The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 30 April 2023
A Sermon on Isaiah 40:25-31 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Isaiah 40:25-31 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
25 To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might
and because he is strong in power,
not one is missing.
27 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”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for 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.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
HOLY COMMUNION: STRENGTH TO THE WEARY
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Do You Know Who You Are?
She did not know who she was. Oh, she knew her parents’ names and their stories. She knew their dreams for her, which were more about them than about her. She knew the place where she had been raised and where she thought she would grow old and eventually die. So, I suppose she was like an actor to whom a script had been handed, and she had done so well with that script that she had become the character in the script handed to her. But she did not know who she was.
Do you know who you are? Are you living a script that has been handed to you? Enter stage left. When another character says his lines, you now say yours. The director of the play tells you how to walk onto the stage and where to stop to speak your line. You like the script, because you don’t have to think; the lines are already written. And you like the director, because he gives you direction, but he also gives you permission to make the character in the script your own. So, you do make it your own, trying on this or that inflection as you speak the lines, this or that facial expression, this or that pace and posture as you walk. You become the character in the script, and people applaud you for your work. You get good reviews. Oh, there are a few rotten reviews that tear at you when you are alone. But deep inside you know you are not that character and your life is not that script. But there you are day by day and night after night performing the same script, speaking the same lines, staring out into the dark. And you don’t know who you are.
So, you think maybe if you switch scripts, switch directors, change theaters, work with a new cast that you will know who you are. But wherever you go, there you are. The answer is not inside you or inside another script handed to you by another director. A different theater, another cast made up of headstrong people, a more likeable director, and even better reviews cannot tell you who you are. Hair dye, makeup, costumes, and a nicer place to lay your head won’t either.
God’s people didn’t know who they were, because they didn’t know who God is. Present tense.
Do You Know Whose You Are?
The problem with being handed a script is it takes a while to figure out you’ve been handed a script. And now what? You begin to notice the people around you are living different scripts. Maybe they seem more confident, more successful, happier, and you make comparisons. So, what if you get a copy of their script? Do you try to become them or like them? It won’t work.
Israel found food in Egypt during the time of Joseph. They moved there. They did well there until they didn’t, because they were not Egyptians. A Pharaoh arose who didn’t remember Joseph. They forgot whose they were, because they had begun to live by an Egyptian script. They became enslaved by an Egyptian script. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and raised as a prince, but he could never be Pharaoh and never be Egyptian. He ran away to his own people at 40, found a wife, had some kids, learned a new trade, learned the desert, but he still did not know who or whose he was even at eighty years old. Then, he saw a bush burning on a mountain side, and it fascinated him so much Moses went to check it out. And he not only found out who he was. He found out Whose he was: “Take off your sandals, Moses, for you are on holy ground.”
When you walked across the threshold to this room, or, when you started watching online, you didn’t merely switch theaters or travel to someplace else. No matter the time of day or night. No matter where you have been, what you have done, or what has been said or done to you, you entered into reality itself when you crossed that threshold or began to watch. This isn’t another script. I’m not an author, director, or performer. I am a fellow traveler. You’re on holy ground. Like Moses, you may have been living someone else’s script and gotten good at it. Like Moses, you may have done something terrible and run from it. Like Moses, you may have been living by other scripts for so long you’ve never learned who and Whose you are. You’re on holy ground. Here. Now. Don’t confuse the present time or place with reality. God is the only reality. This isn’t another script as if the Lutheran script or a Baptist script or a non-denominational script will make you better. Only God can teach you who and Whose you are. You’re on holy ground.
So, lay down the script you have been living. Lay down the sense that you or someone dear to you or someone close to you can tell you who or Whose you are. Right now God is calling you by name. “Take off your sandals. You’re on holy ground. Shut up. Listen.”
The problem with living in the same place all your life is the same problem as living in another place or many places all your life. You are not defined by skin color, family of origin, language, geography, biological sex, material goods, resources, feelings, or thoughts. You are not defined by the people in your life. Those things are the particulars of the life into which you were born or which you inherited or which others have imposed on you. But now you are on holy ground. God is calling you by name and saying to you, “You are mine.” Say your name. Hear: You are mine!
God has been seeking you all your life. He hasn’t been missing. He can’t be found in the stars or in a Babylonian exile. If terrible things happened to you or if you did terrible things, He wasn’t absent. The Shepherd of every time and every place sees you, knows you, knows everything. He loves you as no father or mother, no husband or wife, and no friend or fellow traveler loves you. He knows your fears, your anxieties, your insecurities, your blind spots, your ambition, yes, who you are in all of your frailty and failing. You’re on holy ground. Shut up. Listen. You are His!
Will You Be Who and Whose You Are?
Moses did not know who or Whose he was until God called him by name. God had plans for Moses when Moses was living by other scripts and could not or could hardly bear to see it. Even when Moses took off his shoes, shut up, listened, and heard who and Whose he was: Living in God’s reality was difficult. Life is difficult. So is the journey.
At the right time, God the Shepherd became human in the Virgin Mary’s womb. No one can prove that He did not. They can only disbelieve it. Jesus lived the life of total obedience to His Father that you and I cannot live. He died the innocent death as a Lamb without blemish. You and I could never say that at the end of our lives. He died for all your sins, the things you have done and left undone. On His cross, Jesus, truly God and truly human, bore all your guilt, all your shame, all your sorrows, and all that you have been and will yet be. He died for you.
This is holy ground. God’s Spirit called you here. Right now is more than an oasis and more than a burning bush. Right now is reality. The Crucified and Risen God in human flesh, Jesus, is here calling: “Forget about yourself. Forget the old scripts. Leave them behind. Come. Follow me.”
Life is difficult, and you and I get weary. Living by a script, taking direction from other travelers, living for good reviews, living for more and better stuff, living without a sense of who and Whose you are makes a person weary. The Germans say “Weltmüde.” The world is too much with us. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Shut up! Listen!
Baptism isn’t what you do for God once you’ve decided to follow Jesus. That’s another script that’s all about you. A person can decide a dozen times to follow Jesus and get baptized over and over. That script is so beguiling, because it puts you in charge. No! The Good Shepherd came seeking you. Whether you were baptized at your birth, after a few days or weeks, at twelve, or sometime later, God chose you. He called you. If you have never been baptized, He is calling you to come. He says, “Follow me.” For, in Baptism, we are joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are called by name on holy ground. We enter into reality itself. We are born from above. We repent, turn around, have a change of heart, and follow Jesus not once but every day and always. Life is difficult. The journey is difficult. Laying down our old scripts is difficult.
There is only one Church, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God in three persons, a community within Himself. Pastors are not in charge. Bishops are not in charge. Synod or congregation councils are not in charge. Lay leaders or the people who have been here longest, the ones who are loudest or wealthiest are not in charge. If you think that’s too Catholic, that’s just another old script you’ve been handed. Put it down. No more listening to the devil’s lies and old scripts.
You are on holy ground. Act like it when you walk across that threshold or watch it online (which is a very poor substitute for the real thing). Take off your sandals, which means lay down the scripts, lay down the weariness, stop talking, and listen to the only God who is calling you by name and telling you who and Whose you are. If you’ve been marked with Jesus’ cross in Baptism, you’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit, and you are God’s own child. To the baptized, to His own, the Lord Jesus says: “This is my Body. This is my Blood given and shed for you.”
Why bow the head or torso? Why bend the knee? Why lift up empty hands? Why cross yourself? Why kiss the altar or the cross? We are on holy ground. When the baptized eat and drink, we receive Jesus. That’s His promise. He is reality. He knows us and calls us by name. He knows where we have been, what we have done, what has been said and done to us, and just how Weltmüde (world-weary) we are. He says, “Give me your old life. Take my new life. Let me lift you up on eagles’ wings, and let me give you My strength for the journey. Come. Follow me, and I will bear you through every difficulty and even death itself to eternal life with my Father and the Holy Spirit. Reality! Will you lay down the old scripts and be who and Whose you are? Now?”
Life is difficult. You need Jesus. Here is Jesus where He promises to be. He says: “Follow me.”
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Holy Communion: Strength to the Weary
“Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, so that they may return into the way of righteousness: Grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion that they may resolutely reject those things that contradict the faith they profess and follow all those things that are in agreement with it; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1334).
Isaiah 40:25 “’To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?’ says the Holy One.,”
Tertullian [Early 3rd century Latin theologian in Carthage, Tunisia]: “God is one thing, and what belongs to God is another thing” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah 40-66, 19).
Isaiah 40:26 “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?”
St. Jerome [Late 4th – early 5th century translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible]: “Since so great is the power and majesty of the Creator, to which likeness do you compare God, thus failing to understand the founder from the greatness of creation? If you do not believe the words, at least believe your eyes and recognize the power of the Lord from the service all heavens and elements give him…” (19).
Isaiah 40:26 “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?”
Origen [Early 3rd century Bible scholar in Alexandria, Egypt]: “’Lift up your eyes’ occurs in many places in Scripture when the divine Word admonishes us to exalt and lift up our thoughts, to elevate the insight that lies below in a rather sickly condition, and is stooped and completely incapable of looking up…” (19).
Isaiah 40:28 “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”
St. Athanasius the Great [4th century Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt]: “If then it is not unworthy of God to exercise his providence, even down to things so small, a hair of the head and a sparrow and the grass of the field, also it was not unworthy of him to make them. For what things are the subjects of his providence, of those he is Maker through his proper Word. No, a worse absurdity lies before the people who speak this way; for they distinguish between the creatures and the framing and consider the latter the work of the Father, the creatures the work of the Son; whereas either all things must be brought to be with the Son, or if all that is originate comes to be through the Son, we must not call him one of the originated things” (20).
1. Do I grasp that all things and creatures, including me, have been created by the Father through His eternal Word, the Son of God, Jesus Christ?
2. Is the grace of God in Jesus Christ not more mysteriously wonderful than I can fathom?
DAILY PRAYERS (from Luther’s Small Catechism)
AS THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY SHOULD TEACH HIS HOUSEHOLD TO PRAY MORNING AND EVENING
Also, after eating, they shall in like manner, reverently and with folded hands say:
“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever. He gives food to every creature. He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love” Psalm 136:1, 25; 147:9-11.
Then shall be said the Lord’s Prayer and the following:
We thank You, Lord God, heavenly Father, for all Your benefits; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
1. Pray for every unbaptized child, youth, and adult that you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship with you or online at St. Matthew’s each week.
3. Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend how to set aside time for regular prayer. Keep this order for returning thanks at your table and pray after your meal in this way.
4. If you are a visitor, please consider attending the New Disciples Class next Saturday, May 6, from 9 a.m. to noon to learn more about how Lutheran Christians keep the faith. To register, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone Donna at 910-791-4582.
5. Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. Daily lectionary readings are on p.181-182 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year One, Week of 4 Easter).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”