"My Delight Is in Her"#86-21
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 20, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Anthony (Tony) Cook, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:My Delight Is in Her)
Copyright 2019 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Isaiah 62:1-5
Sad, hopeless, worthless, abandoned. For many this is not only the condition of the modern soul, it's a state of being they call "home." I know this place. Even in the growing light of this Epiphany season, I find myself taking up residency there from time to time, walking in its dark and empty streets, windows shuttered, houses lightless and cold, alone and waiting, isolated and downtrodden, lost, but looking.
Perhaps you've seen me. Perhaps you've even taken up residence there as well. I know I am not the first, nor will I be the last to visit this place. It's an all too familiar place for the children of God. And it is from this dark, forsaken, and abandoned place-a place many of us are hesitant to admit we know-that we hear the voice of an earlier resident, the author of Psalm 130. Even today we can hear his voice echoing in the lonely streets. "Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord. Lord, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If You, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness so that we can with reverence serve You. I wait for the Lord. My whole being waits, and in His Word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning, more than the watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption. He Himself will redeem Israel from all of their sins."
You see, we are not the only people who have received our mail at this desolate address. In fact, Israel herself, the collective and personified people of God, even she has been an unwilling citizen of this dark captivity. For she too found herself in lands that were not her own, a prisoner to darkness, mocked by the nations for being seemingly abandoned by her God. But just as the psalmist had hoped, God's ear is an attentive one. He hears and He acts, and He did. The cry of His people did not go unheard, even in the depths of their desolation. And so it was for Israel that their cries would be heard, and their prayers powerfully answered, beginning with the shepherd, a shrub, and the presence of God on Mount Horeb.
Exodus 3 begins the account. "Now, Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. Moses said, 'I will turn aside to see this great sight. Why the bush is not burned?' When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, 'Moses, Moses,' and he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Do not come near. Take your sandals off your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground,' and He said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,' and Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look at God.
"Then the Lord said, 'I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.'"
The story of Moses and the divinely orchestrated exodus of Israel is a brilliant display of God's ability to rescue his children from the dark night of their souls, but it is not the only or even the greatest example of God's powerful promises fulfilled. There is another: there is Jesus. This time, however, it would be the Shepherd who was captive and beaten as a slave, and the voice—the voice heard that day was not that of the Father, but of the crowds cursing and deriding their Savior until He Himself cried out in the darkness, providing exodus for all.
"Now, from the sixth hour there was darkness over all of the land until the ninth hour, and about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice saying, 'My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?' And some of the bystanders hearing it said, 'This man is calling Elijah,' and one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed to give it to Him to drink, but the others said, 'Wait, let's see whether Elijah will come to save Him.' Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up His spirit.
"Behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom and the earth shook, and the rocks split, and the tombs also were opened, and the bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with Him keeping watch over Jesus saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God.'"
Sad, hopeless, worthless, abandoned. For many, this was Jesus. Mocked like Israel, He cried out with their voice, with our voice, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" The psalmist's words, Israel's words, my words, your words, Christ's words. Friends, it was the last time those words would ever need to be uttered, for Jesus walked our lonely streets, saw the darkened houses of our souls, visited us in the depths of our despair, and shown His sacrificial light to point us home. He took on our hopelessness, worthlessness, abandonment—so that we might know that even in the dark night of our soul, in our existential crises, in our perpetual 3 a.m. that while those feelings are real, they are not true.
We are not sad, hopeless, worthless, or abandoned creatures. For in and because of Jesus, we are the people of God. We are Israel saved. We are Jesus' collective bride, and we are prized by Him more than any other, and because of Him, we have become His Father's delight.
Isaiah reveals God's true disposition toward us in our text for today: Isaiah 62:3-5. Speaking of God's people, Israel, Isaiah says, "You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of God. You shall no more be termed 'Forsaken,' and your land shall no longer be termed 'Desolate,' but you shall be called 'My Delight Is in Her,' and your land 'Married,' for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you."
Did you hear it? Isaiah proclaims a message of hope, a message of transformation for a wayward Israel from a deserted and desolate nation to a beloved bride united in divine matrimony, an object of God's delight. This passage is a promise from God, a promise to restore Israel and ultimately a promise to restore all who would become members of Israel through Christ. Christ, the bridegroom who would be faithfully married to His bride, the church, forever. No longer desolate, no longer forsaken, a people transformed, protected, and secure.
God's people would receive a new identity and a new name above the name of any king or any nation. They would receive the name of "Hephzibah," meaning My delight is in her. Out of all of the names a groom could give his bride, what greater name could exist? This is the same Hebrew name given to King Hezekiah's wife in II Kings 21. It is a name that expresses not only delight, but of being taken care of, someone who is guarded and protected. This is who Israel became. This is who you, this is who we as the bride of Christ truly are. This is our identity in Jesus. We are his Hephzibah bride, and through this union God delights in you.
What does this mean? What does this mean for those of us who find ourselves in the dark night of our souls, those who stand at crisis' edge, those whose clock always reads 3 a.m.? Simply, it means there is hope. It means that you are not left to an identify of self-hatred and sin. It means that the isolation you feel is but an echo of a distant time, a voice of a psalmist whose request has already been fulfilled. The watchmen can finally sleep, for morning has come. This, my friends, is the real and tangible reality that Christ brings into our world today. It is more than a story or a theory. It is more than a tradition or a right. Christianity is new life in Christ. In fact, it is life itself, a radically divine transformation of identity for those of us who are lost and can no longer find our way.
There are so many in this world, so many who seek this same assurance that they too can shed what they were and become only what God and Christ can make them—those who long for someone, anyone, to look at them in delight. Those who long for security, protection, and love. Friends, what we seek, what they seek, is real. It's here, and it is in Jesus. Not only are we recipients, but we are heralds of this grace-filled message of God's delight. We are fragile followers of a man named Jesus who allowed Himself to experience our brokenness by being broken Himself, broken by those whom He came to save. The followers of a man named Jesus, who willingly allowed Himself to be despised so those very same people who despised Him might become an object of His and his Father's delight.
I was recently speaking to a friend about the fragility of our faithfulness and our common struggle to keep our forgiven identity as the bride of Christ before us in our daily lives. We're both intimately aware of our sin and the broken nature of our existence. And like most we too struggle to remain focused on who and whose we are as we await our Savior's return. As we texted back and forth, looking for words to reassure one another that what we read in the Bible and hear from the pulpit is also a message of grace for us.
I recalled a picture I had once seen in a magazine. It was the picture of a broken vessel, a vessel that had been painstakingly mended, each and every piece held in its proper place by a thin line of gold. There was no attempt to make the vessel look new or unbroken. Instead the brokenness became a showcase for the artistic repair. It was the repair itself, not the broken pieces, that captured my attention. The brilliance of the golden restoration brought beauty to the piece. We are like that vessel. Our repair, however, was not with gold, but with blood and grace in Christ. While our fractures can still be seen, it is the loving and restorative work of God that is truly on display for the world to admire. A skillful repair, a reminder of both what we were and what God has made us to be in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And like the vessel restored with gold our restored vessel is worth more than the vessel alone. With that in mind, I simply texted, "I call it being beautifully broken."
The idea of being a beautifully broken vessel has stayed with me since our conversation. And while not the same, it reminded me of the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always caring in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies."
As children of God, we are beautifully broken, and without Jesus we would be the sad, hopeless, and abandoned people that the dark night of the soul attempts to convince us that we are. But because of Jesus, because we are His, it is simply not true.
God has seen our sin. He has heard our cries. He has sent His Son and through Him we are mended, restored, and valued. My message today is for those who, like me, struggle with the dark night of the soul, who cry out from the lonely and empty streets, who hide behind shuttered windows, whose houses are lightless and cold, who are alone, waiting, isolated, downtrodden, and lost. You, my friends, yes, you, you have a new name, a new identity. You are a beautiful crown held firmly in the hands of God. You are not forsaken nor are you desolate. For you are the bride of Christ and co-heirs of all that is His: a land that flows with milk and honey, an eternal home. In you God Himself delights and just as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so God in Christ rejoices over you. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
Reflections for January 20, 2019
Title: My Delight Is in Her
Mark Eischer: Joining us now for some reflections on today's message, here's our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks for the message, Tony. One thing I wanted to talk more about was the "dark night of the soul." As I think I understand what that means, it's not simply about being depressed, or it's not reacting to negative circumstances in your life, but it's something that a person could experience when everything is going well. So, if you could talk some more about that.
Tony Cook: Yeah. The term "dark night of the soul" is normally connected to a poem from the 16th century, written by a man named St. John of the Cross, and it describes a form of spiritual turmoil, if you will, or internal spiritual struggle that not only theologians, but that all Christians can experience in their life.
And it's something that's very real. And I think it's something that's helpful to talk about so that when people experience it, they don't necessarily see it as something that they themselves are just experiencing or something that it's odd, but really, it's fairly common.
Mike Zeigler: In seminary, we read a book by Lesslie Newbigin called The Open Secret, and he talks about Christians, how we approach people in witness. Sometimes people get the image of a Christian standing in a good place and calling down to somebody in a bad place, but Newbigin tries to shift the image where we would go, we take up residence in that house or in that street and meet somebody because we know what that's like. And it just strikes me as a different way to witness what God's work is in our life.
Tony Cook: Exactly. And that's exactly what Jesus did. I mean, He took up residence on our streets. Literally. He experienced what we experience and obviously, He experienced real and deep turmoil. When you see Him praying in the garden, obviously in His suffering and on the cross, His cry to His Father, "Why have You forsaken Me?" He knows what we experience and because He experienced it, we can have a new path, a new way back to Him.
Mike Zeigler: And He's got the nail marks on His hands and side, the spear mark on His side to show it, and that makes me think of the pottery image that you brought up in the message. I was at a presentation a few months ago and heard a ministry leader use that, to my recollection it's Kintsukuroi. It's a Japanese art form, and it celebrates, or it acknowledges the history of the brokenness—it doesn't celebrate the brokenness—but acknowledges it and finds a way to turn it into a thing of beauty.
And she was talking about a ministry in the city of St. Louis where they've used an old building that was actually the old seminary building in St. Louis and transformed it into a place of community gathered around art, where Christians and non-Christians can come together and acknowledge the brokenness of the neighborhood, but find a way to make a thing of beauty of it.
Tony Cook: Yeah. I love that. It's always interesting as a Christian what we do with our brokenness and if you attempt to hide that you were never broken, it really minimizes the ability to see God at work. But then if you overemphasize the brokenness, it can seem like we never get to the grace in God's mending.
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, that makes me think of that struggle of ignoring the brokenness, but over-emphasizing it and two things come to mind: I remember listening to a worship leader, someone who led worship in the evangelical tradition or church, and he was commenting on the fact that he didn't have resources for lament in his worship song repertoire, and it was just kind of praise song after praise song and nothing—no place for lament. And then I've heard some people criticize the Lutheran tradition as perennially beating ourselves up with "poor, miserable sinner," "poor, miserable sinner." And it sounds like Isaiah is trying to bring us to something different.
Tony Cook: Yeah, I completely agree. I mean, as Lutherans, we do not minimize our brokenness. We do not cover over our sin or pretend that we're perfect, but at the same time, our primary message is not a message of how horrible we are, but it's a message of how great God is and what He has done through Jesus to mend and heal and to make us new, and that's why in the sermon when I relayed that story of the conversation I had, that I really find the phrase "beautifully broken" to be appropriate.
It's not that the breaking itself was beautiful, that I'm still broken, but that I've been made beautiful through the mending that God has done in my life through Jesus.
Mike Zeigler: Right. I love that phrase: God's ability to rescue from that dark night. And another thing you mentioned that stood out to me was the phrase, "our feelings are real but not true." And that made me think of post-traumatic stress that people experience, where they're out of the situation, they are physically safe and in a good place, and yet they still struggle with the reverberations of that event in their own emotional experience. And those things are real, even if they're not true in the sense of the experience is over.
Tony Cook: Yeah. I think it's very important that we don't minimize the feelings that we have and to say that someone's feelings are not real feelings.
If you've ever had a feeling, which I know you have, you know they're real. They might not be founded on truth, but still we need to address the fact that we're having them, and that they impact us, and that for us in that moment, they are as real as anything else in our life.
So, the fact as a Christian is that many times we struggle with the feelings of who we were. We reflect on our brokenness and our sin, and we feel as if we were before Jesus has come into our life, before He died on the cross, before our Baptism, before our salvation. And sometimes we just need to remind each other that yes, it's true that we're broken and that those feelings that we experience are real, but that the final word of who we are, the final proclamation of our identity is not found in our feelings, but it's found in the Word, and it's found in God—in Jesus.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The Only Son from Heaven" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)