Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany
February 4, 2018
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
When I began ministry in Northeastern Colorado I received the local newspaper, The Holyoke Enterprise, and I’ve been receiving it since. A few weeks ago The Enterprise told us that Dolores Kisner died. Born in Butte, Nebraska on December 7, 1919, she died on January 17, 2018. She was almost 100 years old. The article said, “She was frail from old age.” Dolores just wore out. After almost a century of living she was worn out.
I guess that is a good way to die – you just wear out. You’ve experienced life, both the hard moments and the joyous ones, you’ve made friends, enjoyed family, felt that you did something with your time on earth, and you wear out.
I’m a little worn out too and I have a long time before I get to be 100!! You know what wears me out? The New England Patriots wear me out. Last year in the Super Bowl I was ready to take them off their throne. They were being destroyed for the first three-quarters of the game and still found a way to win. Two weeks ago I thought my jealousy and envy would finally be satisfied, but once again they came back and won. I fear that today they will wear me out once again!!
Worn out? That is what the people of God were suffering from in the great chapter of Isaiah 40. “Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded from my God.’” (Isaiah 40:27) Translation: God didn’t care and wasn’t go to do anything to help.
Worn out? People can just tire physically. When I was a kid I would never make it through a Lenten evening sermon without falling asleep. I remember falling asleep during an Elder’s meeting at Peace in Arvada, only to have the Elder’s wake me up. (And I was the pastor supposedly leading the meeting!!) Worn out. Tired.
The day after Ash Wednesday we are beginning a ministry to individuals who have Alzheimer’s and their care-givers. I understand that it is a disease that leaves both the one with the failing mind and the one trying to help them worn out. We hope to be a help.
The people who had received these words originally were overwhelmed in their body but even more so in their mind and soul. Another country had come and taken everything important to them, their temple, their safety, their families and their future. Being worn out meant being hopeless. Psalm 137, a psalm of captivity has God’s chosen lamenting, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:1, 3b,4a)
These people had tried to solve their own troubles by their own hands, by aligning themselves with other countries, by abdicating their faithfulness to God, but it didn’t work. They were worn out and hopeless and only getting weaker.
Where do you go when you are empty and worn out? Where should I go when I have nothing left? The people of Israel had two questions in all of this that had to be answered. First one: “Can God truly help us?” Second one: “Will He help us?” Those are our questions too. How strong is God, really? Does he really care about me?
“’To whom will you compare Me?’ ‘Or who is My equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift your eyes and look to the heavens; who created all these? He brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and strength not one of them is missing.” (Isaiah 40:25-26) Can He help us? Is He able? Is He capable? Yes. Our God is not weak. He is not second-string. His creation proves that He can help people who are worn out.
Between the amazing things of the moon and the sun over this last year we have spent a lot of time looking to the skies. I read a little about the sun this week. The sun, which God made, is 11,000 degrees on its surface, at the center it is a ‘toasty’ 27 million degrees. And it is sort of big, too. You can fit 1 million earths inside the sun (though they would all burn up pretty fast!!). And get this – our sun is just one average, ordinary star. The Milky Way, the huge group of stars we’re in, is just one galaxy, and it contains over 200 billion stars. And according to the Hubble Space Telescope, there are hundreds of billions of galaxies – other huge groups of stars – in the universe.
Can He help? Well if this is the same God who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name, then I think He can. Isaiah even continues, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.” (Isaiah 40:28) If you are worn out God can help.
But will He? Some times folks have the ability to help others but they don’t have the heart to do so. One of the greatest ways that we, as believers, get worn out is through our sins. Temptation to sin can be the constant battle that we fight. Our calling to live out the faith is our desire, but we also have a part in us that desires evil and wrong. It is a constant fight. We grow weary of it. And when we sin we can run from God, run from true repentance, run from our being honest about its damning effect on our life. Remember how worn out David got from his guilt in his unconfessed sin? “When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)
Will He give strength, hope and life to anyone who is weary? YES!! “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait on 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.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)
Will he grant a new strength to those who are worn out by the temptation to sin, the plague of guilt over past sins, the ongoing battle with the devil and his lies? Will he offer strength to those who battle with a mind that is overwhelmed, a body that is weakened or a life that is weary? Over and over again in this chapter the phrase, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” is given to make us confident in His might and mercy. Yes, we know. Yes, we’ve heard. Tell me again!! In Romans 8 God speaks clearly, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) In the Psalms the question is raised, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25)
Will He do such good things? Yes!! How do I know? He sent Jesus for us. Elizabeth Achtemeier, a faithful Presbyterian writes, “Remember all the way that the Lord has brought us. Remember that He loved us so much that He sent His beloved Son to die for us, and thereby to forgive us all our wrongs. Remember that He had the might to raise that Son from the dead and thus to give us eternal life. Remember how many of you have known God’s comfort in times of sorrow, how many of you have lived from God’s guidance through all the vicissitudes of your daily life.” (Emphasis, January-February 2000, Pg. 54)
What can He do? What will He do? What does He desire to do? He can do anything!! Nothing is impossible for Him. He desires to bring to us the fullness of life. When you are in His possession by the wounds of Jesus, in His full resurrection, and in the gift of your Baptismal grace, He comes to raise you up, lift you up in His promises and Spirit.
To those who are worn out, He promises soaring like an eagle, running like a young person or walking and not growing faint. Achtemeier again, “Sometimes He will so imbue us with His Spirit of power that we will feel as if we can soar up on wings like eagles. Other times we will find that we are able to run the race of life and not grow weary. But most important, in the power of our loving Lord, if we wait upon Him in faith, we will be able to walk steadily – day by day, one foot in front of the other, our steps sure, our spirits at peace, and our faces turned toward God’s goal of His good kingdom with its joyful life everlasting.” (Pg. 55)
Worn out? Sure. It happens. But God doesn’t sit by and watch us wither away. He is the Almighty God. He has sent the Savior. By His hand we are made strong. Amen!!