Isaiah 35_1-10 Deluge and abundance
Well who would have imagined. Who could have predicted. Who could even comprehend the deluge of rain we have had in the past week? And the huge amounts of water that can flow down the Macquarie River. When we as a family drove through the city of orange for the first time on our way here to Dubbo, the country looked green and fertile. Then we made our way down onto the plains. Well! Who could have imagined. As we drove through the drought ravaged land, our hearts dropped and we though to ourselves ‘we were told this area was prime farming land, but look at it’. Having never been in this area before, being surrounded by ash and smoke haze from the Ganoo Forrest fires, we could not see how the rocky fields, the red dust and the dry dams could possibly ever be green again, let alone grow a viable crop. We quickly realised how life on this land and in this region is fickle.
We just need to cast our mind back 12 months to remember the hopelessness and desperation we felt as the drought continued to worsen. Some farmers and locals even took their own lives, sadly not being able to face the uncertainty anymore over how to pay back the years of debt, and ending it all rather than choosing to walk off their farms. Back then our prayers to God reflected Psalm 77 “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me…at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted…will the Lord reject forever? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
Who could have imagined, that in one week, perhaps even in one day, the Lord God changed the fortunes of this land and completely flooded this region with a deluge of abundant rain. After 10 years of nothing, in one day, in one week God poured down enough rain to break all records in some parts, showing us his mighty power and dominion over the earth and above all showing us his eternal faithfulness, mercy and compassion. St Paul praises God saying “now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power…to him be glory in the church…” ‘The Australian poem by Dorothea Mackellar says it all:
“I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror -The wide brown land for me!”
In a way we are privileged to live in this region, because the very land we live on preaches God’s grace and faithfulness to us. The droughts and flooding rains give evidence of God’s work. Isaiah uses extreme droughts and flooding rains of his wilderness as synonyms to the workings of God’s promise of salvation thought the seed of Jesse. The Messiah will come, Isaiah declares “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.”
Isaiah uses the imagery of droughts and the paradox of flooding rains to reveal the paradox we experience in life and compared with the promise. The Israelites were living in exile and could not see a future. They were in the wilderness of God’s judgment, the promised future, that they will be a blessing to all nations, seemed to have dried up; they were in a drought of God’s word. Many Psalms of lament were written during this period. One, Psalm 137, most clearly tells of their despair, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land.” How can any of us sing of the Lord when we are in desert places? We all have times of wilderness in our lives, when we struggle with the paradoxes of what is actually happening in our life and faith in Jesus who promised ‘Lo I will be with you to the very end of the age.’
We all go through droughts of God’s word, when our faith is tested with suffering and hardship. When God seems to abandon us, leaving us with a desert like faith that is dry and parched and we can no longer sing God’s praises. We don’t even want to open the bible, or study the word. Instead of having a living and vibrant church life, we shrivel away. Like with a drought, when the hot desert winds sweep away the top soil, revealing all the rocks below the surface, in a time of personal struggle, its as if God seems to speak like sweeping spiritual winds, revealing all our hidden rocks; faults in our character we thought we had dealt with; idols we never knew we had. Our sinful nature is laid bare for all to see.
What then? Do we judge ourselves, God and the world as lose, as we often did during the effects of a drought in this region? We can do this, go and hide, walk away from God, church and our faith. We can judge what is going on by how things currently are, or we could go out into the desert and wait for the rains to pour down upon us.
The words of Isaiah spoke into the crisis of faith for Israelites ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you’. In other words, the rains of God will come; the word of God will come to bring comfort and hope. Who would have imagined? Who would have predicted? Jesus, the promised shoot of Jesse, the Christ, did indeed come, and his miracles of restoring sight to the blind, opening the ears of the deaf and healing the lame, point as testimonies to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”
The droughts of faith we experience will pass, just as we have witnessed with the flooding. The Lord will come, he will save you. It is during the drought we need to take heed of what God is doing. Droughts of faith are his alien work, to make us dry and thirsty for him. To make us aware of our hidden rocks so that they can be dealt with; to drive us back to Jesus so that he may bless us with forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus explains the paradox of living in spiritual drought and the pouring rain of God’s grace in the beatitudes “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.” God drives us to thirst, and be in desperate need of righteousness in our crisis of faith. Not to destroy our faith, but to point us to Christ; in whom we have redemption. Our thirst is filled with Jesus’ own righteousness, declaring us forgiven and accepted by him, for the sake of his suffering and death, even though we experience otherwise. This is why St Paul writes “we live by faith, not by sight.” By sight we experience life as if God is absent, not caring and even punishing us, by faith we know that his word, Jesus Christ, dwells in us richly and is working springs of life in our parched souls and causing our faith to burst into bloom.
Luther writes regarding affliction of the saints ‘[God] alone it is to whom we must flee as to a holy Anchor and our soul refuge when we think we are lost. This is our task supreme: to become able to call upon God as a benign and forgiving Father, such as he ever is, even when we feel that God is against us and angry with us and that we are sinners who have deserved wrath and damnation. And so indeed God must be judged, not according to what we see but according to his promises, in which he has assured us that he would be our Father and our God.’
The promise foretold by Isaiah has been fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Yet the promise remains; that the word is near you. By the power and action of God’s word and sacraments, you are recipients and benefactors of Jesus continuing ministry through the church. As Isaiah promised in Chapter 55 of God’s word “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God in Christ Jesus, even in the midst of crisis, is deluging us with grace, abundantly pouring out his mercy and forgiveness. You are hearing the good news that is still being preached to the poor; and are having your eyes opened, as the blind are having their eyes opened to God; and though you struggle to walk with the Lord, you together with the lame are walking on the way of holiness. Who would have thought! God is achieving immeasurably more than we asked or imagined.