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Sunday Sermon

Following the Call Series: Not in Our Own Strength
Isaiah 40:21-31

Do you not know?    Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
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.
He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing
No sooner are they planted,    no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;   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.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but 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.

Today we are finishing up a sermon series on answering the call of God on our lives. We have looked at some great call stories-  God calling Samuel by name in the middle of the night; Jonah who got swallowed by a whale, but then got a second chance; Elijah being taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot and passing on the mantle of leadership to Elisha; and Joshua stepping up to fill the shoes of his predecessor Moses and all the responsibility that comes with leading Israel. These calls are exciting; they are easy to say yes to in the moment. It is relatively easy to rise to the occasion and say yes to God in the beginning, but what about those times when the new paint wears off- where you find yourself struggling to put one foot in front of another? Does God give us strength to continue walking when the path gets hard?

There will be times when we are following the call of God on our lives when we grow weary and just want to sit down and quit. Our passage today speaks exactly to that circumstance. We are all bound by the fact that we are human and finite. It says, “even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted” and then it makes us a promise, ”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.”

And the reason Isaiah can say this is because of the nature of who God is.  God does not grow tired or weary. God is not finite, but eternal- he can see all of time and our passage says, compared to him, we are like grasshoppers. The wind blows us- one day we are here, the next we are not- but God stands forever.

“To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” “The Encyclopedia Britannica calls this earth a vanishing planet with its 2,600 mile circumference. If you could harness a beam of light and ride 186,000 miles a second, it would take you 100,000 years just to get across the Milky Way. If you started at the beginning of our recorded history, traveling with the speed of light, you would not even be 1/10th of the way across our galaxy. Yet we are one of a cluster of twenty such galaxies in one corner of the universe where astronomers have lost count of the millions of galaxies,” all of which God calls by name.

And that God who measured the heavens with the span of his hand is the one who is available to us when we call. So what are we so afraid of when it comes to following the call of God? If that is the power that we have available to us why are we so afraid to let him lead our lives, or afraid to share him with others? Why do we think that God is not big enough to solve the problems of the world or to work in all the lives of the people that we pray for? Why are we so afraid to speak truth to power when our passage says that God is the one who “brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 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.” What are they compared to Almighty God, of whom nothing stands in his way.

And this is not just some grandiose display, but power for a purpose, his purpose. A few chapters later it says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” There is limitless strength available when it comes to doing the work of God, because it is not ultimately our work.

And what saps our strength and makes us weary more than anything else is when we try to make it our work. Our work becomes hard when we start making it about us- when we’re afraid of what people think of us, or we only work for accolades, or a good reputation. If we do not let God be our strength then we are in danger of making ourselves the center of our ministry. For instance, we cannot effectively listen to and pray for others when we are focused on our own problems. If we are constantly worried about how we will sound, or look when we proclaim the joy of the good news to others then we will fail to have that spark of the love of God in our eyes that draws others to Christ. We have to trust that God is working and that his strength will work in and with our weaknesses.

God enables us to mount up on wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint, but that strength is not given for us alone. It is also given for others who are weak. For the single mother working 3 jobs, the high school drop-out, the drug addict, the person who just lost their beloved spouse, the person struggling with cancer, or the scars of divorce. For those struggling with family problems, work problems, emotional problems. In all these things God does not grow weary, but chooses to use his people to hold out the hope of the good news- that the God who is able to weigh the mountains and count the stars is the same God who is all-sufficient for any human problem.

We serve a Mighty God who makes the impossible possible. And we do not need to be discouraged in our work because we go not in our own strength, but in God’s. Even when we cannot see the results of our work, we trust that God is working where we have been called.

And God works best through us when we let him. We limit the power of the all-sufficient God when we try to do it on our own terms. So the secret to doing good work with God, to being effective, is to be weak. Unfortunately, most of us are so prideful that we only ask for God’s strength after we’ve already tried to do everything our own way. And yet here we find another one of those great reversals of the gospel- the meek shall inherit the earth, the crucified are resurrected, the weak are strong because they are strong in God’s strength; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; the world is turned upside down when God is at work. As best as I can tell, this is why Presbyterians make such a big deal out of the fact that we are depraved; because then we have to rely on the mercy and strength of Almighty God. We should rejoice with Paul in our weakness; for when we are weak, then we are strong.

When we are weighed down by our own problems, we may not be able to soar on wings like eagles, but with the help of God, we can certainly walk and not be faint. After Peter Ueberroth was in charge of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, someone asked what was the defining moment in the Olympics for him. They expected him to relate a story of a great athlete with sinewy muscles and years of training. But Peter Ueberroth said that the most defining moment for him came in the torch relay across the United States. People from all walks of life are selected to carry the torch and every town sees it as a major event.

According to Ueberroth, the torch went through a small, windswept village in the western part of the United States. It was almost a ghost town with just a few stores for the local farmers and ranchers. This was the biggest thing that had ever happened in that town. The citizens wanted to find a way to choose the most representative person, so they decided that all the names of the townspeople would be placed in a hat, the mayor would draw a name, and that person would carry the torch. The mayor drew the name of a little girl, Amy, who had been physically challenged all her life. She could walk but not very well. She could take only a step or two before she would have to sit down. Her family had done everything possible for her, but she was confined to a wheelchair most of the time. For all practical purposes, Amy could never walk more than just a step or two. The selection committee didn't know what to do. They couldn't bear to tell Amy that she couldn't carry the torch. That would crush her. So the word in town was just to ignore the event. Maybe they had made too big a deal out of it, anyway.

So the great day came and the mayor was there with just a few people. Amy, dressed in white shorts and t-shirt, was there with her family. National television cameras were there, but only a few townspeople were present. Amy was handed the torch. She got out of her chair and took one step. Everybody gasped. Then she took another step. Another gasp. Another step, then another, and another. It took about thirty seconds before the national news commentators realized what was happening. The tone of their voices and their enthusiasm for Amy went through the national television media and the people of the village at home, watching their television sets, realized that heroic history was being made in their little town. They came from their homes, ranches, and farms and almost instantly the street was lined with people who had come to see Amy carry the torch. Little Amy, with both hands on the torch, took it one step at a time. The people started chanting, "Amy, Amy," with each step until a crescendo went up in the village, "A--my, A--my, A--my," one step at a time until she stepped across the line and handed over the torch.

One foot in front of another, and God will give us the strength; one step at a time, and we too will walk and not be faint.

~Pastor Lindsay