Sermon – Pentecost 17 – September 16, 2018
Isaiah 50:4-10 ‘Relying on God’
CT: Our ability to believe in God’s goodness is threatened every day, but the LORD God is our help. “I believe; help my unbelief!” And He does.
Intro: Civil war in Syria has uprooted some 12 million people; 6 million of them flooded into Europe; only a few make their way here. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; World Relief states that 65 million people world wide are displaced from their homes. The scope of the refugee crisis leaves us feeling helpless and fearful, perhaps even wondering, “Where God is in all of this?” This scene of entire nations being torn apart by violence, leaving people to run blindly from it or be dragged unwillingly into it, is not new.
Missing God: This is where the people Isaiah first spoke to were at. Their nation was decimated by Assyria and then Babylon. Families were broken apart and those who survived were dragged away to far places, never to see their homes again; slaves to people they did not know. They prayed and railed against God saying, “The LORD God has forsaken us; my LORD has forgotten me!”
This is personal. Their losses were so great that even their faith was threatened. “I want to believe you are there God, but help my unbelief.” Perhaps you’ve been there in your own life, or know of someone who feels that way now.
Close God: Isaiah gave God’s hurting, grieving people His answer; it’s God’s answer to us as well. “Can a woman forget her nursing child that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” What a wonderful promise we have in the face of the violence, hatred, and evil in our world; in the face of the troubles that come into your lives. But in the middle of your hurt and confusion do you see God’s care—Jesus’ outstretched arms, or do we strike out thinking God to be vindictive or absent?
Isaiah told the people that their sins brought about their present predicament. It’s not about God being absent; it’s our own doing! Chris Hedges, a well seasoned news reporter said that the bad stuff we see and hear about is best explained “by the biblical teaching of sin.” This is nothing to do with a confession of Christian faith, just a fair assessment of what he’s seen over and over again. Sin is not simply something we do or fail to do; it’s an ingrained part of who we are. The middle letter of the word, ‘sin’ says it all! We can’t blame it on the devil; the reason for bad things in the world is us! Much of the pain and suffering in this world is man caused, but God is not out there inflicting injury on people for specific things they’ve done or not done; all the bad things in this world are a result of the curse of sin. Illness, tragedy, natural disasters…yes…we live in a fallen, sinful world. That is our reality!
But we have every reason for hope because of the Messiah—the Christ Isaiah spoke of in today’s reading. As Jesus said, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The worst thrown at us need not have the finality of a divorce or the permanence of a child sold into slavery to pay his father’s debts. God has stepped into the mess of our world in a definite time and place and has broken sin’s hold on us. Through Jesus Christ we have hope!
The Christ: Jesus is the answer to Isaiah 50. His words sustain the weary. He did not back away from the hard road of forgiving the sins of the world. He was struck and by His stripes we are healed. He was spit upon; his beard pulled out, and was forsaken even by His Father on the cross so we might never be. Knowing that suffering, humiliation, and the cross lay ahead; Jesus set His face like flint for Jerusalem. All of hell and the devil’s might came against God’s Christ but could not prevail because: “the LORD God helps me.” Jesus was charged with the sins of the world. Quite an indictment! Yet He bore that weight for you and your sins were declared forgiven as He rose from the dead to be your righteousness and now sits on the right hand of the Father to intercede for you. Jesus is with God and is God; He is God with us. “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of His servant?” Jesus is that servant for us. Where is God when the world or your life seems to be at its worst? He’s all over it, in it, and working through it for you. The cross is firmly planted at the centre of God’s answer; His work of saving you.
Rely on God: In our Gospel lesson both the father and the son with seizures had no place to turn; only God was left and the father admitted he needed help believing that! Sometimes God allows us to get to that place. When you’ve exhausted all your resources and there isn’t anything that anyone can do; what’s left? God is left! Prayer is there! Perhaps the disciples had become too confident in their own abilities and lost sight of their total dependency on God. No miracle happens apart from Him. Thus Jesus’ words, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Ultimately, there is only one source of hope and help. The bottom line is that all of us are open to so many and varied kinds of hurts in this world, and the only answer we have is God’s answer; His Servant. Not our worthiness or strength of faith, but Jesus’ merit alone.
Dependence: Timothy Kellar included a real life story in his book, ‘Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering’. Russ and Sue spoke openly about her fight with cancer; the diagnosis, the chemotherapy that didn’t stay the cancer at all, and the stem cell transplant that reduced her immunity to zero. Yet Russ said it was a time of closeness to God when they wrestled with the question of ‘what if God were to allow her to die’. Well Sue lived only to face a double lung transplant. She said she awoke from surgery and her first thought was, “Lord, you did it; I have more time!”
As Russ and Sue now look back on the first 10 years of their marriage they said they now realize that they should not have been striving for stability and comfort (something all of us look for) but for the total dependence on God, from whom we draw strength; for a faith that clings to God’s unrelenting promises for us in Jesus Christ.
Isaiah points us to Jesus. When we walk in darkness and have no light, “trust in the name of the LORD and rely on [your] God.” Jesus makes that real; personal; hope filled!