The fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
"Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you."
 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. Isaiah 35:4-7 (ESV)
Say to those who have and anxious heart, be strong fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God, he will come and save you. With the recompense of God He will come and save you.
That is an odd phrase. We are speaking of God, that he will come with the recompense of God. So who is coming? And what is he coming with? God is coming, and he is coming with the recompense of God. It seems that you cannot help but seeing to people here, both God, one coming with the others recompense. Recompense being a reward or payment, or compensation for that which is lost. Those who have lost sight will be given sight, those who have lost the ability to hear, will be given hearing, the lame man will leap like a deer, the tongue of the mute will sing for joy. God will make us whole. God will give us what we have lost, and we have all lost something in this battle with evil, we have been robbed.
We have been robbed of our innocence, holiness, of the complete image of God that he had created us with. We were created perfect, with eternal life, in the image of God, wanting more than the image, wanting to be God, we lost even the image. Now we live in sin. Now we live less then complete, we see it not only in our spirit, but also in our bodies. I don’t know what vision was like in the Garden. Luther hypothesized once that in the Garden we had the strength of bears, and the vision of eagles. I don’t know, but it seems common sense that we should at least be able to see twenty, twenty. We all suffer some way in our bodies for the sin that corrupts not only our soul, but our bodies, and eventual exacts its pound of flesh, or pounds, in death. So God will exact his vengeance upon our enemies, sin, death and the power of the devil. We see this prophesy fulfilled today when Jesus does all things well and heals the deaf man with a speech impediment. Jesus, God, comes with the recompense of God. Throughout his ministry he made the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the mute speak. The people could not help but to see the fulfillment of this prophesy in Jesus, and they could not help but to speak of it, even if Jesus charged them not to. The more he charged them the more they proclaimed it.
Isaiah 35 goes on to talk about the desert coming to life with the recompense of God. Not only us, but the world we live in has been effected by sin. It is not what it is supposed to be. The thought of deserts coming to life is a beautiful one.
I happen to enjoy deserts in their own way, especially in spring, when there is just enough water to allow the cactuses to bloom a little, to let the poppies push out of the ground, and cover the floor with their orange blossoms. But then the summer months come early, the flowers fade, the grass withers under the hot sun, and water is scarce. Water, it is needed for life. Nothing lives without water. So with faith, where it is brought to life, must needs be watered, born of water and the spirit, the person sanctified, made holy, in the washing of water and the word. It is no accident that the gospel comes to us in water, where we are restored to life, recompensed with the image of God, made holy. The parched desert of death in our souls springs to life. It cannot help but to live, and blossom unless it is cut off from that water in which Christ restores us to life, and makes us whole with the forgiveness of sins, where the gospel rains down on us in baptism, the preached word, and the body and blood of Jesus Christ. There we become those desert flowers, the first signs of life in the desert of death that is in this world.
Forgiveness in the name of Christ has made you whole. It has opened your mouths to speak what it has opened your ears to hear, so that you too, are not only watered with the word of God, and spring to life, but also become a spring of water, a stream of water in the desert where you now live. This is an accurate description of this congregation, of you individually, and us together as the body of Christ, who says "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' " (John 7:37-38 (ESV) Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water, the gospel, the forgiveness of sins. Out of your heart flow these streams in the desert, rivers of living water, water that not only lives but gives life. Would that more would stay and drink!
First Lutheran Tooele Utah, you are a stream of living water here in this great basin desert. I say you are. Not that you should be, but that you are. Not a mere flash flood that washes though a desert wadi leaving death and destruction in its wake, but a steady stream of living water, breaking forth in the desert. Here the thirsty ground has become a spring, the burning sand a pool, an oasis amidst the scorching sun, bringing life to this valley. I can only commend you for that. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this little oasis in the desert, and watching the flowers come to life, and blossom. It happens here. It is exciting.
It is exciting to watch the ears of the deaf be unstopped, as they here the gospel, and the mouths of the formerly mute speak of the gospel, as their souls become springs, and from their hearts flow these living waters. And every baptism, every convert is the result of the Holy Spirit flowing out of your hearts, streams of living water. So don’t disparage, don’t stop. Sin, the world, the devil our enemies would try to dam us up, and pollute the spring, sour our hearts, and turn the water bitter unsuitable to drink, incapable of giving life, cutting us off from the source of our life, the church, our congregation gathered to hear our Lord speak, and forgive our sins. Only forgiveness in Christ, forgiving each other, and being forgiven by Christ can counteract this.
This is primary; this is the primary source of our life in Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the forgiveness of your sins. If you don’t hear it, you no longer speak it. What can you say, what can you proclaim that you have not heard. The devil would have us look away from this. He would sow seeds of discouragement around the oasis. He tries this sometimes with me, and I know with you also. Sometimes it seems we just trickle along, and we would like to flow faster, cover more ground, and become a bigger pool. It becomes hard to continue, the economy slackens, and the work sometimes seems a heavy burden to bear in this hot sun. We lose sight of what is being done, lose sight of what has been accomplished, and we despair.
You know there is a trick to enjoying desert life. You have to find it. I used to hate deserts, there was nothing there. I grew up in Minnesota, where lakes were a dime a dozen, and rivers were plenty. There were tall green trees, with thick underbrush, and life everywhere. I loved being surprised by a mink fishing in the creek, the excitement of seeing a bear, or a Bald Eagle making a tree its home next to the lake cabin. Then I moved to the Mojave. It seemed pointless to even go for a walk in the desert. What was the point? There was no shade, the sun was hot, and it seemed there was nothing but mile upon mile of sand, tumble weeds, and Joshua trees. I didn’t care much for Joshua trees. O sure they were peculiar, but after seeing one, it seemed you had seen them all. But I learned to appreciate the desert. Hunting quail, made me walk in the desert, and begin to appreciate the hidden life. I found there were things to enjoy, and there was much more life than previously thought. The trick became seeing, looking in the right places, appreciating the oasis. Who knew that in the middle of this desert was a swamp, that Ducks Unlimited had made. It surrounded a lake, complete with cattails, and ducks, where desert mule deer slipped in to drink, as the coyotes chased rabbit’s almost as big as they were. And the quail, we didn’t have those funny birds in Minnesota, strutting along with their top feathers bobbing, cock sure of themselves, just out there in the open for all to see without a care in the world. They weren’t too concerned about the coyote. Maybe should have been more concerned about my 12 gauge, but then maybe they had spied me shooting before. I like hunting lots of different things, but quail hunts still get me more excited than most other hunts. I can’t wait to spy out a new corner of the desert, see a new spring, or admire the rocks painted by God, in reds, oranges and yellows, perhaps augmented with a petroglyph or two. Even this last weekend I went to the New Foundland Mountains in Utah’s West Desert with my Jeep. I was privileged to see a Big Horn Sheep. What a magnificent animal. I had never seen one in the wild before.
I suppose being in a small congregation can be like that desert. It’s easy to despair, and give up, lose sight of what there is to enjoy. It can be frustrating looking at the budget, and feeling burdened by it, and asking for what? Why continue. Plans that are made, don’t always come to fruition, or take longer than hoped to see the light of day, perhaps they are complicated by bureaucratic red tape, or a voter’s meeting. Maybe, your hopes get a little dampened as once again the church is vandalized, and the sacristy floods. Perhaps you find not everyone, and not enough are as excited as you are to make things happen, and your hopes are dampened. But then, then it is time to reorient. Appreciate the oasis for what it is. No you won’t be pulling out 15 pound walleyes as fast as you drop your line. But there is life there as long as the water is there, the gospel flowing, and it does bring life to the desert. That is for what. That is why continue. There is joy before the angels of God for one sinner who repents. So there is joy for us too. It is not a small thing that God blesses us with the joy of one sinner repenting, one flower coming to life in the midst of the desert. It is life only he can give, and he brings it to fruition where he wills. He brings it to fruition here, through you, through the rivers that flow from your hearts, rivers of living water, rivers of living water that support this congregation, making it possible that there even be an oasis of life in this desert. He uses you to bring the gospel here to this place, just as Ducks Unlimited formed that marsh in the desert. And we see the fruit, and rejoice when we hear that our sins are forgiven, and see the water bringing to life, the one sinner who repents, just as it continues to sustain us. What a blessing to thank God for, this little oasis bringing life to the desert, streams to the parched land, Jesus Christ to lost souls.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.