Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage (Isaiah 8:11-18) transports me to the big feast we’re going to be having in just a couple of hours up at my brother David’s. Our annual thanksgiving gathering brings in cousins and in-laws and friends from near and far, and the spread is enough to feed the proverbial army. Everybody has their traditional dishes to contribute: Sister-in-law Sanj brings mashed potatoes and a sweet potato dish, niece Kim brings the deviled eggs, sister-in-law Greta is the casserole queen, brother Dave does the stuffing, and I’m the garden guy, with beans and taters and corn and applesauce, you get the picture. Brother Jerry is in charge of the meats: There will be four turkeys, each cooked in a different style – oven baked, smoked, deep fried, and a combo smoked-fried. There’s always the vote for best new contribution, and I’m looking forward to sampling again last year’s winner – deep fried mac and cheese, and then there are the desserts, my chocolate bourbon pecan pie, Greta’s oatmeal pies, Kim’s fudge, with other assorted cakes and cookies.
It may sound kind of like an odd thing to be thankful for, but today I’m thankful for good teeth to eat with. It’s probably because I had some dental work done a few days ago, without which I might not be enjoying the food near as much. I’m even feeling thankful for the dentists in my life, as much as I have always dreaded going to them. Ever since my Granny told me horror stories of her dental experiences, when I was 5 or 6 and getting ready to go to the dentist for the first time, I’ve had a bad feeling about dentists. Granny convinced me not to open my mouth that first go round, which led to some less than pleasant consequences from my mom afterward, which added to the bad association with dental office visits.
I thought of the dread of dentists when I read today’s passage, too. The prophet tells the faithful not to dread what everybody else dreads; don’t be afraid that everybody is out to get you. And then comes the kicker, because, the prophet goes on, the Lord Almighty is the one you ought to be scared of; God is the one you ought to dread. God as inspirer of terror and horror, now that really is a dreadful thought. Until I think about the dentists. Maybe, God is dreadful the way the dentists are dreadful. There they are, providing a necessary and incredibly important service to humanity, enabling us to enjoy the thanksgiving turkey, encouraging self-care, and most of us are terrified of them. I think about what a great heart the dentists I know have – my cousin-in-law Deb; she has gone on mission trips to third world countries to provide dental care. My friend Osvaldo in Cuba; he’s the pastor of a church, but he studied dentistry as well because he wanted to do something tangible to ease the suffering of people in his community. These are big-hearted, compassionate people.
So, the big-hearted compassionate God Isaiah speaks of was inspiring dread because the community of faith was suffering from some spiritual cavities – empty spaces brought on by a decaying of their faith, caused by a lack of self-care in maintaining the covenant. God was needing to perform a religious root canal, replacing the decayed roots with new material. As dreadful as it may sound, I’m reminded that it often doesn’t turn out as bad I imagine. That was true of my recent visit. The dental assistant asked me what kind of music I liked, and I told her classic rock. She said they had satellite radio and she would find a station for me to listen to while the work was done. So, as my mouth was deadened and the drilling started, they cranked up the radio, and I heard a veritable greatest hits from the 8-track collection of my teen years: Curtis Lowe, Tush, Black Dog, Come Together, Gimme Shelter. I kept waiting for Comfortably Numb, but it never came on. The uncomfortable numbness lasted only a couple of hours, and I was good to go. And now I’m headed up the hill for the rewards: a foretaste of the great banquet feast of the kingdom.