Isaiah 40:21-31 † Psalm 147 † 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 † Mark 1:29-39
A video version can be found here.
I need this word today. I need a reminder that this life, this faith, this God is so much bigger than I can imagine and even hope for.
Over the years as I monitor the ebb and flow of my own faith, I’ve noted that moments in which it feels—to me, at least—that we are coming out of crisis into something that seems heavier with possibility, my own emotional well-being seems to move in the opposite direction. I struggle more. Doubt more.
I wonder how it works for you.
So I need this good word today. I need Isaiah’s rhetorical flourish:
21Have 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?
Isaiah just piles it on, inundates us with reminders of what should be obvious to any of us who have paid much attention, who have taken the time to stop and pray as Jesus does in the midst of the swirl of activity and demand.
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;
Isaiah just keeps piling on. God is incomparable. God is a saving God that no malicious power can match:
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.
Don’t you get it? Well, sometimes—I hate to admit it—I don’t.
Perhaps you do too.
And Isaiah piles on. The poet does not relent, knowing I suspect, the tendency we have to forget.
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.
Not one is missing? But there are so many missing, it seems to me. We know so many who have been overlooked in our history. This season, this pandemic has forced this recognition upon us. And the poet anticipates this too:
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”?
Well, because it is—if not for us, for many. And yet, still Isaiah persists.
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.
Can we really hope for something new, something better given what we’ve seen? Isaiah knows none are immune from doubt and despair. Knowing that none of us are safe from the dark night of the soul, this portion finishes less with a flourish than quiet, insistent assurance:
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.
I believe in the church. Or put another way, I believe in God because of the church. I believe in God, not because the church and we who are its members are perfect. Far from it! But the church and you exist as a locus of corporate memory of who we are together. And Isaiah’s strong voice here is an example of this.
The prophet speaks from another time of patterns we know all too well—of the ebb and flow of faith and justice. Does the arc of the universe bend toward this justice? On my better days I believe this to be true. On those other days, at my best I turn to this corporate memory that looks beyond my short view of time to a hope that exists beyond my own lived experience.
And so the insult that is added to our injury is that we are not able to gather together in the humming brilliance of a faith expressed in the company of others. It is harder, I admit, when I can’t see you, touch you, hear you sing your faith and express your vulnerable hope in the breaking and sharing of bread, in confession, in expressions of peace and blessing.
And yet, you are here. We are here. And Isaiah’s relentless hope is echoed in the psalmist’s praise, and in Paul’s generous malleability, and in Jesus’ faithful touch that always, always heals, that lifts the lowly up, that enables you and I to fly like eagles, run and not be weary, or, at least, walk and not faint as we look for that day when hope and history rhyme.
And that, for now, we pray is enough.
Thanks be to God.
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