THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Sunday, June 14, 2015
God Always Bats Last
Major League Baseball has started the second half of the season. Last Tuesday’s All Star Game was the 88th. It took 10 innings, but the American League continued their recent dominance of All Star Games. For those of us more supportive of the National League, the last two decades have been dismal.
I grew up listening to baseball on the radio. It was always exciting. I don’t know if the games went faster then, but the announcer’s chatter between pitches and hits provided the color that watching the game live without announcing doesn’t have. And it seemed like there were fewer commercials then. You know how memory works, so that probably isn’t so.
One thing about baseball is that the home team always has the last chance to bat. If they are ahead they won’t need it. If they are behind, they have a chance to win, or at least tie and take the game into extra innings. There is a play on words which attributes the creation of baseball not to Abner Doubleday but to God. If a person misreads the first verse of Genesis, it could say, “In the big inning….” Be that as it may, if God were to be involved with baseball, God would always be the home team, God would always bat last.
That’s the gist of the verses we have before us today from the prophet Isaiah. God has the last word. It goes out and doesn’t return to go empty. God wins. All of Isaiah 55closeAn error occurred. is memorable. The opening verses are used on a Lenten Sunday in one of the lectionary years.
All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!
Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!
Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy?
The first five verses will be the Old Testament lesson in three weeks and are coupled with the story from Matthew of the feeding of the 5,000. Isaiah 55closeAn error occurred. opens as an invitation to a banquet. The reading comes at the end of the section often referred to as Second Isaiah and the writer is looking to the day of Israel’s return to Jerusalem and Judea, the rebuilding of the Temple, the reestablishment of lineage of the Davidic kings, and birth of the New Jerusalem symbolizing the dawn of God’s universal reign of righteous compassion. That will indeed be something worth celebrating.
Whenever with think about celebrations and festivals in the biblical context, we can’t help but think of the parable which Jesus told about the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1closeAn error occurred.–10). When the announcement was delivered that the feast was ready, all the invited guests had more important business to attend to. So the invitation list was revised: “Go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.”
There it is, stated plainly and simply: The most precious gift of all — the gift of life in God’s presence — is free. The only thing that can invalidate the gift is your insistence that there are places you would rather be and things you would rather do. Why anyone would ever opt for their choice over God’s is impossible to fathom. What are the possibilities? You want to determine the menu. You aren’t an afternoon person. You want to be in control of the company you keep. After all, someone you can’t stand might be there. But God will be there. Yeah, didn’t the host say that anyone could attend? But Jesus may join the wedding feast! Wouldn’t it be better to be in God’s presence, sitting with Jesus, that worrying about who else might be there?
The morale of Israel in exile was pretty bleak. After the defeat of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, God’s approval rating plummeted to an all-time low. How could God allow God’s people to be defeated? How could God lose? The prophet Jeremiah dealt with the same issues. He took a British approach with the exiles in Babylon. “Keep a stiff upper lip. Keep calm and carry on. Dig into the local community and improve it. Don’t just survive, thrive. Look at me, I bought property in suburban Anathoth.”
Isaiah uses the image of the feast to seal the promise of God’s activity. Second Isaiah had started out in chapter 40 with two questions: Was God able to save Israel? And was God willing to save Israel? Isaiah saw that the problem wasn’t with God but with the people. He tells the people,
“Seek the Lord when he can still be found;
call him while he is yet near.
Let the wicked abandon their ways
and the sinful their schemes.
Return to the Lord
so that he may have mercy on them, to our God,
because he is generous with forgiveness.”
We live our spiritual lives no differently than we do our personal lives. We are loathe to admit that any fault lies on our side of the relationship. It is a habitual comfort to blame the other person, to blame someone else, to blame God. So we rationalize with fake logic. That’s what the Israelites did: If God possessed sufficient power and concern, Jerusalem would not have been destroyed by pagans and we would not be exiles in a foreign land.
You can hear Second Isaiah audibly sigh. He patiently but firmly lays out his argument about God’s wrath being a necessary response to the persistence of sin and God’s judgment being ultimately overruled by God’s mercy. He has said it before but it always seems to be lost on the people still straining to maintain their pride.
It is at that point that the prophet refocuses the people’s thinking:
“My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways,
says the Lord.”
The human foible is that we are always trying to tell God what to do. To bring back the baseball image, it’s as if we believe that we are the field manager and God is the ace reliever in the bullpen, waiting to be called up to close a nasty inning. In reality, we are the opponents and God is the home team. God always bats last. And God always wins.
Second Isaiah wants to leave that message with the Israelites as he closes out his prophetic work.
“[M]y word that comes from my mouth;
it does not return to me empty.
Instead, it does what I want,
and accomplishes what I intend.”
The prophet’s image teems with quiet confidence in the triumph of God’s righteousness and the trustworthiness of God’s promises. He echoes the statement that he made as wrestled with God’s call to him in chapter 40: “The grass dries up; the flower withers, but our God’s word will exist forever.”
This Isaiah earnestly believes that only God’s word was the sure and certain basis for the reconstruction of their spiritual, personal, and corporate lives. “It does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend.”
The prophet concludes his final thought by announcing that there will be a festive procession of the freed exiles when they return to their home in joy and in peace. What a conclusion! What an affirmation of faith! Salvation is God’s ultimate accomplishment. The only things which human beings need to bring to the celebration are open hearts effervescing with joy and voices bubbling in song. Creation is seen as being whole again, for in the festive celebration, humanity is joined by nature. Everything in creation will be brought to wholeness by the Redeemer. The transformation into glory of all that the Lord has created provides the proper ballpark for the abiding presence of the God of glory. God always bats last, and God always wins.
Where is the despair in your life that needs Isaiah’s confident word? What is the exile that you are suffering through? Where are you contending against God by trying to run your own life? These are the places where you can receive the prophet’s word of assurance: God’s word doesn’t return empty. God’s word accomplishes what it sets out to do. God always bats last. God always wins.