RESPONSE: SEPTEMBER 2017 ISSUE

Who Will Intercede?

Isaiah 59 tells of a society where truth has fallen in the street and no one calls for justice. How does this parallel with our time, and how can United Methodist Women raise truth?

Who Will Intercede?
United Methodist Women members protest income inequality, a key advocacy Issue, during Assembly 2014, Louisville, Kentucky.

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. —Isaiah 59:14 (KJV)

Truth fallen in the street is a powerful image, an image from Isaiah 59 directly applying to our time. Truth is not what it used to be. Many may be tempted to think of truth as an interesting artifact to be displayed in a museum, an “alternative fact,” a relic from a primitive past, a quaint reminiscence for older folks—truth is not something that needs to weigh down modern commentators.

“Truth fallen in the street” assumes there is also a place for truth to stand tall—higher truth, that is, truth that stands over the crowd and the lonely individual. A higher truth defies today’s temptation to trample truth in the street, to run over it on our way to a thousand other tasks. The trampled truth turns to dust and blows away. “Truth is missing; anyone turning from evil is plundered,” says Isaiah 59:15.

The theme for the 2017 spring board of directors and program advisory group meeting was “Speaking Out for Compassion,” the same title as the United Methodist Resolution 3422, “Speaking Out for Compassion: Transforming the Context of Hate in the United States,” a resolution brought by United Methodist Women and adopted by the church. The text of the resolution begins with Isaiah 59:14, from the New International Version: “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter.”

Versions of this resolution have been part of The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church since 2008, and its call to speak out against rising vitriol, racism, hate and violence is as relevant today as ever. Economic insecurity cannot be excused as the catalyst of hate, nor can it be the veil behind which hate operates. This “othering” of fellow human beings is not a system born of God or love; the goals of those who fuel such fear are self-serving and harmful, harmful even to those it purports to help and especially to those the fear-born theories blame.

Questions for reflection

  • Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden God’s face from you,” reads Isaiah 59:2. “Iniquity” is defined as “gross injustice” or a “wicked act or thing” by Merriam-Webster. What are the iniquities of our society that are keeping us from God? Of our church?
  • What are some of the iniquities named in Resolution 3422? (This can be found in The Book of Resolutions or at www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/resolutions) What does the resolution call on the church to do to resolve them? What can your United Methodist Women group do?

A chapter for our time

Isaiah 59 reaches a high point of confession with “truth fallen in the street.” But much of the chapter unpacks just what “fallen, trampled truth” looks like. It includes some timely but unfortunate cultural trends: Lying has become socially acceptable, even expected such that “no one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies” (59:3-4, NIV). Deception and treachery have become common: the eggs offered turn out to be those of venomous vipers (59:5), the crooked roads lead away from peace (59:8). Violence and bloodshed are common (59:3,6,7).

There is hope for justice, but none seems to come, causing people to “growl like bears; like doves we moan mournfully” (59:9,11). There is “rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression, uttering lies our hearts have conceived” (59:13, NIV). And “whoever shuns evil becomes a prey” (59:15).

Questions for reflection

  • Do you find the parallels between Isaiah 59 and today reassuring or discomforting?
  • How have we turned our backs on God? What are some of the lies our hearts have conceived?
  • Who are today’s truth-tellers who have become prey?
  • Today the term “fake news” is used to describe both reporting that is dubious and reporting that is simply unwelcome. What is the danger of fake news and of the misuse of the term?
  • What is the truth people are seeking?

Who will intercede?

In preparing this message, I learned of a serious breach of justice that happened in Massachusetts a few years ago. A state crime lab chemist was charged with lying about having a chemistry degree and with faking drug results, forging signatures and mixing samples. According to a CBS News report, she tested more than 60,000 drug samples involving 34,000 defendants during her nine years at the lab. In the New York Daily News the state attorney general said the “alleged actions corrupted the integrity of the entire criminal justice system. ... There were many victims as a result of this.”

Were her motivations malicious or just selfish? Does it matter, with the harm caused? Telling, for me, is that had I heard this story when it first came out I would have been shocked by it. But today I am not overly surprised.

Truth has indeed fallen in the street in our general culture of lies. But this culture is not the church: We hold high the infinite personal God of the Bible. Jesus lifted high on the cross and lifted high unto the throne—these are high truths for us and our time. We know who and whose we are.

So what do we do? In the most important sense, only the Lord can redeem and heal a people (as expressed in 59:17 with the Lord having put on battle armor to set things right). But there is something highly significant for us as the Lord responds. Isaiah 59:15 (CEB) reports, “The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice.” The Bible does not often speak of what makes God wonder (or “appalled” or “astonished” as in other translations). But here God wonders if someone will intercede.

Will it be said of our time as of Isaiah’s: There was no one to intercede? Since we have the advantage of the book of Isaiah, the example of the Lord Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit, how can we not be intercessors at a time like this? The bare minimum we must do is also the most important thing we can do: intercede. Interceding means being before the Lord like Abraham, Moses and Jesus, holding up a lost people—yes, even ourselves, in fervent prayer. Who will intercede? United Methodist Women has interceded for almost 150 years and—will intercede for another 150 and beyond!

Questions for reflection

  • Different translations of Isaiah 59 offer different headings to describe the chapter’s contents. The New Revised Standard Version calls it “Injustice and Oppression to Be Punished.” The New King James Version divides it into sections titled “Separated From God,” “Sin Confessed” and “The Redeemer of Zion.” The New International Version labels it “Sin, Confession and Redemption.” And, finally, the Common English Bible, also used in this study, uses headings “Alienation From God,” “Injustice Obscures Vision” and “God Will Intervene.” What does God’s redemption or intervention look like in Isaiah 59 (verses 16-21)? What do you think of Isaiah’s imagery?
  • What do you think redemption would look like today? What would it mean for our world?
  • How can God use United Methodist Women to intercede today?

Gail Douglas-Boykin is governance chair for the United Methodist Women Board of Directors. This study is adapted from her sermon closing the March 2017 spring board meeting in Nashville.

 

Posted or updated: 9/7/2017 12:00:00 AM
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