Reading Time: 4 mins

Old Testament: Isaiah 55:6-9 (Pentecost 17: Series A)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Since we have heard the “suffering servant” has taken all our past sins upon Himself, it becomes very clear that the Lord is the one who will “have compassion... and He will abundantly pardon."

Isaiah 55 is the summary abstract for the closing chapters of Isaiah (56-66). What is interesting is how it does not prescribe Israel’s response to Yahweh’s restoration of Zion. Instead, the work of detailing the appropriate response to this mighty work of God is left to chapters 56-66. Here in chapter 55, Isaiah uses commands and rhetorical questions to invite Israel to have faith in the future deliverance of God and to trust in the finished work of His “suffering servant.” Interestingly, verse 6 of our text might lead some to think the sinner has some role to play in salvation, but this stanza cannot be taken out of the context of the preceding servant songs, where the “suffering servant/Messiah” does everything in the act of reconciling the sinner to God. Also, verse 11 really clarifies this reality when it emphasizes the Lord has come near through the Word. The kind of seeking this text calls for is in the sense of “listening” to the Word of God. Since we have heard the “suffering servant” has taken all our past sins upon Himself, it becomes very clear that the Lord is the one who will “have compassion... and He will abundantly pardon” (verse 7).

The Reverend Francis Rossow has a great way of getting at this tension of understanding “who’s-doing-what” in salvation that might actually inform how we can preach the text:

“To our Carpe Diem problem, Isaiah offers a Carpe Deum solution; that is, for a “seize the day” philosophy Isaiah advises us to substitute a “seize the deity” mentality. Rather than “get while the getting’s good” and “strike while the iron is hot” (the materialistic mind-set we too often exercise), Isaiah urges us to “seek... the Lord while He may be found,” to “call... upon Him while He is near,” and to “return to the Lord.” The effort will pay off. God will “have mercy” on us and “abundantly pardon.”[1]
 

This proverb really helps us to get at the tension which will exist in our hearers when they hear that they are to do something about their proximity to the Lord. Pressing into this problem with a memorable saying will help them to move from discomfort to understanding as they process through the proverb in the sermon. Along the way, they will be affirmed in their biblical conviction that salvation is God’s doing, not ours. To further clarify this, as you preach you can recall the words of Jesus Himself who said: “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16). Or you can refer to the teaching from John’s first epistle which says: “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us” (1 John 4:10). Isaiah is only describing this way of approaching God from a human perspective. What is great in our text is how God is graciously available. “He is there to be found, there to be called to, and there to be returned to.”[2] Here we can take Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) to Carpe Deum (Seize God) to finally Deus Nos Carpe (God Seize us). Meaning, through the Gospel we need God to Seize Us.

Isaiah is only describing this way of approaching God from a human perspective. What is great in our text is how God is graciously available.

Using the “Proverbial Structure” will work well with our insight from Rossow:

“This sermon structure works with the prevalence of proverbs in contemporary discourse (like advertising slogans, tweets, sound bites, and others) and seeks to use that experience for the purpose of proclaiming the divine wisdom tradition. In this structure, the sermon develops a single proverb for the hearers by using it throughout the sermon as a refrain. Often this proverb arises out of the text itself. The sermon consists of offering the hearers various life situations in which this proverb is reflected upon. In each case, the hearer needs wisdom to discern the application of the proverb and the sermon offers that contemplative wisdom which discerns how the proverb applies. At one point in the sermon, the proverb is related to the proclamation of the gospel. By moving from biblical stories to contemporary situations and punctuating each situation with a statement of and reflection upon the proverb, the preacher forms hearers who enter the world remembering the proverb and seeing situations wherein it guides their daily life with godly wisdom.”[3]

In this sermon we will use an idea of the text (that technically is not a proverb) in a proverbial way (“Carpe Diem,” “Carpe Deum,” into “Deus Nos Carpe”). The strength of this structure is the prevalence of the Latin “Carpe Diem-esque” phrases as a familiar proverb in contemporary discourse. As preachers, we want to use this familiar experience of the hearers for the purpose of proclaiming the wisdom of God and to transform the way they now hear the saying out in the world.

The repeated statement of the proverb, running like a refrain throughout the sermon, develops the hearer’s memory of the proverb and the relation of the proverb to the proclamation of the Gospel. This assists the listeners in discerning how it functions in their everyday life.

            Statement of the Proverb: Seize the Day

  • Development: Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)
    • Serial Depiction: The materialistic mind-set we too often exercise.
      • Brief Example of Carpe Diem in the world.
      • Brief Example of Carpe Diem in the world.
      • Brief Example of Carpe Diem in the world.
    • Talk about the irony of our text asking us to “Carpe Diem” and what that can mean apart from how the world means it.
  • Development: Our text must mean “Carpe Deum” (Seize the Deity). Notice the change in one letter is a big difference.
    • Image: Seek the Lord while He may be found from our text is a good idea.
    • Explore the theological confession of repentance and what it means in the Bible.
    • Retell the Story of 2 Chronicles 22:17-19 and how that was good, but it still ultimately failed in light of Romans 3:11.
  • Development: “Deus Nos Carpe” - We need to have “God seize us”
    • This is really what the text means (see comments above).
    • Because of Romans 3:11, we need Matthew 18:12-14.
    • Jesus has taken hold of us on the cross and held us through to His resurrection. He is the only one who has truly “Carpe Diem,” on Good Friday and on Easter for you.

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Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Isaiah 55:6-9.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Isaiah 55:6-9.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Isaiah 55:6-9.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

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[1] Francis C. Rossow. Gospel Handles Finding New Connections: Old Testament Lessons. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. 142-143.

[2] Ibid. 143.

[3] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/dynamic/proverbial/