Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 40:27-30
Israel, why then do you complain that the Lord doesn't know your troubles or care if you suffer injustice? Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world. He never grows tired or weary. No one understands his thoughts. He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.

Rising on wings like eagles

A former police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department tells how the Department would demonstrate to rookie officers the value of the bullet-proof vests theyíd been issued. The vests were placed on mannequins and then officers would fire round after round into the vests. The rookies were asked to check to see if any of the rounds had penetrated the vests.
Invariably the vests would pass the test with flying colors. Vernon would turn to the rookie officers and ask, "So who wants to wear a vest and let us test how it works on you?

How many of you would put on those vests and allow marksmen to take a shot at you? I donít blame you. You could cover my entire body with that armour Ė and Iíd still hesitate to put it on and let them shoot at me.

Because itís one thing to "say" I have faith
Itís quite another to actually act on that faith.

You see, there are many things in this world that can threaten our feeling of safety and security. The plans, goals and the things that we desire in life can too often be threatened by powers beyond our own strength.
We might lose our jobs,
our financial security,
our friendships,
our loved ones
our sense of well-being because of health problems,
or our feeling of peace and calm because of outside pressures and threats beyond our control (eg terrorism, or natural disasters).
At times like these itís easy to panic. Itís easy to take our eyes off Godís faithfulness and begin to look around for other forms of power and security.

But throughout Scripture Godís message has always been to his people:
"Trust me."
"Put your faith in my promises."
"Rely on me."

Isaiah says just this to God's people, "Israel, why then do you complain that the Lord doesn't know your troubles or care if you suffer injustice?

Let me set the scene.

Judah was a very small kingdom surrounded by larger and more powerful nations. One of them was the powerful kingdom of Babylon. It had a fearsome army and a reputation of destroying any nation in their pathÖ and Judah was smack dab in Babylonís way as it extended its borders.
The people of Judah felt vulnerable, weak and threatened. It was difficult to ignore the dangers that surrounded them.
They saw that they needed every advantage against such a formidable enemy and so they sought to strengthen themselves by praying to the gods of neighbouring nations and making alliances with these pagan nations.

Why would they do this?
This was Judah. They were people of God. Why on earth would they turn their back on God and seek out other sources of power?
Now, I admit that itís easy to sympathize with these people.
They lived in a very real world filled with very real dangers.
They were afraid.
They needed help from wherever they could get it.
They were fully aware of how ruthless and destructive the Babylonians could be.
They couldnít ignore the dangers that surrounded them.

I donít think it is any different for us. There are times when our happiness and inner peace are threatened.

May be you are feeling unsettled because no one shares your vision of what the church should be doing.
It could be that you may feel as if there is nothing left in your marriage.
Or perhaps there is no joy left in your work.
Maybe you feel down hearted about the path your children are taking.
Itís easy to become depressed about the havoc that sin causes in our lives. You are upset about what you have said and done. You are despondent about the same old temptation that you fall into again and again.
Whatever it is that is unsettling you, itís good to remember that God has had plenty of experience with people who are fearful, discouraged and upset.

Remember Elijah and how depressed and discouraged he became and all he wanted to do was to die.
Or what about Moses when he had to deal with people who were so ungrateful and always rebelling against God. He must have wanted to throw his hands up in disgust and walk out on them when it all got a bit too much.
Think about the disciples of Jesus out on a lake in a wild storm. Even though Jesus was there in the boat sleeping peacefully, they were convinced that the wind and the waves would overwhelm them and they would all drown. They even believed that Jesus didnít care what happened to them. They woke him saying, "Donít you care that we are about to die?"

You know thatís the same question that God's people asked in the Old Testament Ė "Lord, our enemies are surrounding us, donít you care that we are about to be crushed by this Babylonian giant?"

And the answer that the prophet gives is one that is worth reading again and again when it seems that our troubles are more than we can bear.
ĎO Israel, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles?
How can you say God refuses to hear your case?
Have you never heard or understood?
Don't you know that the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth?
He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak.
Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up.
But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength.
They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faintí
(Isaiah 40:27-31 NLT).

If nothing else how about memorising this one sentence, ĎThose who wait in the Lord will find new strengthí or if you like ĎThose who trust in the Lord will have their strength renewedí.

You see the problem with the people of Judah was that they thought God had abandoned them or was too weak or far too removed to be bothered with their problems. And so Isaiah gives the people a reality check.

"Whatís wrong with you guys?
Donít you know? Havenít you heard? Hasnít anyone told you that God can do anything? If he can create the universe, if he is able to not only make the stars but also knows how many there are and does a daily check on them even though there are millions upon millions of them. Because God's power is so great and he loves and cares for his creation, it follows then that his love for you and his concern for you in the middle of all your problems is unquestionable. We need only look at the cross and we can see just how much God loves us Ė there he died for us, unworthy though we are, and there on the cross he gave us forgiveness for our sin and hope for the future.

One of the great movies of all time was the 1959 epic Ben Hur. One of the movieís most riveting scenes where Charlton Heston (Ben Hur) defeated his arch enemy in an extremely realistic chariot race. The scene required 5 weeks of filming, 15,000 extras, and 18 chariots.
To add to the spirit of authenticity Charlton Heston actually learned to drive the chariots heíd be using in the race. But after weeks of practice, Heston was worried about the shoot. He confided in the stunt coordinator: "I can drive the chariot, but Iím not sure I can win."
The stunt man smiled and replied: "Chuck, you just make sure you stay in the chariot, and Iíll make sure you win the race."

You see, Heston had made the mistake of thinking that he actually had to win the race by his own power and skill.
He had forgotten that the outcome had already been decided.
It was in the script
He couldnít lose!

And really thatís what God is trying to get us to see in Isaiah 40. With God on our side, we canít lose. The script has already been written Ė written in the blood of Jesus, you might say, the blood that reminds us that we are God's special and chosen people and that he will never give up on us. We might be scared out of our wits by events that threaten our safety. We might be disappointed in ourselves or the way the church is going. We might grow weary, tired, disheartened and exhausted. We might even be tempted to give up.

But we have a God who never gets tired of caring for us and loving us. Even when we think that he isnít close to us and in fact, find it heard to feel that closeness Ė his promise is as certain as ever.

Letís read it together.
Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th February, 2006

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