Apr 14, 2019

“God Helps Me” - Isaiah 50:4-9a

“God Helps Me” - Isaiah 50:4-9a

            On Palm Sunday, five-year-old Stephanie sat on her aunt’s lap in church.  They listened to the pastor’s sermon together.  But she got kind of bored.  The minister was describing how Jesus entered some city called Jerusalem.  But then he told them what the crowds shouted that day.  "Hosanna!  Hosanna!" he cried out.  That got her attention.  She perked up, stood up, and began to sing in full voice.  "Oh, Hosanna, now don’t you cry for me!  I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee!"

            On this Palm Sunday, we also remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  But it’s easy to forget that entering Jerusalem was dangerous for Jesus.  Very dangerous.  No sane person in his situation would do it.  It put him in the spotlight.  It painted a big bulls eye on him.

            Nonetheless, Jesus goes.  Jesus goes because he believes in God.  He has faith that it is what his heavenly Father wants him to do.  And he’s sure of one thing.  He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves him.  That God empowers him.  That God is with him.  Helping him.

            Jesus isn’t the only one who knows this about God.  About God’s nature.  That God loves.  That God is truth.  That God’s Spirit empowers.  That God helps.  A prophet named Isaiah knows this as well.  Let’s take a look at how Isaiah comes to know all of these things about God.

            You see, it might come in handy for us to know what it is that both Jesus and Isaiah know.  Especially when we find ourselves experiencing difficulties and hardships.  When we feel as if the whole world is out to get us.  When it seems as if nothing is going our way.  When it feels as if we, too, are helpless.  When it feels as if we, too, are all alone. 

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            I’m reminded of a story I heard about God’s help and care.  Because that’s exactly what it is that both Jesus and Isaiah know about.  It seems that a construction crew was building a new road through a rural area.  They knocked down all of the trees that were in the way of progress.  The foreman happened to notice a tree with a nest of birds in it.  They hadn’t yet learned how to fly.  He marked the tree so that it would not be cut down.  Some time later, the foreman came back to that tree.  He got into a bucket truck and was lifted up so that he could peer into the nest.  The fledglings were gone.  They’d obviously learned how to fly.  So, he ordered the tree be cut down.  As it crashed to the ground, the nest fell clear.  And the materials the birds had used in making it were scattered all about.  One particular piece caught his eye.  He picked it up and studied at it.  It was an old Sunday school pamphlet.  He smiled as he read what was on that scrap of paper.  “God cares for you.  God helps you.”  Yes, God was there for those tiny, little birds.  Helping them.

            But how easy it is to forget those words.  How easy it is even for God’s people to forget.  Yes, even God’s chosen people forget.  Especially during troubling times.  And let’s face it, those chosen ones have been going through some very troubling times.  They’ve been defeated.    Their promised land has been taken, and they’ve been carried off as captives.  And horror of horrors, their precious temple’s been bulldozed to the ground.  No wonder their spirits and their hopes are crushed.

            In one fell swoop, they’ve lost everything that is near and dear to them.  They’ve lost everything they hold close to their hearts.  Their homes, their families, their land, their jobs, and even their faith in God. 

            They languish in exile.  They begin to think that God has forgotten them.  They suffer greatly as they feel that even God has abandoned them.  They are miserable.  Life is terribly, terribly hard.  They can’t see God anywhere.  Can’t see God doing anything.  To most of them, it seems as if God has packed up his bags and left them to fend for themselves.

            But God knows their situation.  God has not forgotten.  God has not abandoned them.  God has not left them to their own devices.  God still loves them and desires that they be set free to return to their promised land.  To return to Jerusalem.  And a prophet named Isaiah knows all of this.  That’s because he’s heard from God.  That’s because he’s been given a message directly from God.  God’s put it in his ears.

So God sends this prophet to deliver the good news.  That God is still God.  That God can still be trusted.  That God can still be counted on.  That God’s word is good.  That help is on the way.  But Isaiah soon discovers that this is a hard sell.  He soon encounters a lot of resistance.  Even a lot of hostility.  The people are just not ready to hear this good news.  They simply can’t let themselves believe it.

            But that doesn’t stop Isaiah from delivering that Good news.  After all, that’s the very reason God sends him.  Sends him to comfort those who are suffering.  Sends him to give hope to those who are weary.  As Isaiah looks around, his heart aches for God’s people.  For all they’ve been through.  For all they’ve endured.  And he reminds them that he is one of them.  That life has been no bed of roses for him either. 

Here’s how he puts it.  “Life has indeed been hard.  But you are not the only ones who have suffered.  You’re not the only ones who have been miserable.  For bringing this news, I have been struck and kicked.  I’ve been scratched.  Had my beard pulled out.  Yet, because it is God who sends me, I will keep on.  And I will neither retaliate nor retreat.”

            He gives God all of the credit for this.  “It’s the Lord GOD who helps me.  Therefore, I’ve not been disgraced.  I’ve set my face like flint.  I’ve stood strong, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.  The one who vindicates me is near.  Yes, God is right here.  Right by my side.  So, I have nothing to fear.  God is with me.  Yes, God is with all of us.” 

            And all these years later, God is still near to us as well.  Because God is not finished with us.  God is far from finished with our world.

            A story is told about Henry Morrison.  He was a great missionary who ministered in Africa for more than forty years.  After all that time abroad, he was on his way back to the United States.  While riding on the boat, these thoughts went through his mind.  “Will anyone remember us?  Will anyone be there to meet us when we get back?”

            When the ship pulled into New York harbor, he looked to see if anyone had come to welcome them back.  He could hardly believe his eyes.  A gigantic welcoming party was there.  Thousands of people were cheering.  Bands were playing.  Signs and banners saying, “Welcome home,” were scattered throughout the crowd.

But unknown to Henry and his wife, President Teddy Roosevelt was also on board that same ship.  He’d been in Africa on a hunting trip.  So, the big welcoming party was not for them.  It was for Teddy.

            But at first, Henry thought all of this was for them.  He was overwhelmed with the welcome.  So he hurried to retrieve their luggage.  But when he got back to the deck, he discovered the crowds had disappeared.  It was then he finally realized the celebration wasn’t for them.  It was all for a hunter returning from a safari.

            Henry went to his hotel with a heavy heart.  As he sat on the edge of the bed, he complained.  “Honey, I just don’t get it.  For forty years we poured our lives into ministry and service.  And when we finally come back to America, not a single soul comes to welcome us home!”

His wife came and sat down next to him.  She put her hand on his shoulder and comforted him with words that he would never forget.  “Henry, you’ve forgotten something terribly important.  We’re not home yet.  God isn’t finished yet!  God isn’t finished with this old world yet!”

            So, Isaiah’s message to us and for us boils down to this.  The world can be a cruel place.  Life can be hard.  It can be down right brutal at times.  That’s because the powers of this world often hate God’s truth.

            Our first instinct might be to retaliate.  To strike back.  To give as good as we’ve gotten.  Our second instinct might be to run away.  To bury our heads in the sand.  But Jesus and Isaiah show us that we’re not to do that either.  No, we’re to take the higher ground.  To show the world another way.  A better way.  God’s way.  God’s way of love.

            As we all know, the world desperately needs some good news.  Truly, the world thirsts for good news.  That’s why God sends Isaiah.  That’s why God sends Jesus.  To comfort those who suffer.  To give hope to those who are weary.  And that good news is this.  God lives.  God is still here.  Yes, God is with us.  Right by our sides.  Doing the things that God does best.  Loving us.  Caring for us.  Looking out for us.  Giving us the strength to carry on.  Helping us.  Empowering us.  Encouraging us.

            And despite all of the risks and all of the challenges, Jesus still rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  And despite all of the risks and all of the challenges, Jesus still tries to enter our hearts on this Palm Sunday.  Still knocks at the door of our hearts because he still wants to comfort the suffering and to give hope to the weary.  Yes, he still comes to show us what God’s love looks like.  A love so great that it will go to whatever means necessary to reach us.  A love so great that it cannot nor will not be stopped.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.