Written by Steven Liechty
Anthony B. Robinson
"Say to the faint hearts, 'Courage! Do not be afraid . . ." - Isaiah 35:4
Despite what many assume, Christian faith is not mostly about imperatives. God is not like a hectoring parent exhorting us to eat our vegetables or to be nicer to our neighbors.
In gospel-speak, indicative precedes imperative. John had it right when he wrote, "We love because God first loved us." The indicative of God's love precedes the imperative to love others. When religion gets too heavy on imperatives, it gets, well—too heavy. That's what Jesus meant when he accused the Pharisees of piling heavy burdens on others though not bearing the same themselves.
Still, there is a time for the well-placed imperative. Here God instructs the prophet Isaiah to speak one such: "Say to the faint hearts, 'Courage! Do not be afraid . . ." That's not all Isaiah was to say. The rest of it might be summed up as, "God is faithful."
When I was a younger pastor, I was blessed to have a wise older colleague. When I would bemoan some new problem, mess or challenge, she would listen. Very seldom did she offer advice or sympathy. Quite often, however, as she departed to get on with her own work, she would say to me, "Courage," always pronouncing it as the French do, "Cou / rage," which was somehow breezy, elegant and uplifting.
Often enough, that was exactly what I needed: a cheerful, well-placed imperative. "Say to the faint hearts, 'Courage! Do not be afraid." To my discouragement, my loss of heart, she spoke a simple reminder—"Cou/ rage!"
Perhaps as you and I begin this new day, that is just the word we need to hear as well: "Courage! Do not be afraid," God is faithful. Sometimes an imperative.
When the burdens of life and the world weigh heavy on us and our hearts grow faint, breathe your loving imperative into us. Send us into this new day with fresh courage. Amen.
Anthony B. Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul's Letters to Timothy for a New Day, and he is also the author of Book of Exodus: A God is still speaking Bible Study. Read his weekly reflections on the current lectionary texts at www.anthonybrobinson.com by clicking on Weekly Reading.