July 12, 2017
By Nina Barlow Schmid.
Scripture: Isaiah 55:10-13 (NRSV)
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
God’s Creation takes my breath away! This may seem like an oxymoron, considering God’s breath gives life. Old Testament imagery of trees clapping and mountains skipping or singing in awe of God affirms my breathless wonder. The very idea of joy, awe or praise being expressed in such ways by creation boggles the imagination. Certainly this was an intended effect of the writers, who, with their literary palettes, painted canvases of God’s incomprehensible majesty. How delightful!
I sometimes wonder if Walt Disney, who had a strict Congregationalist lay-preaching father and was named after a Congregational minister-friend, was inspired by Isaiah, the Psalms and other OT writings where this poetry expresses the veritable magnificence and mystery of God.
Think about the flora and fauna that sing and dance in Disney’s early films – Fantasia, for instance, or the orchids and other flowers in the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disney world, where a multitude of flower tongues trill in joyful song (“Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing)! While Disney’s work is obviously not Holy Scripture, and may be considered whimsical, sometimes controversial or biased, it appears to exude this exuberant aspect of creation, similar to what we read in the Old Testament.
These verses of the final chapter of Deutero-Isaiah describe what could be the final chapter of exile, with just such enthusiastic praise, offered by the mountains, hills and trees. The prophet describes the jubilation God plans for the Israelites when they return to their homeland from Babylon. God invites – exhorts - them “to go out in joy and be led back in peace” in a display of exuberance.
Judgement, chaos, and now, restoration and provision for Israel by God’s own hand! Why pay “for that which does not satisfy,” when God brings rain and snow that causes the earth to “sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” Food! Life! Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: “As an alternative to Babylonian junk food, Israel is summoned to listen, as was ancient Israel, to the offer of the rich food of the gospel of Yahweh.” Surely, the message and admonitions of Isaiah to follow God’s ways are as relevant for today’s world as they were to the world of the exiles – to all times and worlds, for that matter.
Instead of thorns and briers, cypress and myrtle will grow; orchids will sing! All shall be provisioned. God’s purpose is accomplished as an “everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Creation will erupt into a symphony of breath-taking synergy – animated hills and trees! The genius of this imagery takes us from the mundane to God’s rain/reign – it takes the breath away and gives it back again
Below is link to a youtube video of John Rutter conducting his composition, Look At The World. The words are captioned which are particularly a propos to this text and reflection. It is a beautiful piece.
God of the Singing Hills and Clapping Trees: Help us to remain open to the majesty of your reign/rain. May we all be left breathless as we receive, in awesome wonder and gratitude, your provision. Amen.
The Rev. Nina Barlow Schmid is the Designated Pastor for First Congregational Church of South Windsor.
July 12, 2017
Nina Barlow Schmid.