Yes, We Have Known

February 8, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31

I’ve never been much impressed with grasshoppers.  I’m pretty much sure that grasshoppers are relatives of locusts, and locusts are an instrument of God’s judgment.  Locusts eat crops, locusts destroy fields of food, and locusts devastate the economy.  Locusts are never a welcome sight to anyone except perhaps John the Baptist, who symbolically reversed the destroying effects of locusts and made them his source of nourishment.  That was a pretty handy thing to do, what with all of the new stuff he was proclaiming.

And so I don’t really cotton to the idea of being compared to a grasshopper, as I am in this morning’s passage.  Not being an insectologist, I don’t know if grasshoppers are as destructive as locusts are.  For all I know, they could be as benign as butterflies.  All the same, though, I think if I’m going to be an insect, I think I’d rather be an ant.  Ants are tiny, but they’re strong and productive and industrious.

And maybe in the long run, it would have been better for Isaiah to have compared us to ants, rather than grasshoppers, because the emphasis here is on tiny and insignificant.  And that’s just exactly what we are, tiny and insignificant.  We’re really not much when we think of it.  Just microscopic little specks, crawling around on a tiny little dot, flung out into the midst of a vast and limitless universe.

And it is good for us to think of ourselves in this way once in a while because sometimes, in our proud imaginations, we can develop an awfully inflated sense of ourselves.  We can begin to wonder how in the world this planet got along without us until we made that triumphant and victorious journey down the birth canal.  Its also important to think of ourselves in this way once in a while because there is a terrible temptation for us to believe that we are the most important person that we know.  That we above all others, must come first in this world, that we are the master and lord of everything that comes into our hands, and that we are the sole determiner of our fate and our destiny.

But more important than anything else, it is essential that we understand that we are tiny and insignificant compared to God.  God is God, and we are not.  And until we can come to peace with that reality, our relationship with God will be horribly stunted and perfunctory, and we can expect no meaningful exchange with the God of all creation.
God is the one who sits above the circle of the earth, God is the one who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, God is the one who brings princes to naught and makes the rulers as the earth as nothing.  And we…are the grasshoppers, insects, tiny and insignificant.  Isaiah, being a bit rhetorical, says “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?”  Yes, Isaiah, we have heard, we have known, we just still have some trouble with it, in the same way that your original listeners had trouble with it.  We’re not always content to let God be God.  We’d like to be God a little bit ourselves, its not always easy just being a grasshopper.

And for Isaiah’s original hearers, it was especially not easy being a grasshopper.  The people of God have had a succession of really bad kings.  These have been kings who have had little or no regard for God at all.  And because these kings had little or no regard for God, they’ve made some terrible decisions on behalf of the people, they’ve paid bribes to foreign nations, and the threat of annihilation by the Assyrian Government is hanging over their heads.  The people of God are a depressed and frightened people.  They are convinced that their future holds only doom and gloom.  They feel like disaster could come at any moment.

And they don’t think that God is doing anything to help them out.  But here’s the scoop: it isn’t just the kings and the leaders of the people who are corrupt, and who’ve been paying only lip service to God, the people have been messing up too.  They’ve not been faithful.  They’ve got that old “God in the pocket” thing.  They’ve got a God of convenience that they keep handy for when they need it.  And so God has become to them a God for use only in time of emergency.  There’s no real relationship, there’s no real sense of the awesomeness and the majesty of God.  God is just something to keep handy by.  But this handy by God hasn’t been performing as expected or as demanded, and so the people have gone looking elsewhere.  They’ve been consulting mediums and witches and familiar spirits.  They’ve made the transition from light into darkness.  In thinking this over though, it probably wasn’t all that huge transition to make.  When we have a pocket God, or a magical God, or a handy by God, we really don’t have a God at all.  All we’ve got is something that we can use or appeal to when we need it, and that’s not a whole lot of difference from consulting mediums and witches and familiar spirits.  The result is pretty much the same.

But here’s the awesome news: while the people may have abandoned God, God is in no way about to abandon the people.  That’s not something that God does.  God stays faithful to us, even when we don’t stay faithful to God.  God may allow us to run ourselves into the mud and mire if that’s what we choose, but God is always there to lift us up out of it when we’ve decided that we’ve had enough of it.

Verse 25 is a transition point in this passage.  Its God’s invitation for the people to return to genuine faith.  God says, “To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal?  Says the Holy One.”  That’s kind of a silly question.  Really, everyone knows the answer to that, even the people to whom Isaiah is writing know the answer to that.  At least they can recite it, because they’ve known it from the beginning, they’ve heard it over and over again, no one compares to God, no one is God’s equal.  But for the people of God, who’ve gone astray, this is a legitimate question.  They may be able to recite the answer, but it is more than likely not true for them.  They’ve made lots of things equal to God, including their dabbling in the occult.  God has become to them second rate at best.  This is also, of course, a very difficult question for us to answer.  It’s not so hard to recite, but it requires a whole lot of introspection to answer it honestly.  There are so many things in our lives that can become our gods, so many temptations that can lead us astray, so much that snatches away our attention.  And perhaps making the recitation is a good beginning place if we need to get our lives back on track, to hear the very voice of God asking us, “To whom then, will you compare me, or who is my equal?”  And then to respond as truthfully as we can, there is no one who compares to you, O God, there is no one who is your equal.

To help God’s people get started in this direction, they are invited to look up into the heavens, into the clear night sky, and to ponder the stars.  To us, and to the people of God, the stars are numberless, they’re distant, and unimaginable.  But God has not only created them, God has also numbered and named them.  And interestingly, not one of them is missing.  The inference is obvious, isn’t it?  If the incomparable God can shape and mold and sustain the universe with such compassion and care and precision, from the very beginning, how much more will God shape and mold and sustain and have compassion and care for all of humanity?  If the stars are numbered and named, and not one is missing among them, we also are numbered and named, and not one of us is missing.  We can trust God to care for us; we can trust God to be our Savior and redeemer.

And this is especially important to hold fast to when we begin to believe that our lives are spiraling out of control.  The lives of the people of God were spiraling out of control because they’d deliberately stepped out of God’s protective realm.  They’d abandoned God, God hadn’t abandoned them.  God was ready and willing to invite them back into loving relationship.  If God can sustain the goings on of the universe, cannot God sustain the goings on of a few grasshoppers?

The rest of this passage is probably very familiar to us.  Perhaps we’ve heard it at a funeral.  It’s a powerful reminder of what we already know.  It begins in verse 28 by reminding us rhetorically that we do know this stuff.
Unlike grasshoppers, God does not grow tired or weary.  God gives to us what we do not possess; power and strength and stamina.  Even youths, who seem to have unlimited energy at times, eventually wear out and need a nap.

But those who wait for the Lord will “Renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Waiting for God is not always easy.  Another translation replaces the word “Wait” with the word “Hope.”  And hope is closely related to trust.  And trust is the assurance that God, who rules the universe with precision and grace will also act on our behalf at the right time.  And God will act on our behalf with that same precision and grace.

As we develop an attitude of trustful waiting, we will discover that the God of creation, the God of the ages will give us the strength and the courage to rise above the moment of our current distress.  Most of us have probably had the awesome privilege of watching an eagle fly.  Eagles are majestic and powerful and strong creatures.  But when eagles sour, its not so much the strength of their wings that carries them along, as it is something called thermals.  Thermals are uplifting breezes that eagles effortlessly ride.  When an eagle soars, it is at the height of its beauty.

In the same way, those who wait for the Lord, those who trust in the Lord, are lifted up and borne aloft by the strength and the power of God’s Holy Spirit.  When a child of God is soaring on the strength of God’s Spirit, that child is at the height of his or her beauty.
There’s something tucked away in verse 28 that I want to close with this morning.  At the end of verse 28 we are reminded that God’s understanding is unsearchable.  God is beyond us, and that’s a good thing.  But through Jesus Christ, God also lives within us.  And while the fullness of God’s mind and God’s being cannot be fully probed by our finite minds, in Jesus Christ we are embraced by it, and we can completely trust in it.

God has been in control of all of creation seen and unseen long before the first day was called into existence, and God will be in control long after days are no longer necessary.  God says, just go with me, just trust me.  That’s awesome news for grasshoppers.  But this we have known, and this we have heard.

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