Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Lift Up Your Eyes on High and See -- A Homily

From this morning in chapel...one of the difficulties for me in putting this together was the fact that seminary guidelines constrain us to five to seven minutes. We have a pretty short morning service--20-30 min. each weekday morning--and this is sort of a short sermonette (I call it "spiritual breakfast") that is given by second- and third-year seminarians at the conclusion to accompany the reading.

They say it's harder to write a short sermon than a longer sermon, and I'd agree; I tend to want to tackle the entire passage (a rookie mistake, I'm told). So this is what I pulled out for the seminary community (from whence I pulled it I'll leave y'all to deduce) from Isaiah 40:18-31.

Your critiques, suggestions, and snide remarks are, of course, welcome.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?

Today’s reading marks a shift in Isaiah. Up to this point, Isaiah has been predicting the coming judgment of Judah; our reading today is the first of Isaiah’s prophecies to come after Jerusalem has been conquered and the Jewish people have been scattered violently from their homeland. Their lives are in complete chaos, and nothing around them is familiar or secure. But, out of this chaos comes a new message: Comfort, comfort ye my people. Isaiah is told to lift up the eyes of the bruised people of God and dares them to trust again, even in their most painful moment, when everything is out of control.

Now, this can seem like an impossible order, because Israel was convinced that “my way is hidden from the LORD, and my justice is disregarded by God.” And this is certainly something that, to one degree or another, we can all relate to. Whenever we encounter a crisis or confusion, when things are uncertain, when we have no idea where to go from here, it’s easy to wonder if God really has a hand in it all.

A dear friend of mine who was grieving the sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one gave me a glimpse of this when she said, “I need to know that God’s will really does govern all. I’m not mad at God, and I know I can’t understand the reasons, but I need to know that He has them and that He is in control. Otherwise, He’s just not worth believing in.”

And certainly we as seminarians are not immune to this wondering if having faith will ultimately be “worth it.” We may not have experienced a great tragedy, but often our experience can be one disappointment, one struggle after another. We understand what it means to uproot our lives, to journey here for two or three years (maybe more), to take what looks like a very impractical step of faith, and (in our case) to decide to live lives that quite often defy all manner of stability or common sense. And in spite of our best laid plans—perhaps we’ll take these courses while at seminary, maybe we’ll do this for a while after graduation—often we’re left with realities that are so different than what we worked so hard to make them, and we can find ourselves seriously doubting our Lord’s guiding presence when it seems like He’s left us “twisting in the wind,” and the idols we’ve made of our expectations come crashing down around us.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?

Isaiah’s prophecy here is, yes, a reminder of the things we try to make for ourselves and in which we often trust, but it’s also a call for us to lift up our eyes to see the work of the One who has sustained us and brought us this far and who will continue to remember and sustain us as His children.

When Isaiah tells the Israelites to lift up their eyes to the stars, they not only remember that He is the One who made the stars, but also the One who made them, the children of Abraham, as numerous as those same stars, just like He said He would, and that, surely--surely!--He has not forgotten them as they wait, confused, even in the whirling dust of exile.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?

We are those stars, as well; we are children of Abraham, and we are called to look up in our waiting, as well. Yet we are not waiting merely for the One Who put the stars in their places and Who calls them—and us—all by name; we are waiting for the One who ascended to the heavens and who will come again for us. St. Paul echoes Isaiah for us in his letter to the Colossians: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

Our task, when we become consumed with the affairs of this world, is to remember that our true stability comes from another one. When the temptation comes to become attached to this plan or that vision we have for our lives, we are then called to remember God, to lift up our minds, even in times of uncertainty, and remember that our ways are not hidden from the Lord, even though they may be hidden from us right now.

As we go through the remainder of this Lenten journey together, we struggle with diet, with thoughts, and with these unexpected concerns of life; regardless of where you are, remember to lift up your eyes and see the Creator and Sustainer of the stars of heaven, who comes to us soon as our Bright and Morning Star, the risen Lord who is mindful of us, and who will keep us, even as He keeps the stars. Amen.

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