“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” This phrase is attributed to a 19th century journalist named Finley Peter Dunne, but I first heard the words in a preaching class in seminary. It was suggested that this is what our preaching would be if we would be true to the Gospel. With the opening word of Isaiah 40, that phrase came to mind. With this chapter, we hear a shift in Isaiah’s message. The people are afflicted. The unimaginable has happened to the people of Judah. Jerusalem now destroyed and the Jews taken away as slaves. Comfort. Comfort, says the LORD.
When I am feeling comfortable, the message of scripture always seems to mess with my comfort zone. And, when I am feeling afflicted, I hear the message of comfort that God has not left me alone. All around the world today, there are people who are comfortable and there are people who are afflicted. The same God is available to all through his Word.
With the words of Psalm 34, Peter reminds us: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Then, and perhaps only then, you will be ready to meet a challenging and often hostile world. Then, and perhaps only then, will you be prepared to reply to anyone who asks you to explain the hope that is in you.
It’s not that I have this faith all figured out. I keep trying, today as every day, to be available and to be prepared – comforted or afflicted, may the One who is in me be greater than the one who is in this world.
Today’s readings: Isaiah 40-42; 1 Peter 3