“Remembering our Roots” Isaiah 40:21-31
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL Mark 1:29-39
Rev. Sean Weston
February 4, 2018
The only thing they could count on was change.
God’s people – the Judeans – had been through so much. The holy city of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside had been destroyed. Many had been deported into Babylon, into a strange and unfamiliar land, while others were left behind to scratch out a life among the ruins. It was a hard, unforgiving life: Psalm 137 was written during this time, and cries out: “By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion….How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”
Everything they thought they knew was gone. Destroyed. They had believed that the temple in Jerusalem was God’s home. What happens to God when God’s home is destroyed? They believed that their nation was blessed by God. What happens when the nation is brought low?
The only thing they could count on was change. Change, change, and more change. What do you do when you can’t depend on what used to be dependable?
You may not have experienced change quite that intense – I don’t know. I know I haven’t. But I know that I, too, have felt sometimes that change has come too much too fast, like I didn’t know what to hang on to.
On Sunday, I was ordained into the Christian ministry. I was blessed to have Lyonsville respresented by Cindi and Judy. On Monday, I drove all of my possessions – well, except a pair of jeans that is currently in the mail – and I drove here. On Tuesday, I began my first day as your pastor.
We can be real together, right? I’m thrilled to be here, joining in ministry with you. I’m the one who suggested that timeline, because I was so ready to get started. And, anybody who has ever moved to a new place knows that is pretty intense – emotionally, physically, spiritually. The change can feel like too much too fast, it can be easy to feel like there is nothing to hang on to – nothing dependable or constant.
Whether in the 6th century BC in Babylon, or in 2018 in Illinois, change can often seem like the only thing we can count on.
The prophet Isaiah was probably one of the people deported to Babylon– like them he would have felt felt yanked around, rootless, pained, lonely. Wondered what is left to depend on. But Isaiah also remembered his people’s roots.
“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? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoopers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”
“Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”
Isaiah doesn’t just tell the people how great God is. He does something much more effective: he reminds them that they already know how great God is.
- They already know because they’ve been taught about this God their whole lives.
- They already know because of those moments when they’ve felt closer to God than there are words for – moments when their heartbeat and God’s heartbeat are one and the same.
- They already know because their roots as a people are deep: this is the God of their parents and grandparents, this is the God of their spouses and friends, the God they have sought to know their entire lives.
They don’t have to learn something new about God, not really. They
need to remember what they already know about God, that deep knowledge that’s been buried deep beneath the fear and pain and sadness. They must remember that even when it feels like God is far off, they are part of a people that has known God up close, a people that God has delivered, redeemed, loved, and cared for without end. Isaiah doesn’t come in telling them to change. He tells them to remember.
“Has it not been told you from the beginning?”
Isaiah’s promise is that when they remember who they are, they will be connected once more with the power of God: “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.”
An ancient greek translation of this verse offers a slightly different image: “They shall put forth new feathers like eagles.”[i] The eagle isn’t just getting up and soaring with new energy. The eagle is a molting eagle, shedding its old feathers that aren’t doing the job anymore and growing a new pair of wings.
Remembering their roots. Growing new wings.
I know that you’ve been through a lot of change, Lyonsville Church. Sometimes it may feel like there is too much to keep up with. Sometimes it may feel like you are losing what you used to rely on, what you knew about church. Sometimes it may feel like you just don’t know what to expect anymore. Then add to that the world we live in and it’s easy to feel uprooted, tossed about.
Part of me would like to stand here and tell you that now that I’m here you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Change will settle down. Things will be comfortable and like you’re used to them being. Even so, new people will stream into the church and we’ll be one big happy family.
That would be nice.
The reality, of course, is much more messy. Just by me being here, some things will be different. Some of those things will be intentional on my part, but many I may not even be aware of at first. I’m not one of these people who charges in with a ten point plan to refashion the church according to my own ideals, my own vision. But things will be different. I’m not Bob and I’m not Thom. People are different. Pastors are different.
You and I have a lot on our plates just getting to know one another – me learning what matters to you, you learning what matters to me. If you haven’t already, you’ll learn quickly that – just like you – I have my flaws and my foibles. No doubt I’ll learn that you do too. At some point I’m bound to do something you don’t like. And I’m sure you’ll do some things I don’t like. But because it’s church, we’ll love each other anyways.
You and I are navigating new waters together. Like God’s people long ago, we may sometimes wish you could go back to how things were. Change scares me as much as it scares anybody. However, returning to the past is not an option we have. There is only moving forward.
But we can only move forward when we are deeply rooted in our common identity as faithful people, as part of this community of faith. When Isaiah’s people were struggling to move forward, Isaiah invited them to remember their roots, to remember who they are and whose they are; to remember their story, and the stories of their ancestors. To remember and to tell our stories is to remind ourselves what really matters. What we really value. What’s really important to us, when we get deep down.
Isaiah says that the remembering is really the first step. Once you remember who you are and what really matters to you, once you remember that you have always been held in God’s care whether you feel it or not, once you remember that you stand on what the Psalmist calls a “goodly heritage,” once you remember your roots you are ready to grow new wings.
As we begin this 175th anniversary year, Lyonsville, I know your roots are deep. You stand on the shoulders of so many faithful people. This is the perfect time to ask some questions:
- Who are we, deep down?
- What really mattered to our ancestors?
- What really matters to us? What are the core values that drive us?
These are not things I or anybody has to teach you. These are things we get
to remember and rediscover together. Then, when we do, we will be ready to grow new wings together.
Thanks be to God, who was, and is, and is to come.
[i] Septuagint: https://www.biblestudytools.com/lxx/esias/40.html