The following sermon was preached on August 7, 2022 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here. Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

As part of my job as a sessional instructor I often have to mark papers, and I hate marking papers. One of the things that makes the task bearable is the sheer nerdy delight I feel when I find an unexpectedly funny typo.

My favourite typo was the paper that opened with the emphatic statement, complete with an explanation point, “God has a massage for us!”

I mean, sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Wouldn’t you want to read that paper?  Sadly, it wasn’t a paper about God’s skills as a masseuse, but rather a paper about God’s message for us.

Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah is a tough one, but it always makes me chuckle because it contains my second favourite student paper typo.

I once had a student make a very impassioned argument about how much God wants us to care for others using this Isaiah passage as evidence. Unfortunately, instead of saying that God calls us to plead for justice for the widow, they kept using the word “window.” And instead of the word “rescue” they kept using “recuse.”

“God wants us to recuse the oppressed and plead for the window.”

Maybe God does care about windows, but not as much as this student was implying.  I don’t think windows are Her top priority.

Widows, however, God does care for them. God cares a lot.

I was grateful for the chuckle when I first reviewed the readings for the week because the majority of this reading is… rough.

Today’s Old Testament reading opens with the explanation that these words are a vision given to Isaiah by God about Judah and Jerusalem.  As we review the content of this reading, remember that these are words spoken by a prophet, Isaiah, whose name literally means, “the Lord saves.”

We are going to hear some hard things, but that isn’t the full story and we need to be patient and hang in there or we’ll miss the good stuff.

The reading begins, “hear the words of the Lord…” and then moves into a series of questions. (10)

God is tired of sacrifices and rituals.  God is tired of the people’s festivals and even their prayers.  God speaks through Isaiah using phrases like, “I have had enough… I do not delight… I cannot endure… and even “Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them.” (11-14)

Wow. That’s… a lot.  Why is God so upset and burdened? Why is God so tired?

Let’s back up a bit in search of an answer.  The lectionary did a bit of cut and paste with this reading, we heard verse one and then jumped to verse 10 skipping over a series of verses that provide some helpful context. In these skipped verses, Isaiah uses imagery describing God as a parent and Israel as a child and then later also compares Israel to beasts of burden.

In their discussion of verses 2-9 The Collegeville Commentary explains that Isaiah’s “words begin with a poignant cry of betrayal. That the prophet identifies God as the parent betrayed and Israel as God’s guilty children implies that judgment will not be God’s last word to Israel. Like the love of parents for their children, God’s love for Israel does not fail because of Israel’s failures. The second comparison, likening Israel with beasts of burden, suggest that Israel acted out of ignorance, not appreciating the nature of its relationship with God. This also suggests some mitigation of Israel’s guilt. Still, this will not prevent Israel from experiencing God’s judgment for its infidelity. Its infidelity continued until its cities were destroyed, its land desolate, and Jerusalem abandoned. Still, God did not allow Israel to destroy itself, but keeps a few survivors alive. These survivors have accepted their situation as the Lord’s doing and they recognize the miracles that God worked in keeping them alive.” (Collegeville 1260)

So a few things are true then. First, Israel has actually behaved in ways that displease God and there have been serious consequences. This isn’t just random anger and disappointment, it’s justified. Secondly, God’s disappointment will not be God’s final word on the subject.   The people of Israel can always decide to make better choices.

Another thing we need to keep in mind is that we are reading a written text with a particular structure. The first people to hear these words or read this text would have understood the format and known what to expect. They would have known that just because we start in a negative place, that doesn’t mean we’re going to end there.

When I mark a paper, one of the things I am required to do is point out all the ways that the paper falls short of what is expected. Typos are sometimes funny, but they’re also errors that the student should have caught before submitting the paper. I laugh, but I also deduct points.

I deduct points for all sorts of things, but the main question I am asking when I mark a paper is, “Does this assignment meant the required criteria?”  Or in other words, did the student do what I told them to do?   You can give me the most brilliant paper ever written on the history of the classical guitar in modern folk music, but if what I asked for was a paper on this passage from Isaiah, you’re going to fail.

And the students expect this. They understand the process of submitting a paper and receiving this kind of feedback.  The wise ones review what I have said and use it to submit a better paper next time.

And it doesn’t help the student if I ignore all the things they did that don’t meet the criteria of the assignment. If I don’t point out things they can improve for next time it’s highly unlikely that they will learn and – improve – next time.   It’s all part of the learning process, and they know it. (Even if they don’t love it.)

Isaiah’s message from God begins with a litany of the ways that Israel has failed to live up to God’s expectations and the negative ways their choices have impacted that relationship.  The language is blunt, the message clear.  If this was a paper, they’re getting a failing grade.

It’s hard for me to read this kind of language, especially because I understand it to be language coming from God. God is love right? Is this what love looks like?

Maybe, because it’s honest. Would I prefer it if God really felt this way but lied about it?

I don’t think so.  I want to hear the truth, even if it’s hard.

And would Israel learn if God didn’t speak this way? Maybe not. These hard words may be the exact wake up call they needed.

In the past few weeks the Christian church has made the news in a number of ways – Anglican Bishops gathering for the Lambeth conference, the Pope visiting Canada.

Although my general impression is that some Bishops have behaved very badly at Lambeth and that God’s heart breaks at some of their choices, I’m mostly choosing to ignore the day to day news that leaks out and wait until the end of the conference when hopefully we will have fuller coverage and a clearer picture of what happened.   Bishop Geoff has said on Facebook that we have reasons to be encouraged, and I want to believe him, even when I’m not seeing those reasons myself just now.  I need to wait to hear the full story.

I also have mixed feelings about the Pope’s visit.  Here is what I wanted: I wanted the Pope to sound a little more like our gospel passage. I wanted him to clearly repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery. To say that these ideas are and have always been sinful, that they hurt people, and that he is sorry.   I wanted him to say similar things about colonialism and residential schools.

He said some of those things, and I am grateful for that, but he did not say all of them.

At least in the coverage I saw of the Pope’s words, however, he did speak clearly like our Isaiah passage. He left some key things out in my opinion, like the Doctrine of Discovery, but when he said something was wrong, he said it was wrong. He didn’t hide behind wishy washy language. He didn’t minimize the damage.

Which was an important thing for him to do.

Because you can’t offer an effective apology if you don’t fully acknowledge that what you did was wrong. You can’t authentically repent if you don’t really think there was anything to repent of.

And acknowledging what was wrong, apologizing and pledging to do better going forward are essential components of the healing process.

The people of Israel, Bishops, Popes, they can all drift off course, but so can we. What are the ways where you may also have gotten off course? Where have we as a parish gotten off course?

These are important questions to chew on, but don’t get stuck there. Remember that being honest about the hard stuff is just the first step in a process that leads to better choices and new life. Don’t lose hope.

So we’ve heard the hard part, God is not happy with Israel, so what is Israel supposed to do now? What are we supposed to do now?

What comes next?

Once God, speaking through Isaiah, has clearly laid out the nature of the problem, has clearly explained all the ways that Israel has fallen short and the negative impact of their choices, God now can shift to do two things:

  • Call the people to repent and change their ways
  • Forgive

So what is God calling them to do?

God is calling them to stop doing a number of things. To stop putting all their energy into religious festivals and sacrifices.  These can be good things, but they have stopped being good things because Israel has forgotten to do the most important things. They have forgotten to work to ensure that their society is a just one. And, “without justice, Israel’s worship of the Lord is an empty shell.” (Collegeville, 1260)

This, according to Isaiah, is what God really cares about and expects of the people who follow God:

cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Care for the people in society most in need of care.

This is what pleases God.

As I mentioned earlier, this passage is a specific type of literature with a structure and format that the people would have understood and expected.  It’s prophecy, and prophecy is a tradition of calling the people of God back to their covenant with God by pointing out where they are currently not living into that covenant.[1]

It’s easy to lose our way and get off course. God knows this, God expects it, God doesn’t love it, but God is always there to welcome us when we return to the path.

God will welcome us again and again and again.

Our gospel passage begins like this, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” (32)

These words are good news for us today. Not matter how you feel, no matter how far you have strayed from the path, no matter how far we as a parish may have gone off course, this is Christ’s message to all of us: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (32)

We have no reason to be afraid. God is with us and desires only good things for us.

Which is good news indeed.


[1] Thanks Jordan of 2Fab for this description.