When I consider the opening verses of our Old Testament lesson today, I can envision the prophet, standing atop a high place before the people of Israel, declaring in a thunderous and compelling voice, the word of God, “For Zion’s sake, I will NOT be silent! For Jerusalem’s sake, I will NOT be still!” The prophet Isaiah has something to say, and declares that he will not be silenced, and furthermore, that neither will God be shushed. The prophet, speaking to a people that have endured hardship and exile, prophecies a word of promise and hope, that God is bringing them into a new time, with a new name that God will give them; that they will be a beloved people, who will no longer be called abandoned or forsaken. God will rejoice over them the way a groom rejoices in marrying the bride. The promise that God does and will delight in his people.
The prophet makes the pronouncement: I. Will. Not. Keep. Silent. In other words, the prophet is saying that it will not be possible to make me shut up. I will talk and not stop talking, proclaim and not stop proclaiming, preach and not stop preaching. I will shake the skies with my voice. I will not pause. I will not rest, for the sake of the precious city God loved and left, and I will keep this up until every nation and king can see that Jerusalem has been declared innocent and lifted up to a place of glory and honor.
While it is the prophet who speaks, whose voice is being heard? Some hold that the prophet speaks in the voice of God, vowing God’s unceasing speaking and acting on behalf of God’s beloved city. The vow to speak and not rest until the moment when vindication shines like the light of a new day, recalls imagery of creation and heralds the dawn of new creation for God’s people. In reading it this way, the passage expresses God’s determination in words that elicit hope, joy, and the certainty of salvation.
Others hold that the prophet does not speak in God’s voice but instead vows to address God, acting as intercessor for Jerusalem. Like the sentinels mentioned later in the chapter, the prophet promises to stand on the city walls and break the silence day and night in order to make God remember. The prophet vows to keep talking and preaching and proclaiming until God does what God has promised to do: restore Jerusalem and make this holy mountain a crown of glory and song of praise to God. Is one right or wrong, or could both help us to understand the message of hope from the prophet to these weary people?
The lectionary links this reading with Psalm 36, where the psalmist says:
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Out of this meditation shines forth the praise of God — that under God’s wings the innocent find refuge from evil, and that God is the source of their light The climax of the psalm occurs in the petition of verse 10:
“Continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your salvation to the upright.”
The psalmist knows that God is the one source of life and abundance, feasting and delightful drink. In the Gospel reading, Mary knows it too. She instructs her son to provide the wine for the wedding feast at Cana, knowing, despite his objection, that he will listen to her voice and perform the sign that will reveal his glory. After this event, Jesus will no longer be able to keep silent about his identity and ministry.
This weekend, we recognize another prophet; one who also could not be silenced. He came to proclaim that God’s life and abundance was meant for ALL people and was called to preach and work for equality and peace, and for the God’s will to be done among all peoples in society. That prophet was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King began his career as pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He quickly became well known for his oratorical skills and soon after the Rosa Parks incident in 1955, the activists who formed the Montgomery Improvement Association to boycott the transit system chose King as their leader. In his first speech to the group as its president, King declared:
We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.
From the very beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King would not be silent.
Whether writing letters from prison in Birmingham, Alabama where he was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, which included hundreds of schoolchildren, following his protests to end segregation at lunch counters and in hiring practices to the historic March on Washington in 1963, where an interracial assembly of more than 200,000 gathered peaceably in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law, Dr. King did not stay silent. Here the crowds were uplifted by the emotional strength and prophetic quality of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in which he emphasized his faith that all men, someday, would be brothers. Dr. King did not stay silent, and it cost him his life. But because of his determination to speak out and the inspiration of his life’s passion for justice and equality, his legacy lives on.
While we may not be called to the role of prophet, I believe we are called upon to speak out and continue his legacy; of working toward peace and justice for all people. Not just to build upon his efforts, but because this is one of the key mandates in our Holy Scriptures. In the Bible, God makes it quite clear that He is deeply concerned about justice & fairness in the way society should be organized – there are over 2000 verse about justice & poverty in the Bible. Certainly, this has been a long-standing Biblical priority and one we should not take lightly.
More than one theologian has asserted that our God has a ‘Bias to the poor and marginalized’. In the Old Testament the people of Israel are taught again & again that they should care for the poor & oppressed, the alien & the widow. Jesus’ ministry was focused on the poor, the outcast, the oppressed. In accordance with his understanding of scripture, as well as his concern for the people, Dr. King preached a message of a new start for society; of a community where all people were valued, regardless of the color of their skin. He heard the voice of Jesus calling him to follow the route of nonviolence. I came across a quote from him saying ‘Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Tomorrow has been designated as “Day of Service” in honor of Dr. King. I would suggest we make our own effort to do something for others, not just in honor of his legacy, but as our witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us NOT be silent! Let us attest to the love and justice of God in Christ in our community. Amen.
Giver of All Good Gifts, may we receive the gift of Your grace. May we bless others rather than curse; may we practice justice rather than revenge; may we live into kindness rather than karma. May we share all the gifts You have given us, of our time, talents, finances, and very selves. May we be good stewards of all You have entrusted us with, and care for the earth, all of creation, and our neighbors. Holy Spirit, help us to discern our gifts, how best to use them, and move in us to build up Your Beloved Community on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
May God the Creator bless you and keep you safe today.
May Jesus the Christ smile upon you and be gracious towards you.
May the Spirit of Life lead you in the path of wisdom and peace.
And all of God’s people say: Amen!