Isaiah 26: 1-6
Psalm 118: 1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27
Matthew 7:21, 24-27
Just when we U.S. citizens are creating a Department of Homeland Security and moving to tighten up our airline passenger screening and the security of our vulnerable ports, and just when we are marshalling our military to wage war on a distant country because of perceived threats—along come some readings that speak to precisely those issues. And, I have to say, these readings speak in language that does more to confront than to console.
Listen to Isaiah:
On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah: "A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us. Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace, for its trust in you."
When I hear those words, I have to wonder. This is a psalm from what is called “the Isaiah Apocalypse,” looking ahead to the final manifestation of God’s justice “on that day.” It envisions a faithful Jerusalem and a reformed Judah celebrating the security the Lord’s people have found in their provident God. Can I easily apply to my own nation the words “a nation that is just, one that keeps faith,” or “a nation of firm purpose . . . for its trust in you [Lord]”? I don’t think so. I see us trusting much more in our ability to secure ourselves, in our power to crush those who even show the potential of threatening us. Not that we shouldn’t be vigilant and establish smart and consistent policies and measures to defend ourselves against terrorism. But when I hear Isaiah’s words, I have to admit that the language and activity of our culture focus more on the fear of other human beings and on the fear of God. Real trust in God (the way our Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions speak of this) would not have us isolating ourselves from the ABM treaty and the Kyoto agreement on the environment. Trust in God would not see us turning our back on the international criminal court. Real trust in God would not see us dismantling human rights at home in the name of defending them. Isaiah’s description of “a nation of firm purpose” does not, I submit, refer to a purpose that allows preoccupation with self-defense to overshadow the demands of justice at home and abroad.
Trust in the Lord forever! [Isaiah continues] For the Lord is an eternal Rock. He humbles those in high places, and the lofty city he brings down; He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.
As a citizen of my blessed country, I think I have to hear those words as a wake-up call, rather than as words of comfort.
Psalm 118 picks up the same refrain. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.” Not that trust in God entails distrust of people. Rather, it is only in putting my primary trust in God that I am enabled to risk reaching out in trust to other human beings, especially distant human beings that I haven’t met yet.
Just when I think I have this figured out, along comes a further
jolt from the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading, the ending of the
Sermon on the Mount. Like Isaiah, Jesus speaks about security in
terms of building on rock. But here the challenge of trusting God
comes across even stronger. In the context of the Sermon on the Mount,
building on rock stands for doing what Jesus says. And what he says earlier
in this speech is: reconcile, solve your problems nonviolently, and love
your enemy. That sounds like a very different road to security than
we are taking as we try to be a “nation of firm purpose.” Maybe,
as Christian citizens of this nation, we have something to say to our people.
Our security in the Lord may depend on it.
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