Monday, February 5, 2018

"We get knocked down" (But we get up again)

Communion Service
Readings: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, February 4 2018

I’ll probably watch some of the Superbowl today. It’s always a hard fought game. Some of those guys are huge! They will knock the stuffing out of each other. They get knocked down and they get up again. They’ve got muscles.

Did any of you have comics growing up with those Charles Atlas pictures of the bodybuilders... with the before and after pictures? When I was growing up my big brother used to tease me and suggest that I could be a model for the ‘Before’ person, in those body building ads. The school I went to had as it's main sport “Rugby.” Rugby was like Football without the padding. I was not created to play Rugby. I would throw the ball in and then run out of the way.

Very few of us are able to compete in sports at the professional level. We admire those who have the build and skills so to do. “The SuperBowl” is the most watched sporting event in America.

I watched a bit of the Gammy awards last Sunday. I guess it's a sign that you are getting older that you recognize only a few of the people and even fewer of the songs they sing. Good job they had a few folk like Elton John on there that I'd actually heard of, singing a song I knew!

The news reports are always full of the antics of superstars of stage and sport. We even give those folk who are really successful a special name... calling them cultural icons! One definition of “Cultural Icons” is that icons are people whose achievements or appearance reflect people’s values and aspirations. Which when you think about it is a little crazy.

It means people make heroes out of people they can never become. They view a particular body image or lifestyle as being the one to measure up to, knowing they will never measure up to it! Every society has a capacity to create their own icons, idols and gods. Particularly during times of struggle, defeat or uncertainty.

All of which in a very roundabout way this brings us to our bible reading. The people of Israel are far away from their homelands. They have had the stuffing knocked out of them. They are feeling defeated. They have been knocked down and don’t know how they can get up again.

And there’s a reason. The same sort of reason that brings people down today. They trust in false gods. They have put their hope in things that could never satisfy and it has drained them of their sense of purpose or reason for living.

Our particular temptation may not be to emulate superstars of stage and screen or heroes of the sporting world. But we all create our own personal icons. We build our own dreams. We find our own ways to cope. We write our own 'must have' and 'must do' lists.

Sometimes, the fact that they are our way of dealing with things, and not necessarily God's way of doing things, can lead us to feeling that God is distant and far removed from our lives.

"Lord, if you are in control, how come this has happened?" "Lord, what I have done that was so bad, why are you punishing me? Instead of reaching out to God, we focus in on ourselves.

Hear how the prophet Isaiah addresses the down trodden people of Israel;
"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?"
(Isaiah 40:21)

Because of the way they had been influenced by the culture around them, because they had fallen for the temptation of worshiping lesser gods, because they had become self focused, the people of Israel needed to be reminded of the awesome greatness of the One True God. It is good for ourselves to recall the same thing.

Isaiah reminds us that God is the architect of all creation, the One before whom the greatest powers of earth will have to bow down. God is the one whose judgment caused the mightiest Kings to tremble. Isaiah points to the transient nature, the frailty and uncertainty of mortal life;

"Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
Scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
When He blows upon them, and they wither,
And the tempest carries them off like stubble."
(Isaiah 40:24)

The awesome power and mystery of God is something our culture has sought to bury beneath visions of lesser idols. "Look at how strong this man is. Look at how beautiful this woman is. Look how successful this one is. You can be strong, you can be beautiful, you don't need God."

In a SuperBowl Game the players are going to tackle hard and almost every year there is some body who gets hurt and carried off the field and you are left wondering; "D'you think he's going to be O.K?"

That's life. Going along just fine. Doing what you got to do. Then .. BOOM.. there it is…in an instant, you are out of the game. Isaiah is telling us, that that is the nature of people before God. One breath, one flick of God's little finger and ... BOOM.. there it is…you're out of there. To quote again Isaiah 40:24 'The tempest carries you away like stubble' and nobody can even remember your name.

At that point I can imagine the Israelites thinking, "Well that's that then. We've messed up. God is in God's heaven and we've just got to make the best of a bad job down here. Any moment God's wrath could descend and, BOOM... there it is... we're out of here... so what's the point?"

Isaiah continues to develop his argument.
"Why do you say, "My way is hidden from the LORD,
And my right is disregarded by my God?"

He points out a big mistake we can make about God. Because God is so ... ‘out there’ and we are so... ‘down here’... we figure that God can not be remotely interested in our miserable lot on earth. We guess that we'll only get what we deserve and it's not as if what we do is going to matter much in the scheme of things any way.

"Why?" says Isaiah. "Why do you say your life is hidden from God?" Why do you think God is not great enough to deal with your problems? Why do you think God is not taking a personal interest in your life?"

He returns to his earlier words..
"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth"
But then he adds....
"God does not faint or grow weary; God's understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless."

We grow weary. We get worn down and knocked down and sometimes don't know how we are going to get up again. But God does not faint or grow weary. Our lives do not wear God out. Our problems do not make God say, "Oh no, now we're in trouble.'

We don't understand. We can't put it all together. To us it makes no sense. But God's understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint. He strengthens the powerless. Trust in the empty icons and false ideals of this world and, for sure, they will bring us down. Wait on God, and in God's time we will be lifted.

During our communion celebration this morning we will have an opportunity to recall Isaiah's words of promise;
"Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
But those 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."
(Isaiah 40:30-31)

Wait for the Lord. Allow God to renew your strength this morning. Admit that at times, yes, you have sought the wrong things and trusted in your own efforts more than what God could do for you.

May God help us to believe in the promises.
May Jesus take us by the hand and raise us up to serve Him.
May the Holy Spirit be our strength and Guide.

We get knocked down, but we get up again.

As we gather around this table let us seek for the strength that causes us to “Mount up with wings like eagles!” Let us not be content to allow all that comes our way to prevent us from seeking to make this world a better place. So often, when we are down, it is as we reach out to others that we find our focus renewed and our hope returns.

To the One God be all honor, power and glory, AMEN.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

No comments:

Post a Comment