Unfortunately there is no recording available for this sermon.
My son Isaac and his wife, Christina, have moved into a boat – a 32 foot sailing boat named the “One Love”, where they have been living with their 3-year-old daughter Sofia and a few cats and dogs. It’s a beautiful boat, with very nice woodwork in the cabin and graceful proportions and all those things, but before they bought it, it had been neglected for a few years, and quite a bit of rot has set in to the decks and other places whose nautical names I don’t know. So Isaac has recently been busy ripping out rotten timbers bit by bit to get down to the good, solid frame that is beneath it all – Sofia asked if he was making a new door – and to restore the “One Love” to her former glory. Christina is a photographer, and she posts lots of pictures of their family and critters and the other day she posted a picture of this work in progress. It is taken from within the boat, and a great hole is torn in the wall, and the South Carolina sun is streaming in through the hole.
And that, it seems to me, is a wonderful picture of what Isaiah is doing in the passage we read this morning. Life in Israel had taken a terrible beating – from without, the threat of foreign armies, and from within, the disintegration of a society full of faithless, self-centered people more concerned with wealth and comfort than with compassion and justice – really, just your average ordinary nation. And like all the prophets, Isaiah has a lot to say in his 50 or so years of prophesying to Judah that is all about ripping out the rot.
But here, in this passage, he is pleading with the people of God to remember that their foundation is sound, and that it will not fail them. Don’t you know? He asks them. Haven’t you heard? Remember! Remember! Hang on to the solid truth you have had from the beginning. Tear out your fears and your misconceptions and your pet theories, tear it all out and let the light come streaming in, and see how strong is the foundation of your faith, how true and upright is the frame of God’s love, how solid and unbreakable are his good purposes for you. Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard?
Of course we did know, of course we heard, once, but we need to be reminded. We all need to be reminded.
First, we need to remember that God is big. Sometimes we have a tendency to fit God into our little categories, where we keep God and religion in one part of our lives, and our work and money, and our relationships, and fun stuff, all in separate categories, neatly packaged like tupperware. And what happens is that eventually we are horrified to find that our problems are bigger than our God. But don’t you know? Isaiah reminds us, Haven’t you heard? God is not in your little box; he is not contained in your Temple; he doesn’t only exist from 10 to 12 on Sunday morning, thank goodness. The God you worship sits above all creation. He looks down at the world of mankind and all its inhabitants are like little grasshoppers. He plants the rulers of the earth like seeds of corn, and he brings their kingdoms to an end with a mere breath. Look up at the sun and the moon and the stars – he knows each one by name – and not even by classification, like alpha centauri, he knows them as individuals, like he knows you, like Joe and Alice and Laura and Nancy. He holds each one in its place so that none is lost. The storms out there in the world are powerful; our problems are big. Cancer and divorce and terrorism and poverty and mental illness are huge problems. They are so much bigger than we are that it is overwhelming. But don’t you know? God is bigger, by far. Remember that.
But sometimes when we remember how big God is, it is very hard to believe that he notices us or hears our cries. After all, if we human creatures are just like grasshoppers to him, aren’t we and our problems and frailties beneath his notice? It is the natural reaction of being in the presence of someone or something so much greater than ourselves. We stand on the shore of the ocean, or on the top of a mountain, or we look down from the window of an airplane, at the immensity of what is – and we feel small and utterly insignificant. How could the God who holds the oceans in the palm of his hand care about my unemployment or the biopsy I am going to have tomorrow? How could I even think he would notice?
But Isaiah answers us. Why do you say that God doesn’t see what you are going through? How can you say he isn’t paying attention to you? Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? He doesn’t run out of steam like an overworked mother. He doesn’t get muddled and confused like a worker on a production line that’s moving too fast for him to give it his full attention. You hear it all the time in movies or TV – and you hear people saying it: “I guess God is too busy to bother about my little problems. There are so many bigger and more important things for him to worry about.” But that TV deity is just a wimpy little man-made copy of a god that is nothing like the solid reality of who God is. Our God is the everlasting God, Isaiah says, the Creator of heaven and earth. He doesn’t faint or grow weary. He doesn’t get pre-occupied. He doesn’t get confused. He doesn’t get bored with us. We have the full and undivided attention of our Father at all times. He always knows. He always cares. He always listens. He always understands.
But if it is hard to remember and trust in the bigness and the wisdom and the strength of God, I think it is even harder, sometimes much, much harder, to believe that we have any worth or potential. Sure, God is infinite and all-knowing and all-powerful, but I am just a hopeless mess. But Isaiah reminds us about the glorious grace of God toward us, because he is a God whose power is displayed in giving power to the powerless, and strength to those who have no strength left. The greatest mystery of our God is that he is a God of mercy and compassion, and unlike all human powers and authorities it is his wonderful purpose to raise up those who are bowed down. It is a great wonder that the infinite eternal God does not despise us in our weakness, but an even greater wonder is that he rejoices to raise us up and empower us. Anne Lamott wrote: “I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.” Do you not know? Have you not heard? Our God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Remember that!
But of all the rot that eats away at our faith and our hope and our joy, I think the worst is the fear of our finiteness. The passage of time weighs so heavily upon us. We live with so many regrets. We lie awake at night wishing we could go back and do things we should have done or change things we should not have done. You can read the fear between the lines in our society that worships youth and despises and mocks old age, and tucks our elderly away in safe little homes and communities where their frailty won’t remind us of our own mortality. We exercise and we take vitamins and we follow the next big diet and lifestyle plan that promises to make our youth last a little bit longer. And beneath it all, people live every day with the fear that it is too late, and they are too old, and their life and their strength and their accomplishments and their personhood are all slipping away like sand through an hourglass. But that is all rot.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Life and strength and personhood come from God, and all those who wait for him will renew their strength. Isaiah reminds us that even the young and powerful will faint and get tired out; even the young will fall down, exhausted – but those whose trust is in God have an inexhaustible well of strength. Even as the outer shell of who we are grows old and gray and achy and fades away, God is growing in us a life that is indestructible and unquenchable. We shall mount up with wings like eagles. We shall run and not be weary. We shall walk and not faint.
We are like the “One Love”, making our way through this world. The true truth of who God is, is the solid frame for our lives; it will always keep us afloat. We are assailed from without. Along with all mankind, even Jesus himself, we are battered by the hardships of the world, we are tossed on its waves, we are beaten by the winds and hail that are illness and hatred and jealousy and violence and old age and war. And we are assailed from within: sometimes by our greed and our selfishness and our pettyness, but also by the rot that sets in to our minds and hearts when we listen too much to the world and to our own fears. Our faith and our worship and our prayer life sometimes get a little soft and squishy so that we begin to feel like we have lost our faith, But really we have only lost the outer shell we build to keep our little notions in – our small ideas of who God is and how he thinks and what he cares about and what he wants from us. All those things crumble to dust in the light of God’s Word and Presence – and good riddance, too. Because when we have cleared away the dust and the light comes streaming in, then we find to our joy and restoration that the solid framework of who God really is, is as strong and unsinkable as ever.
How good it is to sing praises to our God! *
how pleasant it is to honor him with praise.
He heals the brokenhearted *
and binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars *
and calls them all by their names.
The LORD lifts up the lowly, *
but casts the wicked to the ground.
He is not impressed by the might of a horse; *
he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;
But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him, *