Sermon for Sunday, February 8th ,2015 || Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B || Isaiah 40: 21-31: Psalm 147: 1-12,21c; 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23; Mark 1: 29-39 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
This past Friday it was announced that according to the results of a new scientific study, the very first stars in the entire cosmos began to shine a hundred million years later than previously thought. Scientists now say that after existence exploded into being with the Big Bang 13.9 billion years ago, it took 550 million years—rather than 440 million–for stars to begin to appear.
On Thursday last week, a team of planetary scientists in Australia released their amazing new finding that there are “hundreds of billions of Earth-like planets in our galaxy which might support life.”
And that stunning announcement came just two days after a report saying British scientists had found an 11.2 billion year old solar system (that’s twice the age of our sun) with five earth-sized planets in it that were already older than the earth is now, when the earth was just beginning to form four and a half billion years ago.
Can you even begin to get your head around that? I know I can’t.
Now listen to this announcement from our Old Testament lesson this morning: “He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. ‘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 who brings out the starry hosts one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”
Now, is it any easier to get your head around that? Because it’s certainly not for me!
This scripture reading is a metaphor, of course, the language of poetry—but the reality it points to is as astonishing as the latest scientific discoveries du jour: A God so magnificent, so enormous, that by comparison we are mere grasshoppers…a God with power so vast that He created virtually everything we see when we look heavenward and more: billions of stars and galaxies, planets and exoplanets, light years of time and space beyond our wildest imaginings. Truly, this is an awesome God!
Now, some of you, like me, are old enough to remember our country’s earliest explorations of space. I think I’ve mentioned before that ever since I was a kid watching the grainy, static-filled broadcast of Neil Armstrong walking live on the moon (on the moon for heaven’s sake!) the contemplation of outer space has been inextricably linked for me with absolute awe for the God that created it. If ever I feel out of touch with what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “the grandeur of God”, all I have to do is look up at a star-filled sky and it takes my breath away. I imagine many of you have had the same experience.
“‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ asks the Holy One.”
Like the vastness of outer space itself, if we take this divine question seriously, it, too, takes our breath away! Takes our breath away and restores our perspective to one a bit more right-sized and God-oriented: “Oh, right,” we remember with a collective gulp, “We’re not the center of the universe!”
Then this same magnificent power that is so impossible for us to get our heads around—the One we know as God– this very same magnificent, creative power speaks to us—to you and to me—personally, lovingly, and intimately, through the words of the prophet:
“Why do you complain saying, ‘My cause is disregarded by my God’? 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.”
Yet how totally natural and human it is, when God doesn’t do what we think God should do, or act like we think God should act, for us to think we’ve been forgotten, to think that God’s “disregarding our cause.”
After all, wars go on, poverty persists, diseases spread; innocents suffer, loved ones die, and good guys too often finish last. Why doesn’t God do something?
These are challenging times for our world, and for many of us personally. But this passage was written for people who were experiencing incredibly challenging times, too, who’d been taken captive by their enemies, and hauled off to foreign lands.
They, too, had fears and doubts– they struggled mightily to understand how God could’ve allowed this dreadful exile to happen to them. What about all those covenant promises God had made? Had God forgotten? Worse, was he punishing them? Worse yet, could God still be trusted?
Again, God answers through his prophet Isaiah—and He answers with a message of passionate faith and fearless hope for those He loves, both then and now:
“… 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!”
That, my friends, is a divine promise–and it is life-giving good news to hold on to! Despite age or loss or insecurity, those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength! Despite fear of the future or remorse for the past, those who hope in the Lord will soar on wings like eagles! Despite doubts, misgivings, and uncertainties, those who hope in the Lord will run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint! Because our God is an everlasting God, a God who—in the words of the psalmist, “heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.”
This is our God. This is the same God we meet in the person of Jesus Christ. The same God whose magnificent creative power made the stars, the galaxies, “the planets in their courses and this fragile earth our island home”; the same magnificent God who “brings out the starry hosts one by one, and calls them each by name;” the same magnificent God who is so vast and majestic that He is beyond anything we can imagine, and yet comes to us so personally and intimately in the bread we break and the wine we share at his table.
Put your hope in him, and he will renew your strength. Put your hope in him, and you will soar on wings like eagles. Put your hope in him, and you will run and not grow weary, you will walk and not be faint. Put your hope in him, because this is our God! Amen.