The wealth of the nations. So that’s where that comes from: The Wealth of Nations, which Adam Smith had published in 1776 – and here in Isaiah chapter sixty-six we find the title. It is worth noting that the promise of prosperity and wealth is bound up with the exuberant and extravagant love of God for God’s beloved creatures – and, in this reading from Isaiah, images of the city of Jerusalem as a nursing mother.
Being a nursing mother is a way that is filled with deep joy as well as the whole complexity of emotions, including awareness of grief and loss along the way. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. The history that God has with these descendants of exiles is concluding in Isaiah with a promise: I will extend prosperity like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees.
Here are the extravagant abundances of God, the harvest and the labor, the both/and nature of our relationship with the Creator, and the abiding joy of the inimitable communion of parent and child. The eternal Yes of God: you are here.
And water! Don’t forget the water. It is no accident that the language from which Mr. Smith drew his title speaks of “prosperity … like a river.” Depending on the translation, in some Bibles we read this passage as “peace … like a river.”
We cannot have either harvest or labor without a source of water. Mni wiconi, water is life, as some of my friends say who are Native American. Water is life, in baptism, in growing the wheat for the table, in harvest, and in surviving to labor. Peace, like a river. Prosperity, like a river.
The portion from the psalm for today begins with a command to joy. Be joyful in God, all you lands; be joyful, all the earth…. Bless our God, you peoples; let the sound of praise be heard. We begin with the lands and the earth, making lively the soil and the water that keeps God’s earth a living thing and provides survival. Peace, like a river. Prosperity, like a river. This is the prayer for Jerusalem, the prayer of Jesus over his beloved city.
God turned the sea into dry land, so that they went through the water on foot, and there we rejoiced in God. Their history is our history. They are here. We are here. You are here. Here with the living water.
And you and I and the whole church together, we are here as well with Paul and his little communities in Galatia. At the conclusion of his letter, he recaps some of what he’s been discussing – which must not divert our hearts from this, another critical point that is key to Paul’s teachings.
Last week, we heard: For freedom Christ has set us free … to love one another. Today, hear this: You who have received the spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. ELW #396. Our hymn of the month for June. Leading to a statement that shows you and me how to love our neighbors as ourselves: Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, Galatians, chapter six, verse two. Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.
Bear one another’s burdens. What does this mean? It means to walk alongside every person who has burdens – which is you and me and everyone on this earth – and help one another bear those burdens. It does not mean that each of us has to grab and tote all the burdens. It does not mean that you and I get to look, over our own pile of burdens, at someone else and judge how they are carrying their own loads. It means to journey together, and when we can – whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. Whom we must presume to be everyone who is on a journey and seeking God – whether or not they yet know that they are hungry for God. This is how you and I can search for, and find, peace like a river. You are here. I am here. This is the prosperity, the wealth of nations. And this is, I believe, what Jesus is pointing to in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, in which the seventy others go out, then come back and report.
Hey, Jesus, check it out! When we did what you said, in your name, the demons submitted to us! Just like they submitted to you when you sent them into the pigs. That was really cool.
Can’t you almost hear Jesus sigh a little? Maybe even feel his heart crumble just a bit? That’s great. Really great. I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.
We can understand the true joy of the seventy, sent out and reporting back. Who among us has not been educated and trained and sent out to do a job – and then been able to report back, “I did what you said, and it worked!” It’s why children and grandchildren reflexively say, “Hey, look! Watch me do this!” And Jesus should be pleased, as any teacher would. Except that their enthusiasm is a little misplaced. Which is why we then get: I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.
This is really not the sermon, the time and place, specifically to walk though the Bible and Satan. In the context of what we’re hearing today, I want to say only that Satan is also Lucifer, which means “light-bearer,” just as a crucifer is a cross-bearer. Scripture records that Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus in the Gospel of John, chapter eleven. I submit to you that Jesus wept at the fall of Lucifer, who is portrayed as having loved power more than he loved the love of God.
And that might inform us why, when the seventy return with joy – Jesus responded as would any true teacher: I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
Pope Francis has described Satan as “the prince of this world,” whose work, whose daily temptations, begin “like a trickle of water.” They then grow “by infecting others and in the end [they] justify [themselves].”
Here is the living water for you and for me, here is Paul reflecting Christ, to show each of us that we must bear one another’s burdens, here is the psalm that reminds us that water is life, here is the prosperity like a river and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream. Here is the abundance of life for you and for me and for the whole church for whom we pray and labor and harvest.