17 June 2010

Isaiah 63:7-9

"I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord." (v.7)


Here we have a really good example of 'levitical' preaching, where the preacher begins to recount the deeds of God in the past. Like a jazz song it takes an old theme and makes music with a new rhythm. Often read on the Sunday after Christmas, this passage is at a point of change, a time to think of reconstruction and restoration.

In three brief verses the sermon calls us to remember the loyalty of God to the people of Israel through the age-old covenant. Even though they have been wayward - "but they rebelled" - God is loyal because "surely they are my people". There is something deeply gracious in this passage, which gives further support for the profound theology of grace which runs through all parts ofMethodist doctrine.

There are echoes here too of John's prologue (the beginning of John's Gospel), in that grace and truth came in Jesus (John 1:14). This is no messenger, nor an angel. The effective component here is Jesus' presence. There is the wonderfully liberating thought that God did not send a committee, a delegation or letter, but came in Jesus Christ. The same thought is here in this passage, with the crucial sense of the presence of God among people which makes the transforming difference.

The grace of God is seen in the key words 'saved', 'redeemed' and 'carried'. To be saved is to be brought back within the original purposes of God for God's people; to be redeemed is to be liberated from the forces which would have enslaved them; and to be carried is to know the supporting, healing grace of God in times of conflict and oppression.

All of God's dealings are characterised by loyalty and goodness and the passage requires justice from the people - "children who will not deal falsely". Divine presence and human ethics go hand in hand, even when God's people are in exile. The presence of God encourages God's vulnerable people to remember God's gracious acts.

To Ponder

When are the times when you have been 'carried' by God's grace?

How would you begin to recount your experience of the grace of God?

God's presence makes the difference. Where do you need to perceive that presence most in your community?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Howard Mellor

Howard Mellor is a Methodist presbyter. Together with his wife Rosie they are currently serving as Mission Partners in Hong Kong.