martin Luther said in his commentary on these verses: Although in darkness our reason thinks that You are angry and a tyrant, our faith nevertheless concludes that You are our Father, because it grasps the promises. Our Heavenly Father has claimed you as his child and he invites you to trust in him and call upon his name in all situations—the good and the bad. He invites you to be a bit like Tomba the cat trusting that even when we do something dumb and sin against him, his arms of love are always there to embrace us and remind us that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.