Updated: Jul 18
“WHO YA' GONNA CALL?”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
July 16, 2023
Isaiah 43: 1-13 NRSV
1 But now thus says the Lord, the One who created you, O Jacob, the One who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
8 Bring forth the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears! 9 Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble. Who among them declared this, and foretold to us the former things? Let them bring their witnesses to justify them, and let them hear and say, “It is true.” 10 You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am the One. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. 11 I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior. 12 I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are my witnesses, says the Lord. 13 I am God, and also henceforth I am the One; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it?
Yes, you know that movie and that song came to mind when you read that message title, didn’t it? Who ya’ gonna’ call? Ghostbusters! Right? Of course. I confess I have not seen any of the sequels or remakes. But Ray Parker, jr.’s iconic theme song is probably the most memorable thing about the movie for me.
The Scripture this morning answers the question of who to call when there is trouble. Unless it is “Zuul” a demigod that was a servant of “Gozer the Gozerian,” let’s just say you have a better bet turning to a real God. THE real God. The words of the prophet Isaiah remind us who this real God is, and what this real God does for us. One of the interesting things about this passage is that it reminds us of the relationship the prophets had with the people of God. Often the prophets were the deliverers of bad news. They warned the people and the leaders – kings and High Priests and those in power - that their unjust and unfaithful behavior threatened their future. They warned that oppressing the poor, enslaving the immigrants had consequences. Judges and courts that gave favored decisions to the rich and powerful would result in the downfall of the nation and the suffering of the people. In fact, chapter 42 right before this is just such a litany of Israel’s sins and injustices, condemned by God.
But very often, the prophets, especially Isaiah, also reminded the people how much God loved them. Often at the most difficult times in their lives, such as when they were still in exile in foreign countries and suffering, the prophet would speak words of hope and of God’s unfailing promise to redeem them and return them to their land, and their nation. This is one of those passages.
Isaiah tells them and us God is our Creator. God formed the people into the nation Israel. This Creator God redeemed them. In this setting that was a legal term meaning God paid a ransom to free them from slavery. God called them by name – indeed God gave them the name Israel and revealed God’s own name to them.
God promises that when they pass through the waters or the rivers or have to walk through fire they will not be destroyed. God is a saving God. God even swears God has given nations as a payment for the people of Israel. And God promises to gather the exiled people of Israel and bring them home.
Isaiah proclaims there is no other god who can deliver on these promises. Through the prophet Isaiah this God proclaims they are the only one. God’s work is certain, no one can hinder it. It is THIS God that Israel knows and should call on, not the false gods the people around them worship.
Let’s get real and discuss an something that this passage may raise for us. This congregation, better than many, know that God’s promises do not prevent tragedy, death, or even the destruction of the roof of “God’s house,” the church. We decided at our meeting t this month to “self-insure” our building. We remembered that Hurricane Irma had come and torn the roof off of it and left this church with a debt it took years to repay. So, we must be careful not to take God’s words literally as a “get-out-of-jail-free” card. It is not that. You paid the price for that if you were here when that destruction came upon this church. And I assume you didn’t believe it was “God’s judgment.” I believe God’s presence gave this congregation the faith to rebuild. You didn’t quit. You didn’t give up. You were faithful and you rebuilt.
I prefer to understand the prophets words to reveal the natural consequences of unjust and unfaithful actions. This is the same problem I have with those who would suggest that God “controls” everything that happens and then they try to explain away the death of innocent children, the abuse of innocent spouses, the deaths of innocent people from natural disasters. These and similar evils seem to deny that God is loving. So, I cannot believe these words are “inerrant” or “literal.” I believe God has given us free will, we often abuse it, but God does not control us or our fates. I believe God constantly responds to us with redemption. The reality is stuff happens not because God controls events or us. But God promises to restore, redeem, renew and be with us in doing these things.
I can trust that when others speak about “God’s plan” I know it is not one of controlling behaviors or punishing innocent people for anyone’s good. I can trust that God plays the long game, knowing that the natural consequences of evil and injustice result in its own self-destruction or even better, transformation and renewal. I can believe that God does indeed “work” for this transformation and that no one can “hinder it” from being fulfilled.
At the same time, I don’t want to deny miracles happen. These promises from Isaiah, on behalf of the One God, can seem, well, harder to believe in than Ghostbusters. We can find ourselves in situations that take, well, let’s call them what they would have to be: miracles. It would take a miracle to cure that cancer. It would take a miracle to repair that relationship. It would take a miracle for political conspiracy believers to stop claiming 2020 was a stolen election. Here’s the thing. The Bible is full of miracles. It is full of stuff that proves God works and no one can hinder it.
We sometimes question this miracle business. Well, ok, maybe some of us don’t bother questioning because we just don’t believe in them. Others of us allow the possibility but we don’t push the idea. Several years ago Rev. Christina Villa wrote a short piece that pointed out how sometimes super-surprising things take place [ what we might call “miracles” ] with very little comment. She points out that Mark tells us that the disciples were out in a boat in a storm and “When Jesus saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea.” Jesus “came walking to them on the sea.” And that’s all Mark says about it. Here’s this crazy, amazing miracle, “walking on water,” and Mark just reports it like it was nothing special. No comments on it, no further shouting about it, just “Jesus came to them walking across the water.”
She says, “This does often seem to be the way longed-for good news or desperately-needed help arrives in our lives. Without fanfare or advance notice, often after you’ve stopped waiting and wishing for it—there it simply is, like your lost dog sitting on the back steps. The job offer from an interview last year. The college acceptance letter amid a pile of rejections. The positive pregnancy test after years of infertility. You can’t believe it, you thank God, you look twice to make sure it’s really true. So when you’re straining at the oars against an adverse wind, remember that at any moment you might look up and see salvation walking toward you, even if that seems as impossible as walking on water.
I guess its kind of like “Coral Isles Church had its roof torn off by a powerful Hurricane and they rebuilt it.” You guys are miracle workers. Did you ever think about that? Of course, I know your faith had a LOT to do with it. You believed in a God who could not be hindered, who could not be defeated. You believed in a God who says “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior… and you are my witnesses.” Those of you who came after all this, like me, should ask these folks about their faith because they were witnesses… no they were the instruments of a miracle. A little church with less than a hundred souls rebuilt their church building. And I believe God was right there working through you, with you, and in you.
We’ve survived a world-wide pandemic. We lost some folks to it and to other forces that have taken them from being among us in worship. Will we believe that God is out of the miracle business? Will we decide to call on Ghostbusters or some other false gods? Or will we call on the one who says, “I am God, and also henceforth I am THE ONE; … I work and who can hinder it?”
Who ya’ gonna’ call? I don’t know about you but I’m calling on that God that Isaiah knows, that this church knows, that Carl and Stan and Susan and Jim and Tracy and some of you others know. I’m gonna call on God to rebuild. I’m gonna call on God to make the future. I’m gonna call on you all and on God and those of you who have come to be part of this family of God to make Coral Isles a continuing faithful witness to the One True God. I’m talking about the God who said “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers and they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Coral Isles, your Savior.” That’s the God I am gonna call! AMEN.