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Isaiah 32: A Quiet House, Immovable

Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re going to be reading from chapters 32 and 33 as we continue through our series in Isaiah.

First, thank you to Meg and her dad for leading us well last week, which allowed me, in God’s providence and foreknowledge, to take time to deal with everything that happened this week in my family. I loved Meg’s dad’s music. It was like Phil Collins pulling a Kanye and putting out a Christian album. And I don’t say that as any kind of insult. To be in the 80’s right now is to be on the cutting edge of culture. I drove through Tulane’s campus the other day and the fashion made me feel like I had accidentally stumbled onto the set of a Richard Simmons music video.

This week was seismic for our family in good and bad ways, sometimes both at the same time. We’re through inspections on our house, and negotiations, which means we’ve sold the house. My parents were in town over the weekend, but then my grandmother entered hospice care, and my Dad left to go be with her. We also, this week, finished our foster parent application and already have committed to the long term care of at least one child, maybe more, but I don’t know if we can do that without a house.

So you see what I mean; the tectonic plates of our world have shifted, and I tell you all of that so that you will understand how much I needed to hear what Isaiah has to say to us today, maybe you as well.

Isaiah is a book written in a seismic moment in the history of God’s redemption of his creation. Next week we are entering into a passage describing the first of two invasions which would spell the end of the city of Jerusalem, the nation of Judah, worship and life as God’s people knew it.

Isaiah’s message, over and over again, is that God is not done with his work in the world. People needed to hear that in Isaiah’s day because they felt God-forsaken, like it was impossible for their lives to be right again, but it’s a lie. There’s always hope in your life and in the world if God is in your life and working in the world.

The past several weeks, I’ve been talking about what God’s kingdom is like, and what our lives are meant to be.

We are meant to live everlastingly. Not a dull sort of drawn out existence, but abounding life. A return to innocence and childlikeness, like living always in those moments of our lives we don’t want to end. When Isaiah imagines the everlasting life in God’s kingdom, he imagines a meal together with God and all of his people, a feast, life together with people we love and who love us, meals and lives shared, everyone having a place at the table.

We are meant to live under the rule of God, himself. His kingdom is a revolution; it is upside down from everything we’ve known in this world. Christ is bringing peace and freedom to his people—not just peace for some, or a status quo, but peace and equity together with justice. We were created to live under the rule and reign of God, and we are called in this life to live as citizens of his kingdom.

In the kingdom of God, everything grows and thrives, bears fruit in its season. The trees, the plants, and his people, because God the gardener tends them and provides for them. God doesn’t have some use or purpose for us beyond simple delight. He cares for us and prunes us because he wants to. He loves us.

Last week was a timely reminder, as we re-entered dark days of this pandemic, to trust in the salvation of the Lord. Be hopeful. He’s not done in our world, and he has not grown weak. He doesn’t sleep or get tired. This week, we see we were created for quietness and permanence.

Read with me, Isaiah, chapter 32, starting in v.9, and I’m going to skip a portion, so stick with me. [Isaiah 32:9-18; 33:17-24]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord, please show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

I had a lot of fun reading this passage to Anne-Elise this week, because you can read it with a tone that sounds really insulting to women. We’ve been reading through Isaiah in the morning, before AJ gets up, so she had her coffee, we had prayed for each other, it was this very peaceful moment, until I started reading this section that in my Bible is titled, “complacent women warned of disaster.” See, the key to making it sound as offensive as possible is to put the emphasis on the word women rather than on the word complacent. That’s how you get your wife to threaten to send your child to work with you for the rest of the summer.

But, no, this passage is not about women. It’s more about where you live. You see, these complacent women who are sitting around their houses in the city center, just kind of drinking all day are contrasted with those who work in the fields or whose houses are in the desert.

The thing you need to know about living in the desert is that it’s terrible. I helped a friend move to Phoenix once, and I don’t think I’ve ever hated a place more than I hated Phoenix. My apologies if you think Phoenix is the coolest, but we’re going to have to agree to disagree. People don’t have yards there, they have rocks arranged in different ways. And all of the plants have thorns. The nature, there, in general is trying to kill you. This is why through history desert dwellers have been travelers, because people are not supposed to actually stay in the desert. So when Isaiah talks about people living in the wilderness, in the desert, he’s not talking about the Phoenix hipsters with their American Spirits and their skinny jeans, acting like they found something, he’s talking about people who have to live in the places nobody else wants to live.

And the women in the field he mentions. Women typically did not work in the fields at this time. If you were working in the field, you were probably gleaning, meaning you were probably a widow without any kind of family, alone in the world and just trying not to starve. Dark, tanned skin at the time would have been a great shame for a woman, because everyone would know you’d been in the fields, that you didn’t have family or prospects. People would ask behind your back about what happened, and why no one wants you.

So in v.16, when Isaiah promises that the Spirit of God will pour out onto the field and into the wilderness in justice and peace he is talking to a people who are ashamed, a people who are displaced, who are not welcomed into society. And I love this, this was the whole impetus for this sermon, Isaiah says the result of the Spirit pouring out, the result of God’s kingdom come and the righteousness it brings is quietness. Quietness, v.17.

That’s my first point for the morning: we were created for quietness, we were created for quietness, and in the kingdom of God we will live in quietness.

The word here for quietness is closely related to the concept of peace. It means, unbothered, undistracted, at rest. I think of hiking and overlooks, just sitting, resting for a moment, and looking out onto God’s creation. We went hiking yesterday and when I told Anne-Elise the length of the hike I’d planned, she turned around and started walking the other way. I always pick the longest hike, the hardest trail, because I don’t want to be in a crowd at some tourist trap; I don’t want to be within ten miles of anyone I don’t know; I want to stand alone or with people I love and be quiet. I’m sure you have places and moments of quietness in your life as well—a reading chair, a front porch, a bench in the park. Basically, biblical quietness is redeemed humanity’s response to peace. Biblical quietness is redeemed humanity’s response to peace.

I say biblical quietness, because the Bible’s definition of quietness doesn’t always match with the way we use the word today. Biblical quietness can be loud—music and singing and children shouting, people laughing. Biblical quietness is freedom to be who you are, being unbothered and unstressed, rested. We talked several weeks ago about how in the kingdom of God, there is peace; in that peace we will be able to live quietly, which is how we were created to live.

After six months of house hunting, I understand this on a visceral level. The past six months has been for us a search for quietness. And it’s not just us, you can almost track quietness in the value of a home. The further away you get from the interstate, or from a train, or a factory or the closer you get to a park, the higher the price goes. We were created to live in quietness, and so we crave it. Quietness is one of our deepest longings, and one of our deepest needs.

My son and I are both sensory seekers, meaning we tend to seek out noise, touch—if you watch both of us, we can’t keep our hands to ourselves as we walk, we reach out and touch the wall or the chairs; and he is an extrovert, so he’s happiest among people. But even so, we still keep a nap time for him, where he goes and plays quietly or rests in his room. Every afternoon. At first I thought it was just a thing he needed, but I’ve learned I need that time, too. Even on good days, I need rest and quiet. I look forward to it on Saturdays, I crave it.

I have a picture in my mind of my son playing in the back yard of our new house, apparently with our multiple other children, and my mind being able to rest. Even those of us who seek out action and adventure, who want to be where the music’s playing and the party’s happening—even we need deeply to come home to a place that is our own and lie down to rest without fear in our minds. We long for quietness.

A person with an unquiet mind is a person in need. People who can’t sit still, can’t put down the phone, can’t sit for more than five minutes and think their own thoughts, who are not content to spend a moment with themselves, or spend a year without dating. You have a need for rest. Seek it out, learn it in small ways, in daily habits, learn to be quiet.

And obviously the passage doesn’t condone complacency, which is the opposite extreme of what do I care about the people around me as long as I have my needs met; fiddling while Rome burns, let them eat cake, that sort of thing.

But not only do we long for quietness, but God demands it of us. He’s such a good father. In several places throughout the scriptures, quietness is demanded. Rest, sabbath. Our God expects us, even in this world without peace, he demands we rest and lie quiet. “Be still,” he says, “and know that I am God.” Be quiet, and know that peace is coming. He promises, “there is a rest that remains for those who are in Christ, Jesus.” God, our father, knows just like I do of my son, even if I don’t want to take time to be quiet, even when I feel like I have better things to do, I’m wrong. I desperately need the quiet and rest. We were created for quietness, and in God’s kingdom we will live in quietness.

The Old Testament laws were so concerned about quietness and rest, that the people were meant to rest every week, and even beyond that, every seven years they would rest from labor for the year, leave the fields fallow, free the slaves and servants and give them land to live on. God wanted even his creation to be unbothered and have time to rest.

In your life, do you live quietly, as God desires for you? Or do you live the way our society desires and glorifies? Work hard play hard, from one task to the next, one cause to the next, one job to the next, one drink to the next, nonstop, no limits, performance. But nonstop performance is what I want for my car, not for myself. Our society would rather you be a machine than a person. Your emotions and existential desires are an inconvenience to be overcome to get what you want. Coffee is for closers, “they are heroes at drinking wine.”

This world demands that you keep going—keep the party going, keep moving, keep traveling, keep working, never stop, don’t kook down, don’t ask if it’s all worth it. God desires that you would be a child, not a machine. Cry, yell, love, play, chat, delight. God demands that you rest and sit quietly—not all the time, but regularly, so you can remember that he is God and you are not. The world does not need you, and it will not fall apart without you. You can stop, take a day off, be a little worse at your job, put your phone down, go for a walk with your kid or by yourself. Do things you enjoy, make time for them. Make a little less money, disappoint your boss, and spend more time with your friends and family. Even if you have to live in the wilderness to do it, God’s rest is coming to the wilderness.

And like I said, he commands rest even in this restless world. We will fail in this world, because we are not redeemed and the world is not at peace, but God is already establishing his kingdom on earth, so we are able to participate even in his rest.

We were created for quietness, one, and two: we were created for permanence. We were created for permanence. This is different from the everlastingness we talked about several weeks ago; we were created for permanence. You can see it most clearly in 33:20, talking about Jerusalem being an immovable tabernacle in the new heaven.

Permanence makes me think of my coworker, Micah. He was marveling to me just last week how permanent his life has become, and how much good that’s done him. Three year ago, he had a couple of jobs he had happened into, was coming out of a series of relationships, didn’t really have a plan, couldn’t really figure out what he was doing. So one day he made a decision, and he came to New Orleans to see about a girl.

We helped them move last week. They are married, and they bought a house on the Westbank near her mom so she is able to help with their new baby girl. He’s graduating next year and already has a career track job lined up. His life, all of a sudden, is very permanent.

And permanence makes me think of foster care. Maybe it’s just because of the week we had, but kids need families. They need to not bounce around from house to house, they need to be in relationships they know will be lifelong. It’s a deep-set need, and if you can’t meet those needs for kids, it’s traumatic. A lack of permanence for a child causes changes in brain development and chemistry, an over-development of the fight, flight, freeze response, which eventually turns into anxiety and depression. We were created for permanence, and in the kingdom of God, we will be like trees planted by streams of water.

And I’m not saying that everyone has to go out and get a wife, house, kids, and a dog—oh, yeah, Micah has a dog now too. What I am saying is that we need permanence in our lives, because we were created for permanence. You don’t need a spouse—singleness is a gift—but you also don’t need to string relationship to relationship and never have anyone lasting or meaningful. If you’re single, you desperately need friends, family, community. Friends you can trust, friends who know you and are permanent fixtures in your life.

Marriage was created so we might participate in the redemption of relationship. We were meant to love and serve each other, to be with people permanently, to have them know us entirely and still love us. That’s why it hurts so much when we break up or lose a spouse or deep friend. It’s wrong, it’s not the way things were meant to be. In God’s kingdom, all relationships will be loving, serving, joyful, permanent.

And you don’t need to own a home to live the Christian life, or pledge to live in New Orleans for the rest of your life. But you do need to stay in some people’s lives, and allow them to stay in yours. You need a people, a community around you who won’t leave you. You need to invest in the community and seek its welfare. You need to not bounce from one place to another, one church to another, because you’re afraid of letting people really get to know you and change you. That’s unhealthy. You were created for permanence.

In v.16, Isaiah says Jerusalem will be, literally, “a quiet house, an immovable tent.” I love that image. He imagines the tabernacle—the tent of God’s dwelling place as Israel wandered in the wilderness, always moving from place to place—and he says in the kingdom come, the tabernacle is quiet and immovable. It’s pegs will never again be pulled up. It could move, but it won’t again. It’s finally found a permanent place. And the people in the city don’t even remember a time when the land wasn’t theirs and at peace.

If, in your life, you’re adrift in a sea of temporary—living from one moment to the next, please know that God is a strong tower. He is able to be the permanent thing in your life that you hold on to, but like every good father, he wants more than that for you. He wants to establish you in a place, with people, in a community, where you can put down roots and grow, like a tree planted next to a flowing stream. Like a city next to a river, v.21, not dependent on the rain or the weather to make things grow and have water to drink. We were made for permanence.

I would invite you this morning into a life of quietness and permanence. Day by day, we can learn together to live quiet lives together in this place, to invest in things and people that aren’t disposable, single serving, fake plastic, but are instead intended to last through our whole lives and beyond us, into the next life.

We read Psalm 1 in our prayer group this week, and I want to close by praying through it again now, so if you would bow with me in prayer:

[1] Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
[2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

[3] He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
[4] The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

[5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
[6] for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (ESV)