Lift Up Your Eyes and See – August 9, 2020

Lift Up Your Eyes and See

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Isaiah 40:21-31

August 9, 2020

Main Idea: God empowers us.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.

[Play audio recording of Have Ye Not Known? from The Peaceable Kingdom by Randall Thompson] – Whenever I read these words, I hear this music, music that I sang in high school at the All States Music festival.  It gets our attention, yes?  “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?” These days it is hard to hold our attention for long, there is so much stuff going on.  So many crises to pay attention to, so many distractions to while or waste away our days, we are exhausted by the shear volume of information that buffets us, and by the dire consequences of the mess we have made of the world. 

During the month of August we are exploring the world and the words of Second Isaiah, the prophet to the exiles in Babylon.  The exiles were exhausted too.  They were a defeated people, thrown into an alien society.  They believed that either their God had been defeated by Babylon or that their God had abandoned them as punishment for the sins of their parents and grandparents.  They had no hope, only despair, no vision for the future, only cynical expediency. Into this despondency of the exiles, into our exhaustion and worry, Isaiah brings words of comfort, strength and power.  Our God has power and our God empowers us.

Our text for this week continues the Heavenly Staff meeting that we explored last week.  God, and the angels, and we are all gathered together.    The text begins with an angel challenging us.   “How is it possible that you do not know this stuff!”  Has it not been told you from the beginning, from the foundation of the earth?  Wake up, pay attention!  The truth of God is here. 

Our God is beyond our comprehension, beyond the strictures of earth, beyond time and space.  To God, we are like grasshoppers; constantly eating, rather annoying, wantonly using resources and leaving very little behind.  But this is no trouble to God “who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to live in.”   Issues that seem big to us, like oppressive tyrants, are as nothing to God, who “brings princes to naught and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.” (40:23).  Mighty empires are scarcely planted before they wither and blow away as stubble.   Our big concerns are tiny compared to the grandeur of God.   God asks us, “ If you think those kings and emperors and gods of others are strong and important, which of them can compare me? (no one)  Lift up your eyes and see who has created and named the stars.  Of all the countless stars, not one is missing, not one is outside of God’s attention and care.

Then God asks us another question, “Why is it that you think I have forgotten you or put you aside?”  Why would you think that I have named all the stars but no longer know your names?  I do not forget anyone.  It is your exhaustion and grief, it is you who have forgotten who God is and how God cares.”

The angels proclaim, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”  God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is without limit.

God sees us in our exhausted state and gives us power.  The power of the creator of the universe is given to us!  Not as a prize for being awesome, not as payment for work successful completed, but out of God’s inherent character of love and grace and mercy.  Let’s ponder this for a moment.  In the workings of our society, power is something to be fought for, to be consolidated, to be used as power over others.  Each day we unconsciously calibrate who has power in every situation;  who has more power than we and who has less.  At the grocery store, we have the power to follow the arrows on the floor, those who work there don’t try and force us to comply.   If we get stopped by the police for speeding, they do have the power to make us comply with their instructions.  At school, teachers and administrators have the power to direct students’ actions.   On the playground (and on social media) bullies use their power to intimidate until others claim their power to respond.   In these ways, power is understood as control.

But this is not how God’s power works.  God has all power, ultimate power.  If God chose, we would all be puppets, working completely in sync with God’s every wish.  But instead, God chooses to freely bestow power to all of us, not just as a one time gift, but continuously, giving us more when we are in need of it.   Unlike our society where the status quo ensures that the powerful retain and gain more power, God “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.”  God is always on the side of the vulnerable and the stranger, those that our society disregards.  

Even those who seem strong to us are in need of God’s strength and power. Because the truth of the matter is that our understanding of power as control is an illusion.  It is self-defeating because the struggle to control others never ends.  At some point, those in power become old, or tired, or make a mistake, and they are overthrown by someone else.  Power as control entails an unending escalation and cycle of revolution. God’s power is completely different.  God gives power to all who look for it. “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted but those that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength” (40:30-31a).  This does not mean sitting around looking at stuff on our phone while we hope God comes down and straightens out the messes that we have made.  To wait for the LORD is to be ready, to be watchful, to lie in wait.   Those who pay attention to God shall renew their strength.  They shall see the world through God’s eyes and will be refreshed and empowered by God’s strength and love.  This love will lift them up as on eagles’ wings, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (40:31)

So, how do we receive this power from God?  How do we pay attention and be renewed?  First, and all of you have already done this by gathering for worship today, we intentionally make time for God.  We intentionally take time to pray, and read Scripture, and reflect on the blessings which God has showered on our lives.  We put down our phones and turn off the TV and we sit quietly with our God who loves us and empowers us.  We allow God to fill us with peace and purpose.

Second, to receive this power from God and be renewed, we see the power structures of the world as they really are, illusions designed to control.  Some may be necessary and useful but they are not of God.  This is not to endorse anarchy or revolution but to recognize that there is no authority on earth higher than the love and power of God.   This recognition allows us to critique the power structures around us and to imagine new and better ways of being in community that do not depend on lift some up while keeping others down.

Finally, we are empowered and renewed when we claim for ourselves the power given us by God; when we use our power to further God’s will in the world.  This can be done in myriad ways.  We can use our power to learn about and work against oppression in our communities.  This includes learning about the horrific history of racism in our nation and being an ally to people of color.   We can use our power to support ministries and programs that help the vulnerable.  We can volunteer and give financial support.  We can use our power by being involved with our local communities and voting in our local, state, and national elections.  Remember to vote in the primaries this Tuesday, Aug. 11.   We can use our power by being intentional about where and how we spend our money.  We can shop local and support those businesses that reflect our values.   We can use our power by being thoughtful about how we represent ourselves on social media.  Trolling those of opposing viewpoints does not serve God.  Putting ourselves in a panic by reading or watching media all day does not serve God.  Talking to our neighbors, running errands for those who can’t go out, being kind to those we meet, insisting on justice and welcome, these actions serve God.

In these extraordinary times it is easy to feel powerless and despairing. We are stuck at home, or fearful out and about.   But our God gives us power!  To mount up with wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint.  May we use the power given to us in life-giving ways, always resting in the love and grace and power of God. 

Please join with me in prayer.

Most powerful God, we thank you for your blessings and your unending care and sustenance.  Help us to see your power in the world and help us to claim it in order to bring about your glory.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.