Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jubilate

Easter 4
                                                                                                            Isa 40:24-31

            You may have noticed that Michael, our youngest son, has a lot of energy.  He is extremely enthusiastic about everything.  He wants to go, go, go.  He loves sports and for a couple of years now whenever a sporting event is on – especially football – he takes part in the action by taking his ball, passing it to himself, and running back and forth providing commentary on what he is doing.  And we have found that this translates into the real world when he actually plays sports.  This year Michael’s pre-K soccer team only lost one game, and it’s really not much of an exaggeration to say that Michael scored every goal. The score in yesterday’s game was: Michael 8, the other team 0.  He’s fast and just has a feel for it as he plays with aggressive abandon.
            Now that’s not to say that Michael doesn’t stay in one place and focus on things.  He’ll stay in one place for long periods of time as he plays with his miniature football helmets and Hot Wheels cars.  But even then, he’s actively focused on doing something as he plays with the items and narrates out loud what is happening.
            As many of you know, Monday is my day off.  It is also “daddy day” as Michael calls it – a day that he stays home from Pre-K and we spend the day together.  On Monday this past week, as we always do, in the mid-morning we went out to get a slurpee.  When we got home, Michael went and sat down on the couch.  The next thing I knew, he was lying down on the couch.  Soon he had pulled a blanket over himself.  I asked him what he was doing and Michael said, “I’m tired.”
            I didn’t really think that much of it as I took care of some jobs around the house.  When I returned back downstairs I found that Michael was still lying on the couch with the blanket on him.  And at that point I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. Something’s not right here.”  I asked him why he still lying down and Michael replied, “Daddy, I am just so tired.”  And at that point I went up and felt him and immediately could tell that he had a fever.  He was tired and lying down because he was sick.
            In our text today, Isaiah says, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted.”  Living in a fallen world with all of its challenges does wear us out – even five year old boys who are normally full of energy.  Yet in our text, the prophet provides the assurance that God gives renewal and strength because he is the One who has both desire and the ability to save.
            In our text this morning from Isaiah chapter 40, Isaiah writing in the eighth century B.C. speaks about an event that hadn’t even occurred yet.  He speaks to people who have been taken into exile.  This would not happen until the sixth century B.C. when God would use the Babylonians as the instruments of his judgment.  They would conquer the southern kingdom of Judah, destroy the temple in Jerusalem and take the majority of the people into exile.  Isaiah looks more than a hundred years down the road and offers comfort to the people who will be in exile.
            Isaiah writes, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’?”  The people of God would languish in exile for some seventy years.  Some people would be born in exile and know nothing else for almost their entire life. The doubt – the complaint – that could be raised was, “Why doesn’t God see our trouble?  Why isn’t God treating us in a way that is right; in a way that reflects his desire to bless his people?”
            Of course, there is a great irony in their complaint.  After all, they were in exile as a result of their own actions. When Israel entered into the promised land Yahweh told the people that they needed to be faithful to him.  He warned that the nations in and around the promised land were a threat. They were a threat to lead the people of Israel away from the true God and into idolatry.  Israel was not to intermarry with them and was to have nothing to do with their false gods.
            But the people of Israel ignored this.  They embraced paganism, and even brought false god’s into the temple in Jerusalem. Oh, they continued to go through the motions of worshipping Yahweh, but as he said: “this people draws near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”  Indeed, God had acted justly.  In the destruction of the temple and in exile from the land they had received exactly what they deserved.
            And doesn’t that often describe us?  How often are the troubles in our life a result of our own sin?  We act in selfish and thoughtless ways … and guess what, it produces strife and hardship in the relationships of our life. We speak angry and cutting words, and it produces an even greater and more negative reaction against us. We look around at the world and all the good stuff that is out there and covet it.  And so we take those nice people at credit card companies up on their offer to help us buy, buy, buy.  Of course we find out that this leaves us with debt, debt, debt that creates tension and stress in our marriage.
            At the same time, we also experience the results produced by sin in the Fall.  We experience a world where many things are no longer “very good.”  We live in a world where evil actions hurt people such as we saw in the Boston bombing.  We live in a world where people get hurt and die through no fault of their own such as occurred in the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas.  We live a world where people get sick; where they have pain; where they get tired and worn out.
            In our text, the people in exile feel like God is not paying attention to them; like he is not acting as the saving God he has declared himself to be.  But the good news Isaiah announces is that God is going to act. Isaiah begins this new section of the book with words that we heard during Advent.  He writes: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’”
            Isaiah announces that God is going to act.  He is going to bring the people back from exile.  This is an action that is going to reveal his saving glory.  As Isaiah writes earlier in this chapter, “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
            God did act.  In 538 B.C. the Persian king Cyrus, after he had defeated the Babylonians, issued a decree that the people of Judah could return home.  God brought them back to the land of Israel.
            Now this action in the sixth century B.C. was a big one since it involved guiding the events of the superpowers of the near eastern world. And in our text Yahweh declares that he has the power to do it.  He says, “To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”
God points out that he is the Creator sustainer of all things including the stars of the heavens.
            And yet we learned during Advent that this action in the sixth century B.C. pointed forward to something even bigger – even more amazing. The ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s words took place in the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the Word, the Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us.  In him the glory of God was revealed in the world.  By his death on the cross he has won forgiveness of sins for us.  By his death he has reconciled us to God the Holy One. 
            And now during this season of Easter we are celebrating that God again did something even bigger than the return from exile. On Easter in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God defeated death.  He began the resurrection of the Last Day – the resurrection that we will share in when Christ returns in glory.
            Now I just mentioned Christ’s return on the Last Day.  We know that we are still waiting for that. And actually, this text involves a lot of waiting.  There was a wait for the return from exile. There was a wait for the Son of God to enter into the world in the flesh to suffer and die.  There was the wait while the body of Jesus was in the tomb for three days.  It would be easy to get discouraged when faced with this kind of waiting.
            Yet Isaiah says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.”  God is the everlasting God.  He is the One whose understanding is unsearchable.  He never tires. Bottom line: he is God and you are not.  So let God be God.  Let him determine the timetable.
            What you are to do is trust him; to have faith in him; to wait for him.  We hear in our text, “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
            Isaiah says that God is the One who gives power to the faint.  In fact the Hebrew indicates he is the One who continues to do this. The God who came to us in his incarnate Son to work forgiveness continues to come to us through his Means of Grace.  He continues to give us strength through the good news found in his Word.  He continues to give us strength through the connection that we have received with Christ’s death and resurrection in Holy Baptism.  And continues to give us strength through the Sacrament of the Altar as he comes to us in his body and blood.
God gives us strength while we wait so that we can love and support others who are faint and weary.  In fact as those who are in Christ we become the means by which God supports the faint and weary who are around us in our lives.
            We wait in the knowledge – in the confidence – that God does sustain us and that he will renew our strength.  He does it as we live in this world and he brings us through challenges and trials.  He brings us out on the other side, strengthened in our trust towards him because we have gone though the testing.  And he will do it with finality on the Last Day.  For all of the strengthening; all of the renewing that he does now points forward to the final renewal that he will work when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day and gives us a share in his resurrection.  As Isaiah says at the end of our text, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

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