Scriptures: Isaiah 30:8-15; Luke 7:31-35
One of our newer members at Southminster, Betsy Haslett, is a retired pediatric audiologist, someone who works with children on hearing issues. One time the parent of school age child came to Betsy and said, “I think my child has a hearing problem.” So Betsy tested the child. Afterwards she said to the parent, “It does not seem likely that your child has a hearing problem. Maybe it’s a listening problem.”
That, apparently, was the problem with the people of Israel. In Isaiah 30 God says of them, “For they are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instruction of the Lord.” It wasn’t a hearing problem; it was a listening problem. They weren’t listening to what the Lord said to them through God’s messengers.
Why? It wasn’t because they couldn’t hear; it was because they heard only what they wanted to hear. Verse 10: “Who say to the seers (their preachers), ‘Do not see’; and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions.’” One Bible commentary translated the end of that verse: “Prophecy not to us what is right; speak to us what suits us” (Otto Kaiser, Isaiah 13-39).
I remember watching an interview with an oil company executive talking about climate change. He told the interviewer, “I have talked to numerous scientists who don’t believe in climate change.” I thought that was an interesting expression. The scientists I have known don’t usually talk about believing in something or not believing in it. They talk about experiments, observations, and data, and the probability of certain conclusions that could be drawn from that data. So I don’t know who these scientists were that this oil company executive had consulted, and I am not a scientist, so I am not in a position to adjudicate between various scientific studies. But here is what I found interesting: out of all the scientists who have done studies on climate change and its relationship to carbon emissions, and there are many, this oil company executive paid attention to the scientists who debunked the idea. In other words, he listened to the people who told him what he wanted to hear.
People do the same thing with churches. They gravitate to churches and preachers who affirm what they already believe, who tell them the things they want to hear. I think a better measure of a church is when the preacher reads things from the Bible that you don’t want to hear, like in Isaiah.
Jesus, of course, said a lot of things that some people did not want to hear, things like “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” or “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.” Some did not appreciate Jesus saying stuff like that, so they looked for ways to discredit him. We saw that in our first scripture reading. They called Jesus a glutton and a drunkard for sitting down to eat with tax collectors and sinners. Of course there is no evidence that Jesus actually got drunk at one of these dinners or even ate too much. But his opponents used name-calling to discredit him. I wonder if that ever happens today? Well, it happened to Jesus, because he was saying things people did not want to hear.
There is a warning about this in verse 12:
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: Because you reject this word and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them…
Let me stop here a second. “You reject this word and put your trust in oppression and deceit.” When people no longer search for truth, they rely on power. When people listen only to those who share their point of view, they no longer discuss things, they jockey for control. They no longer engage in a search for what is true and good; they look for ways to impose their idea of what is true and good by legislation, manipulation, coercion or some other exercise of power.
That’s what the people of Israel were doing: “… you reject this word and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them.”
There are consequences of that. Continuing with verses 12-13:
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel: Because you reject this word and put your trust in oppression and deceit, and rely on them; therefore this iniquity shall become for you like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly in an instant.
I once heard a lecture by a philosophy professor named Dallas Willard. He was talking about the philosophical definition of reality. Philosophers talk about stuff like that. How do you know what is real and what is not real? Here was his definition of reality. He said, “Reality is what you run into when you’re wrong.”
That’s what the people of Israel were about to find out. They told their prophets, “Do not prophesy to us about what is right; speak to us smooth things. Tell us what we want to hear.” But reality was about to crash in on them.
Friends, we cannot ignore God and go our own way without at some point discovering we are wrong—without at some point discovering we can’t manage everything on our own, we don’t have all the wisdom we need in our own head, we can’t live life only for ourselves without ending up lonely, lost, and empty. Reality is the wall crashing in on us when we discover that life without God is empty.
But there is hope in the last verse—Verse 15:
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
When we build up walls around ourselves admitting only the people who agree with us, shutting out the people whom God might send to challenge us, or expand our vision, or enlarge our hearts, or help us grow as the people as the people God wants us to be—when we shut such people out of our lives, we set ourselves up for the crash that happens when reality hits and we realize we have been wrong.
But when we trust God’s love for us, we don’t need to be afraid. “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” When we trust God, we don’t need to hide behind walls. When we trust God, we don’t need to surround ourselves only with like-minded people. When we trust God, we don’t have to fear the prophet or preacher who reads things from the Bible we may not like. We don’t have to be afraid, because if we relax and take a breath, and let down our defenses long enough to hear God, we will discover how much God loves us and how much better our lives and world can be if we listen.