Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Isaiah spoke these words to a people in exile.
With the memory David and Solomon’s reign in their minds, and in their songs, the nation of Israel had fallen. The Babylonians sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed its temple, the very dwelling place of God.
For a second time in their collective history, God’s chosen people were on the move with no way to go back and no idea what was coming in their future.
At the beginning of this chapter, Isaiah offers some words of comfort to his people. These are words we often read in preparation for Christ’s birth as we also pursue assurance in our knowledge of God’s power and promise keeping.
The text comforts Jerusalem and reminds the people that her suffering will not last forever, that she will be made great again. He promises that there will be a voice crying out a hymn of preparation for God to be revealed again to the people.
In today’s reading, the awesome power of God is proclaimed to all who hear. God is still the source of strength for this people, for these wanderers, these exiles, these refugees, these strangers in a foreign land. Their comfort and their strength reside in the power of God. This God, to whom they pray, is high above the earth, so exalted beyond this world that Isaiah assumes that to God, the people must look like grasshoppers.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Isaiah isn’t one to just stand there and comfort his people without offering a little conviction in his sermon.
He illustrates the powerlessness of the world leaders in comparison to God; he names them to be like the grass, easily blown away by the wind. He also chastises the people for their belief that somehow their actions and what they deserve has gone unnoticed by God. As though God has forgotten God’s promises to the people.
I can almost see Isaiah, shaking his head, tsking at the people as he hears them complain; wondering which story of their ancestors he should try reminding them of this time. Should he remind them of God’s promise to Abraham or would a more recent story of King David be the ticket?
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
Isaiah knows they have heard. He has told them. He has been one in a long line of judges, kings, and prophets who have reminded the people of God’s commitment to them and God’s enduring and almighty love for them. They have heard about God’s promise, but they still don’t seem to get it.
How can he make them understand?
This week, the church celebrated a candlemas service to mark the Feast Day of the Presentation of the Lord. It is the service celebrates the day, 40 days after his birth, when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.
We read the words of Simeon, an older man who dwelt in the temple, who, when he saw Jesus, sang a song we continue to sing today in our evening prayer services,
“Now, let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
Simeon hears, Simeon understands, Simeon praises God and names aloud the awesome power of God and God’s ability to keep promises.
And then, in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus, Simon, Andrew, James and John travel together to Simon and Andrew’s house. When they get there, Jesus raises Simon’s mother-in-law from near death to Martha Stewart hostess mode in front of their eyes. Later that evening, Jesus healed many who had gathered outside. Jesus had to silence the demons because, they heard and they understood.
That night, when Jesus is taking some time alone, his disciples come looking for him and instead of responding to the miracles they had seen, they tell Jesus that people are looking for him.
He leads their journey to the next town, but I cannot help but wonder if he wasn’t muttering Isaiah in his head, Have you not known? Have you not heard? or, maybe even, “How do you not know? Can you not see? Can you not hear?”
If they were hearing, why do they seem to continue to not “get it”?
Why is it that the demons are the ones ready to testify to the identity of Jesus?
Just like Isaiah, Jesus has done wonderful showing and telling, but around him the crowd does not know who he is, his own followers do not know who he is, only the demons know. If the healings don’t seem to help them know about the love and promises of God, what will?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
I wonder how we would answer Isaiah’s questions today. I wonder if those would even be the right questions to ask as we gather here.
Before I came to seminary, I was plugging along to become a teacher, specifically a teacher for young children, pre-k through 3rd grade. In our classes, we wrote lesson plans and planned units of study on the alphabet, the water cycle, fractions, and reading from Hop on Pop to Charlotte’s Web.
With that in mind, I have a few ideas of how Isaiah’s inquiries could be slightly altered to better speak to the modern reader. For instance, what change would occur in Isaiah’s lesson if he asked his questions in a different order? What if he asked them about what they have heard, what their lives sounded like, before asking about their comprehension and knowledge?
So, what have you heard? This week, while you were living your life, what did you hear that is still in your mind this morning? Did you hear any sacred words of hope in your week? Or words of despair? Were you angered? Convicted? Comforted? Liberated? Are there certain voices that come to mind? Maybe of family, friends, co-workers, classmates, your local TV news anchor?
Take a moment in silence to think through some of the things you have heard this week.
If what you heard sounded at all like what I have heard this week, it was a jumble and a mix of all of those.
In our weeks, the sheer volume of what we hear is overwhelming. If you find yourself at this moment tired after reflecting on a week worth of words, you are not alone.
In chapel this week on campus, we read a litany that had been prepared many years ago by PSCE professor, Dr. Isabel Rogers. Her words spoke to me with so much power that I had to stop reading to laugh to myself about how God chooses to communicate with us sometimes. That was a sacred sound.
On Thursday, I sat at lunch with classmates, faculty, and staff to discuss stories about violence around the world and the ways that our fear of the unknown has made us bad neighbors to those not sharing our cultural or faith background. That conversation brought me despair.
Now that we have thought about what we have heard, what do we think we know, or don’t know as Isaiah might ask?
How do we make the leap from hearing to knowing? What do we know about God and God’s promises? What gives us the faith to mount up like eagles, to run and not grow weary, to walk and not faint? Do we have the knowledge of God as something so great and powerful that from where God reigns in power we look, as Isaiah notes, like grasshoppers but intentional and detail oriented enough to name each star and set them on their paths?
Last week at church, I was struck as I heard the Lord’s Prayer in this very place, during this very service. If I tried to make a list of all the times I have heard the Lord’s Prayer, we would be sitting here all day. But last week I had a moment of knowing these words in a new way. From my location in the children’s worship area, I heard the Prayer as I had never heard it before. As the range of youth and adult voices behind me mixed with the young ones sitting close by, the collection of pitches and cadence created a messy but beautiful prayer experience that offered me a new perspective. That was a sacred sound and in that sound, I was able to gain a brand new, albeit small insight about the family of God, and new knowledge about God and God’s wonderful, created people.
So, how do you know?
What do you know, or continue to not know, about this world that God created and our place in it?
Are we in exile, traversing the terrain between our past and where (or who) God is calling us to be?
Are we in the presence, like Simon, Peter, James, and John, of miraculous work being done around us, experiencing sacred hope alongside despair?
Are we both?
I think we are both.
I think we are in a precarious balance of being overwhelmed by the perpetual crossroads of the past and the future.
We are living in a present full of sacred and despairing moments.
This is our reality, and these are our moments.
In these moments God dwells with us,
and in these moments rest our call, a call to hear, to know, and to go.
May we go.
May we hear,
may we seek to know so that we may take the knowledge and go out into the world all over again.