Sermon St Anne’s Porirua 8 Feb 2015
Rev Felicity O’Brien
Today’s reading from Isaiah paints a splendid picture of power. God is sitting above the circle of the earth – and it would be many centuries before people generally agreed that the earth was indeed a sphere – and God has power over everyone and everything on earth.
He blows on us and we wither.
This sounds a bit horrible really, as if such a big power could be cruel. But no, he calls us all by name, and not one of us is missing. Here we can see the compassion of God, that He truly knows us.
Have you ever felt that no one knew you, really knew who you were? There are times when it’s easy to feel anonymous, defined by a particular label.
That’s Felicity, the tall one with glasses. That’s Rowan, who’s got Asperger’s. That’s Fred, who’s missing a leg. You know what I mean – sometimes there is one particular characteristic that seems to be how people label us and pigeon-hole us. But inside, we know that we are so much more than that. And the sad thing is that often we don’t hear someone’s fuller story till we are listening to tributes at their funeral.
Well, God isn’t like that. God knows all about us, he knows us by name, he even knows the horrible nicknames our school mates gave us, the things that people define us by. My nickname at school was
Hard Shoes, because I have slightly dodgy feet, and at a time when everyone else was wearing Charlie Browns, my Mum insisted on putting me in Clark’s. Hard Shoes was how I was known, even though that was not really a fair and accurate summary of me.
In our reading from Isaiah God says, 7 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’?
God challenges us to revise how we think about him. It’s very tempting when things are going badly to start grumbling that God can’t see us, and doesn’t care anyway. But we are reassured that we don’t need to think that our rights are disregarded by our God. God is ever-present, ever powerful. Just reminding ourselves that he knows can make all the difference. A sense of a burden eased.
The last part of our reading is really familiar, about God’s power – He does not faint, he won’t grow weary. We sing a song based on it.
And then : Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” This is a text to cling to when you are exhausted, when you feel that life is just getting a bit much for you.
I’ve seen a sticker that shows a very frazzled-looking woman, holding a smoking toaster, saying, I used to take one day at a time, but lately several days have hit me all at once!
We can be renewed in our strength, we can wait on God, and mount up with wings like eagles!
Have you ever seen an eagle fly? They don’t work very hard when they catch the thermals. They float in the air, barely moving a wing, just making tiny adjustments. They ride the air. We too can ride the air of our lives, if we trust God to help us mount up. To help us get above the turbulence and pain. Then, with God’s power, it’s not so hard, our energy is conserved.
We shall run and not be weary, we shall walk and not faint. This sounds like the antidote to PE! I’m not very keen on exercise myself, but I think this isn’t just about physical exertion. We can run in our lives – use energy and get somewhere. With God’s power we can make the most of where we are, where we are going, what we are doing. We can go in God’s will. If we are getting weary in our Christian walk, maybe we are going against the current of what God wants for us. If it’s all too hard, like wading through porridge, maybe we need to wait on the Lord, listen to him and hear what he has for us.
That’s what waiting on the Lord means – taking time out from busyness and struggle, to listen. Do you make time to listen? Can you turn off the radio, put down the book, and listen to God? It’s a really important part of praying, – listening. Otherwise it’s just a one-sided conversation, like dictating a shopping list.
“Dear God, please help my kids today at school, and please heal Mum’s leg, and please let there be rain for the farmers. Amen. “
Hey, don’t I get a word in, says God?
Very few of us hear an audible voice of God speaking to us, so what are we listening for? We’re raising our awareness of those little nudges, those pricks of our conscience, that can guide us.
There’s a very good precedent in our Gospel reading for taking time out from our busy-busy to pray.
What did Jesus do after a full-on day ministering to the sick and demon-possessed? He got up very early, while it was still dark, and went to a deserted place to pray. He removed himself from all distractions. This may have been easier in his day than in ours, without cell-phones and computers, but it still took a determined effort. Jesus got up early. Do you ever do that? I love to get up before the kids, because then I can get myself ready mentally for the day ahead. I can cope better with the demands on me if I am prepared.
Did you notice that Jesus didn’t feel any guilt at being away from his companions? He didn’t make any excuses when they finally found him. I hope they weren’t calling “Jesus, Jesus, where are you” and interrupting his time with his father. But they probably were. When I go down to the bottom of the garden to escape my kids, I mean to pick some vegetables, I often hear a little voice Mum, Mum as Nathan looks for me.
Jesus was ready when they found him, and had a plan for the day.
“Let’s go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came to do.” He has a very clear idea of what to do next. His day is set, planned, and the reasoning is clear too. That is what I came to do. Maybe in his quiet time God spoke to him and showed him the next phase.
We can be just as clear too in our planning, if we give some time to listen to God.
Paul knew that spreading the gospel was the most important thing he had to do. He had an interesting way of coming alongside people, almost like a chameleon.
I was reading a detective novel recently where a PI commented that she always drank what her clients drank- cream and sugar in her coffee, even if her personal preference was for coke, because it made the clients at ease. It gave a point of reference, of familiarity. Paul does this too – “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win the Jews.”
He consciously makes a decision to be as like as he can to the people he is witnessing to. These people would have felt that Paul was, if not one of them, at least someone they could relate to. There needs to be some point of reference for us to open our hearts and let someone’s message in.
People of a pastoral calling do this instinctively. My late father was a GP, and took many calls on the phone at home. I was always fascinated by how his accent and way of speaking would differ from
one patient to the next. He wasn’t aware he was doing it, but he was mimicking the person on the other end of the phone. This made the anxious patient feel reassured that they were known, were understood.
If you find it hard to relate to people, to be understood, remember that God knows you inside and out, and he loves you. God knows the other person the same way. Let God’s love flow through you in such a way that you too can know and love others as God loves you. You will find yourself soaring on those eagles’ wings, because you will be going with the currents, not fighting against them.