Keeps Going and Going

Scripture:  Isaiah 40:21-31

I really like history.  In fact, before being called into ministry my plan and my undergraduate degree was to be a history teacher.  My favorite parts of studying history have always been the who, what, and especially why questions.  My least favorite part of studying history are the when questions.  I have never been great at just memorizing dates, and I always found timeline assignments tedious.  I realize it is important to know when things happen in relation to each other, and we have to give focus to this because in general this not something any of us are particularly good at.  Our perception of time is often not the greatest.  For instance, were you aware that the great pyramids in Egypt were built while wooly mammoths still roamed parts of North America?  Speaking of the pyramids, Cleopatra ruled in Egypt closer to the time NASA was founded than when the pyramids were constructed.   We do not always have the best sense of when things happened in relation to one another.  For instance, George Washington died twenty five years before the first dinosaur fossil was identified, which means the first president of the United States had no idea that dinosaurs even existed.  To really mess with our minds, the oldest living person today is 116 years old.  This means her birthday is closer in time to the end of George Washington’s presidency than Joe Biden’s presidency.

Perhaps one of the reasons why we often find ourselves surprised by timelines is because our perception of time tends to be subjective.  Time passes for us all the same, yet it does not always feel like it.  At times an hour can feel like it passes in minutes, yet a single moment can stretch out.  The days and the even the months can feel long and sometimes never ending, but looking back the years always seem so short.  Time can crawl and yet it seems more often than not time flies.  Perhaps the only universal constant to how we experience time is that we seem to always be running out of it and there is never quite enough time.  It is fair to say that as humans, we have a complicated relationship with time.  This morning’s scripture taps into exploring that relationship.   Even though we are separated by thousands of years of time since Isaiah was first written down, it seems that our relationship with how we experience time has not changed all that much.  This morning’s scripture is fascinating reflection on time and God, how we relate to both, and how an infinite, eternal God relates to the people God created throughout all time.

The book of Isaiah can sometimes be a daunting one to read.   In part this is because of its length.  At 66 chapters, Isaiah has a lot to say.  It can also be hard to read because Isaiah is not one book, at least not in the way that we think of it.  Today it is possible to get anthology collections of well-known authors.  These anthologies contain their best works, but they might also contain fragments of incomplete works, biographical details, or anecdotes about the author.  This is very much the kind of book that Isaiah is.  It is a compilation, and likely has more than one author.  This is easily seen because Isaiah jumps back and forth between prophetic writings and narrative sections.  Some of these narrative sections are in first person, while others are in third person.  Biblical scholars are also in agreement that Isaiah is at least two different works that have been put together, kind of like a volume 1 and a volume 2 being in one collected omnibus publication.  Biblical scholars often refer to this division as 1 and 2 Isaiah.  The major reason for this divide is because the focus of the two sections is different.  1 Isaiah seems to be largely addressing a time before the fall of Jerusalem and the Jewish exile to Babylon, while 2 Isaiah seems to be addressed to the Israelites in exile.  By the reckoning of most biblical scholars 2 Isaiah begins with chapter 40, so our reading this morning comes from the very beginning of the section addressed to a people in exile.

Given their situation, this section of Isaiah begins with God speaking words of comfort to the people through the prophet.   This morning’s scripture comes from the end of that section, and in this morning’s scripture there are reminders of who God is.  This morning’s scripture follows the same pattern that many of the Psalms follow.  First, it praises the majesty of God.  It reminds the exiled Israelites just who God is.   Even though things seem bleak and hopeless for the Israelites, this scripture reminds them that even the mighty Babylonian Empire is little more than chaff on the wind compared to God.   The span of generational empires to God is little more than a passing season.  This scripture is a reminder that there is nothing in all of creation that can compare to God.  Verse 26 states that it is by God’s hand that every star is placed in the sky, and not only are they placed there but God knows them all by name because God is the maker of them all.   Even today a starry night is impressive, but can you imagine what it must have looked like every night before modern light pollution dimmed the skies.  Under ideal conditions, depending on one’s location in the world it is possible to see more than 4,000 stars in the sky.  To know that God is the one who has filled the night sky with such dazzling brilliance indicates the grand majesty of God.

After proclaiming God’s majesty and power, the next part of the Psalm pattern is stressing the goodness of God, which this morning’s scripture begins in verse 26.  The last verses of this morning’s scripture point out that not only is God the mighty creator of all things, but God’s strength is eternal.  It does not tire it does not falter.  Most encouraging this morning’s scripture ends that this mighty Creator with a strength that last is also kind and willing to share that power as verse 31 proclaims, “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Throughout the entire reading of this morning’s scripture, I am struck by just how many of the phrases deal with time.  There is a lot of emphasis on the eternal and everlasting nature of God.  I imagine this is the reminder that the Israelites needed, because the complaints that they had were very much focused in their present circumstances.  They had experienced the loss of their homeland, the collapse of their culture, and they had been completely ungrounded from their tradition.

While none of us have had the experienced the existential angst that the Israelites would have been going through, we have had our own feelings that are similar.  Perhaps you have experienced a time of uncertainty and waiting.  Perhaps you have been in the waiting room, anxiously staring at the door for someone to come out and tell everything is going to book.   Perhaps you have experienced waiting for the test results to come back to see if it was nothing or something serious.  Perhaps you have experienced the nervousness that comes for waiting for a phone call that could be a big letdown or life changing.  At least once in our lives most of us have experienced this time of waiting, full of uncertainty, where our thoughts cannot help but obsess about what might happen next.  It is during those times especially, that time feels like it is going to crawl.  It is during those times that it seems our present circumstances are never going to change, and that a new day may not break at all.   It is during those times that we need to be reminded that God is bigger than whatever we are facing, and in the perpetual light of an eternal, everlasting God our struggle is but a moment, a blink of eye, in time.

That is not to say that our struggles are any less real, any less scary, and any less hard to face.   This is where the Israelites, to whom this scripture would have been addressed to, were at.  They had felt like they had lost everything, and there is next to no indication they would ever get any of it back.   The grief of loss and the uncertainty of tomorrow must have been overwhelming to these now-exiled Israelites.   Given the enormity of what they were feeling, I think the words of God spoken through the prophet reveal a lot about who God is.   Because, God easily could have said “I told you so”.   For literal generations he had sent prophets to the chosen people pleading with them to give up idolatry and turn back to God.  God could have said “this is what you deserve.” Often these prophets warned that if they did not turn away from sin and back to God then there would be the very consequences they were now experiencing.  God easily could have said those things. Perhaps it would have even been just for God to go that route, some would applaud it as tough love even.  Yet, that is not what God does.

As we often see in the bible, God leads with mercy.  God seeks to comfort those who are afflicted.   God reminds them that even though when they had turned away from God, God was still there for them.  God reminds them that even when their life runs its course, God will still sit enthroned above the earth, and God reminds them that even in the midst of their uncertainty and anxiousness those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow wear, and they will walk and not faint.  The God who is the creator of all things, still cares about them- each and every one of them- and will be there for them throughout it all.

The New Testament contains a similar testimony.  We find in Hebrews 13:8 that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  In this morning’s scripture we read of the love of God that would not give up on a stubborn and idolatrous people but instead sought to comfort them in the midst of their suffering.   It is that same love of God that was fully displayed by Jesus on the cross, and it is the very same love of God that we can count on to always be there for us in our lives each and every day.   The love of God is everlasting.  It will burn longer and brighter than every single star in the sky.  The love of God keeps going and going and going-Yesterday, today, and forever.

This was the reminder that the original audience of this morning’s scripture needed to hear, and perhaps for some of us today it is still the reminder that we need.  Perhaps you are currently going through a time in life that is full of anxiety.   Perhaps your stress level is redlining right now because you are facing more uncertainty about the future then you can handle right now.   Perhaps it is hard for you to imagine a better tomorrow.  If that is you, then this scripture should be one of hope.  It does not magically cure all that you are going through or experiencing, but it reminds all of us that we do not have to face that hardships of life alone.  It reminds that us that God is eternal and that God is there for us forever.  It reminds us that the love of God keeps going and going and going and going.

So no matter what you are going through, may you find strength in the truth that you are not alone.   May you find comfort in the reality that God is bigger than all of our problems and God promises to never let us go, never run out on us, and be there for us always.  So may you turn to God, may you trust God and may you rely on God, and may you hope in God.  IN doing so may you find the LORD renews your strength so that it feels like you are soaring on the wings of eagles.  May you run headlong into the challenges of life and not grow weary.  May you walk with confidence through the storms of life and be faint.  Because God, the creator of all things is with you, may you find the strength to keep going and going and going.

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