Monday, February 6, 2012

Those Who Wait for the Lord

Isaiah 40: 21-31, page 668
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?
It is God 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; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when the Lord blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare to me, or who is my equal? Says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created them?
The one who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
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”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
The Lord does not grow faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable.
The Lord gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; 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.
All of life must take on a different perspective from outer space; the earth like a blue green marble from the window of a space shuttle. From outer space all the great works of human kind take on a new perspective: the obelisks erected that the world would remember the name of the one who erected them are reduced to the size of sewing needles, skyscrapers – here on earth a testament to the genius of modern architecture - are like tooth picks; the great pyramids of Giza like a handful of Hersey’s kisses. I remember hearing that you can see the Great Wall of China from outer space, but you have to look for it.
The view from outer space sounds like God’s view according to the prophet Isaiah: “It is God who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.”
Sometimes it’s that kind of perspective that we all need to avoid giving ultimate significance to what is passing. This afternoon we’ll gather around to watch the Super Bowl, or at least watch the commercials that air during the Super Bowl, and we’ll be captivated by people who appear larger than life. Tonight a quarterback’s name is sure to be etched in the history books, one team will go home knowing that they’re champions, and the other will go home feeling as though their dreams have just slipped through their fingers.
It’s a big deal. Billions of dollars will be spent – but from the perspective of outer space – the earth’s inhabitants, even Eli Manning and Tom Brady, are like grasshoppers.
This seems like an important lesson to remember – especially for those who suffer from high-self esteem. There are those among us who are so convinced of their greatness that a little bit of perspective is in order. I heard an acceptance speech this past week from a musician, and on hearing his name called for best artist he took the microphone, not to thank his producer, his band, or even his mother. Instead he said, “I’d like to thank you for this award. I’m sure there is someone who deserves this award more than me, I just don’t know who they are.”
A little perspective is sometimes in order, and sometimes we get it.
It can be easy to think that we are all indispensible, that we can’t take a day off, that they won’t be able to get along without us, but they do.
A music director who will go un-named told me a story about himself last week. It was during his younger days of staying out later than he should on Saturday night, and one Sunday morning after a particularly long night and during a particularly long sermon, he fell asleep not to wake up until the second verse of the last hymn.
Even the choir can make it without you, though this is hard to believe at times.
Our scripture lesson asks the question: Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing?
It’s not me and it’s not you.
The world has a way of reminding us of that truth and puts life back into perspective. Maybe you’re the tallest boy in fourth grade, but then the first day of middle school comes and you find yourself in a hall full of eight grade giants – the king of the hill is back down at the bottom. Or maybe you’re sure that he’ll ask you out, you’ve been counting on it, only to find that he’s asked someone else and all the confidence you had goes up in flames. Or worse, maybe you’ve been thinking that work is what matters most, that you’re defined not by who you are but by what you do. Reports, data, meetings all trump parent teacher conferences, dinner, and soccer games – you and your job are just too important. Then suddenly one day you’re called into the boss’s office and left to pick yourself up from the floor by the words – laid off, fired, and we’re so sorry.
You don’t always need a space ship to look down on yourself in order to feel the size of a speck of dust.
But it is in times like these that you learn what strength really means.
The prophet Isaiah wrote this passage from chapter 40 to a people brought low by the realities of life. They had lost their independence, were taken out of their homeland, and were forced to live as second class under the rule of Assyrian Emperors.
Their own strength was nothing, their armies had already been soundly defeated, and their children were growing up ashamed of who they were and where they were from.
From such despair came the words of a prophet: “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”
Waiting seems like a strange word, and suggesting that someone should wait seems like strange advice, but waiting for something to come is very different from giving up.
Those who wait for the Lord expect something different to happen.
Those who wait for the Lord rely on someone other than themselves.
At the bottom; down in the pit of disappointment, despair, down in the place of broken dreams – the powerless are left hopeless, the strong will try to summon more strength, the young will try again but will fall exhausted.
But those who wait – those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
There comes a point when those who rely only on themselves stumble and fall – but those who wait on the Lord – they shall soar on wings like eagles.
Self determination gives way to trust.
Self confidence gives way to hope.
Faith in yourself gives way to faith in God.
Wait on the Lord.