One downside of relying solely on the Lectionary readings themselves is our tendency to isolate each reading from its context. It’s always wise for the preacher to read what is both before and after the passage assigned for public reading.
In this case, Isaiah 64 contains a prayer of penitence. The prophet is apologizing to God and begging for “all of us” to be restored. He’s crying out for God’s mercy.
What God promises, starting with the reading in Isaiah 65:1-9, is that some kind of judgment must occur because so many people have wandered away from him and have gone their own way. In particular, he brings an indictment against those who have pursued ritual, cultic practices, indicating they have their own idea of who god is and how he is to be served and worshipped.
God’s response, which extends through Isaiah 66, refers to the faithful disciples of Zion as those who “tremble at his word.” And to the faithful, he promises mercy and restoration.
Like so much of scripture, I believe the theme here is that mercy is freely available to ALL who are willing to receive God as he is and to serve and worship him in the way he has prescribed.
In other words,
- We’ve all gone astray.
- Some, entirely by grace, have repented and returned.
- Some form of judgment and consequence is the fate of our rebellion.
- Mercy and restoration are promised to all who repent and return.
It’s clear that we serve a God who is consistent in his character to show both justice to all who deserve it and mercy to all who will have it.