God with Us...When Things are Good

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A reassurance of God as the solid foundation, the one who restores, the one who lifts us up in our sorrow and despair.

The New Revised Standard Version God’s People Are Comforted

God’s People Are Comforted

(Cp Lk 3:4–6)

40 Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.

2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that she has served her term,

that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

4 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.

5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,

and all people shall see it together,

for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out!”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

All people are grass,

their constancy is like the flower of the field.

7 The grass withers, the flower fades,

when the breath of the LORD blows upon it;

surely the people are grass.

8 The grass withers, the flower fades;

but the word of our God will stand forever.

9 Get you up to a high mountain,

O Zion, herald of good tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

10 See, the Lord GOD comes with might,

and his arm rules for him;

his reward is with him,

and his recompense before him.

11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;

he will gather the lambs in his arms,

and carry them in his bosom,

and gently lead the mother sheep.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand

and marked off the heavens with a span,

enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure,

and weighed the mountains in scales

and the hills in a balance?

13 Who has directed the spirit of the LORD,

or as his counselor has instructed him?

14 Whom did he consult for his enlightenment,

and who taught him the path of justice?

Who taught him knowledge,

and showed him the way of understanding?

15 Even the nations are like a drop from a bucket,

and are accounted as dust on the scales;

see, he takes up the isles like fine dust.

16 Lebanon would not provide fuel enough,

nor are its animals enough for a burnt offering.

17 All the nations are as nothing before him;

they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

18 To whom then will you liken God,

or what likeness compare with him?

19 An idol? —A workman casts it,

and a goldsmith overlays it with gold,

and casts for it silver chains.

20 As a gift one chooses mulberry wood

—wood that will not rot—

then seeks out a skilled artisan

to set up an image that will not topple.

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?

Has it not been told you from the beginning?

Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,

and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,

and spreads them like a tent to live in;

23 who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,

scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,

when he blows upon them, and they wither,

and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:

Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them,

calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength,

mighty in power,

not one is missing.

27 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”?

28 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.

29 He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those 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.

First, I have to say, my sermon title today is quite ironic: “God with us…when things are good.” When I first planned this week’s sermon, I saw different things in this text than I do now. It’s ironic, because, actually, things aren’t good…so the question might better be: is God with us, when things aren’t all that good.


Before we dive in, a little bit of reintroduction to this section of Isaiah. This was likely written from time of exile in Babylon, 6th Century BCE.
It is preceded by First Isaiah, warning of the coming wrath of God and the impending exile to Babylon and followed by Isaiah 56-66, the closing of the time of exile and the return of hope in Israel.
Scholars suggest that Isaiah may be written by multiple authors in the school of Isaiah, a prophetic tradition that rose up from this time of exile and return.

Sometimes, you just don’t have it.

Ok, with that out of the way, I have to confess…sometimes, I just don’t feel like I’ve got what it takes. This is one of those days, one of those weeks. Like, I realize that I have the training and background knowledge and skill to stand here and preach, but even with that, I struggle to have enough right now.
Do you have days like this? Weeks like this, years like this? I know you do.
And that’s where I’m at today.
And I wonder at these texts we hear, these promises of God with us, when we are in places like this.
Recall the reading from Mark, this morning. This follows the story we heard last week about Jesus healing the man with the unclean spirit, the miraculous work of Christ speaking healing into his life, addressing the needs of his mental health, offering healing and restoration.
So following this, we hear a word of more hopeful healings. Jesus heals his new friend Simon’s mother-in-law. More people from all around the city flock to the house where he healed her to receive healing as well. In Vs. 37, the people remark: “Everyone is searching for you!” to Jesus. Word of the healings has spread and the people are longing for the hope that Christ provides.
Sometimes, when you just don’t have it, you start looking up, looking around, and listening for somewhere that you can go to get rest and help.
I wonder at the people of the city — I bet a lot of them were hurting that day…they were hungry for hope. And when they heard of it, they came running. Running to the Holy One of God who was offering hope. I love how Jesus owns this role. We hear many times in the Gospels of Jesus being reluctant to be honored or even asking his followers to NOT share what he is up to. But here, he says “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
Jesus, we need your healing. We struggle so. And it is with gratitude that we come to you to seek that healing and hope. Thank you for this.


And now, let’s back up to the Isaiah 40 text. Imagine for a moment that you are entering into exile. Like, imagine with me that you are cut off from your regular way of life, that you are hungry for connection with the traditions of your past, imagine that the people you love are physically distant from you and you are confined to a period of exile. Imagine what that might be like!
With all the preceding warnings, the people know that this time in exile will be difficult.
And so, I again say, I feel like I don’t have it. I feel the exile. I feel the despair. And I feel such gratitude once more for the words of comfort and assurance we find from Isaiah.
“Comfort, O comfort my people.”
Speak tenderly to them.
Everything is fading, the people are like grass…the grass withers, the flower fades...
But we look to the mountain, where the voice of God is calling out.
We look up, looking for the shepherd.
God is just, directing all creation in his power and knowledge.
Haven’t we known, haven’t we seen? Haven’t we, even in the face of exile, received the assurance that the Lord is the the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not tire out, his knowledge is limitless, his power is restoring even the weakest of us (and even the strongest of us).
To us, to a people who feel the weight of exile — this is a promise: waiting on the Lord will bring a renewal of strength.
Some days, we simply need this reminder.
I always smile at the language of “have you not known, have you not heard, has it not been told you from the beginning, have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
I smile at the confidence in these words. It’s faithfulness. It’s strength.
It’s the “hey, I’ve got this” that we need to hear from God when we feel like we don’t have what it takes. It’s the reassurance that we need not have it all together, we need not expect to be perfect ourselves.
When I’m entering exile, or living in exile, I feel low, I feel empty. I need the strength of the Lord to sustain and remind me what it is the forms the foundation of all things, even the spaces of exile.
God is telling us, through the prophet Isaiah, that God is the ground of all being, the foundation beneath our feet. There are so many helpful images that help us make meaning of God’s presence. Next week, we’ll explore the swirling cloud of presence in the Transfiguration, the hyperpresent spirit of God that surrounds Jesus and reveals his purpose.
Today, we find that God is with us not as a cloud, but as a rock, as a firm ground to stand upon. Remember the solid foundation the wise builder built upon? That is this rock, this strength of the Lord.
Philosopher Paul Tillich called God the ground of being. The Celtic Christians put an ear to the ground to listen for God’s heartbeat, the steady hum of life that undergirds all things. Theologian and musician Jeremy Begbie speaks of a resonant witness, a resounding truth, the presence of God as the basso continuo, the foundation in harmonic structure that holds all things together.
When we feel like we don’t have it, when we wonder if God is with us, when we hunger for healing — these are the spaces we must return to. To the ground of being, to the steady presence and foundation that has been with us all along.
I have to also remark on this Isaiah text in how fleeting it makes all other things out to be. Nations, grass, plants, humans — all fade, all blow away as if dust. Not in some sort of nihilistic despair, but in simple reality — things do not last.
Where we might hear sadness or fear loss, what this reminds us of today is that “this too shall pass.” Or “this too shall be made right.” The sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
I feel the weakness of this frail existence today. I feel the fleeting nature of it all. And…perhaps…this is exactly where I am meant to be, where you are meant to be. Not to be overcome by the fleeting nature of things, but rather, to let it all be swept up into the hands of the one who strengthens the feeble knees, who lifts up the downtrodden.

The Eagles are coming!

I want to close by spoiling the end of an old book that I just finished reading to my son, Asher, this week: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”
The battle of the five armies is raging and the alliance of men, elves, and dwarves is losing. The good is seemingly being overcome. And then, in the distance, the little hobbit Bilbo Baggins spies hope: The great eagles of the Misty Mountains arrive and sweep through the battlefield to overtake the armies of evil goblins and wolves. Hope has come!
Tolkien’s Christian faith deeply undergirds his writing and I have to hear Isaiah in the arrival of the Eagles. The Eagles arrive at just the moment of despair, impending exile and destruction.
And so we hear once more, the reminder that those 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.
This is our assurance today, our hope, all that we have to lean upon in a world of exile and despair. Thanks be to God.
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