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Sunday Sermon

Expect the Unexpected
Isaiah 45:1-7

“This is what the Lord says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut:
I will go before you
and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.

~

Every church, in the history of churches, thinks of itself as a friendly church. I have yet to meet a church member who does not think that their church is the most friendly church on the planet and if only people would step foot inside their doors then they would see how friendly everyone is, fall in love with the church, and never want to leave. The problem is, when you place a few key people into some churches as visitors, such as a drug addict or a homeless people, most churches quickly realize where they draw the line between acceptable visitors and unacceptable, between future members of their church and those they feel justified in looking down on. What happens when a 16 a year old walks into the church pregnant? How is she treated?

When those types of people darken the doors of a church they often find themselves treated as outcasts. They may receive a friendly handshake, but rarely is any deeper connection ever offered because those in the church have a tendency to pre-judge those who are not already a part of our tribe. Those who have bonded together in times of blessings and in times when they have had to rely on each others’ faith have developed a certain way of being together and that certain way of being together becomes the norm and that norm becomes a standard by which all others are judged. They have come to expect God to only be working in a certain way and through certain people, never thinking for a moment that maybe one of those people who walked through their doors is exactly who God wants to use them to teach us something.

I’m thankful Heights Presbyterian is not most churches. Somewhere along the way, we picked up this notion that because God is in the church, we need to be suspicious of all activity and all those who are outside the church. But thankfully for us, God is not in the habit of merely meeting our expectations. In fact, God often goes does a complete 180 and goes in the opposite direction of what we would expect. That is what is happening in our passage today. The Israelites have been taken captive and carried off to Babylon. And as they are suffering, lamenting their circumstances and praying to return to their beloved Jerusalem, God sends them a savior. But God doesn’t send them just any savior- he doesn’t send them a prophet or raise up a leader from among the people to lead them out like Moses did from Egypt- he sends them someone who defies their expectations.

He sends King Cyrus, a Persian, to rescue them. Cyrus does not even worship the God of Israel and yet he is sent to save Israel- to overthrow their captors and allow them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. This prophecy would have been appalling to the Israelites. The opening verse is translated literally “thus says the Lord to his Messiah, to Cyrus.” Messiah was a title that is reserved only for Israelite kings. That is why they failed to recognize Jesus as their Savior, because they were expecting a king- someone to take David’s place on the throne and rule Israel. Saul, David, Solomon, Cyrus…. you can see why it might have left a bad taste in their mouths. And not only does God call him a Messiah, but he anoints him, takes his right hand and leads him out into battle so that nations bow before him without even putting up a fight. In our text today God says to Cyrus, “I will go before you and level the mountains, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron...so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.”

God bursts onto the scene and acts in a most unexpected manner. And that, it seems to be, is what God does best. The world is wrapped in sin and lost in deep darkness and who does God send to save the world? Not a king, but God wraps himself in Jesus in our flesh- in our blood and guts, bone and marrow, disease-ridden, unglorified and painful bodies and saves us from ourselves. God appears to Moses, in a burning bush. God blesses Jacob, in a dream. When Elijah was in need of strength, God set him on a mountaintop and told him to wait for the Lord. And scripture says “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.” Neither was God in the earthquake that followed or the fire that followed the earthquake, but God speaks to Elijah in the great silence on the mountaintop.

God shows up in the most unexpected ways. And sometimes, God chooses the most unlikely people to do his will. Pharaoh’s daughter was the one that rescued Moses. The prostitute Rahab helped the spies and all Israel enter the Promised Land. The apostle Paul who authored several books in the New Testament used to persecute the church. King Cyrus, the Persian, rescues the Israelites from exile.

God reserves the right to show up when we are not looking for him. And isn’t that how most of our great spiritual insights occur- they happen when we are not looking for them. Moses was simply tending his sheep when he came across the burning bush. Jacob was sleeping. I know people who have great spiritual insights in the shower or while watching the sunset or washing dishes. Calvin, the founder of our denomination, had one while looking at a blade of grass. Julian of Norwich had one while looking at a hazelnut in her hands. The littlest things in this world are full of possibilities for the inbreaking of God, if we will only let it happen. Do you believe that God can show up like that for you when you come to worship on Sunday? Have you dared to believe that God works like that?

God often shows up in the most unlikely people and places, and if we’re not looking we could miss it. Can you imagine what our faith would be like today if none of those extraordinary leaders answered that outlandish call- leave your country and go to the land I will show you, build an ark, lead my people into the Promise land, leave your nets and follow me and I will make you fishers of men, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.” Our faith would not exist as we know it today. It would look very different if our forefathers had not paid attention to all the different mediums that God was using to communicate his will.

The best way we can avoid missing out on these surprising revelations of God is to develop an attentiveness and reverence for the world around us- God could be working here, and in this person. A blade of grass and a hazelnut can only be vehicles for faith if we take the time to look at them and invite God into our looking. More often than not, these surprising revelations and conduits for God come through creation. Jesus even directed our attention to the sparrows and the lilies of the field while teaching. Sometimes God works through people, even those we don’t like, to remind us of who God is, and to remind us of who we are, even if they have to step on our toes to do it. The message for us today when we are looking for God, is a lot like the slogan Houston adopted back in the 90s, that in all things, we should expect the unexpected. Because that is where God often shows up, in the unexpected things in life.

As Christians, we have been told that God is at work in the church. This is true- God is at work in the church which he loves so dearly, but God is also at work in the world which he created and in the people which he created. And as the Creator, God reserves the right to continue in his work of creation. It is his prerogative to reveal something new to us; or to use someone who we don’t think is worthy to teach us something new. And, God reserves the right to work in people’s lives even when they don’t want anything to do with him.

Truth be told, sometimes God moves most profoundly in our lives when we are not expecting it. Those times when we act like Cyrus- when we think we are the greatest thing in the world and want nothing to do with God then he comes to us and says- I name you- I have called you- I have chosen you…..and I have chosen you to know that I am your God so you may know me face to face.

If God can show up unexpectedly and work in the life of an unbelieving foreign king, than he can work in ours too. When was the last time God did something unexpected in your life? Will you allow yourself to be surprised again?

 

~Pastor Lindsay