Hancock Church Sermon – Rev. Paul Shupe – September 15, 2013 – Isaiah 40:28-31


“In Us, Through Us, With Us, By Us”

       Sometimes the best news isn’t news at all. That seems to be one of the premises of one a very popular book, one read again and again by people of all ages, translated into many languages, enjoyed by many cultures over the course of many years. I speak, of course, of The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. In this venerable children’s tale, a young rabbit, resolves to runaway from home, into the wide world.  His wise mother promises only that if he runs, she will come after him. Determined to outwit his mother, the rabbit insists that he’ll change forms, only to find his mother always one step ahead. If he’s going to be a trout and swim away, she’ll be angler who catches him; if he hides as a flower in a hidden garden, she’ll be the gardener who tends him; if becomes a sailboat to flee, she’ll become the wind and will steer him where she wants him to go. Eventually of course, the bunny discovers the truth: that there is no way to move beyond his mother’s love, and so he might as well just stay and enjoy it.  “Have a carrot,” his mother says, and they curl up together.

It’s a charming little tale, one of the few that occupy that wonderful sweetspot: pleasing to the child, and rich enough to keep the parent from going crazy reading it for the four millionth time.  It’s a classic precisely because it declares good news that isn’t news: it’s always good to hear that love is more powerful and enduring than any of our attempts to flee it.  The fact that we already know this does not diminish our joy in remembering it, and reaffirming it.  This is precisely the power of the story: we know it, and yet it still feels wonderful.  It’s good news, even if it isn’t news at all.

In that, of course, the grand sweep of the Bible is rather a lot like The Runaway Bunny, though without the great illustrations. The Bible has dozens of authors, not one, and threads of a hundred plots and a thousand stories, but a great many of them tell the same tale: no matter what we do, no matter where we try to go to escape, God faithfully pursues us, and loves us anyway. “Where can I go from your spirit?” the 139th Psalm asks, “Where can I flee from your presence?” And then goes on to suggest that God is in the heavens and in the depths of hell, beside us in the bright light of day and the deep darkness of night. And as with The Runaway Bunny, the psalm is simply naming what we all hope and trust and believe to be true, that love, especially God’s love, is everywhere, constant, steady, inescapable. Again and again the Hebrew people wander, get lost, are enslaved, are exiled, are conquered and at every turn, they discover that whether they deserve it or not, God is with them, and God’s love is steadfast.

That’s what Isaiah was reminding the people in the few verses we read this morning:

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
  The Lord is the everlasting God,
 the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not faint or grow weary;
 his understanding is unsearchable. 
He gives power to the faint,
 and strengthens the powerless. 
Even youths will faint and be weary,
 and the young will fall exhausted; 
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.

It’s The Runaway Bunny in poetry, it’s good news that isn’t really news, it’s a reminder of what we already knew, and it feels good on the ear.  We feel as affirmed as the bunny snuggling in with his mother.

Still, this message of Isaiah came at a good time for the people.  They were in exile, in Babylon, far from the Promised Land where they used to live in peace and worship in the great Temple. Generations had died and new ones born, and still they languished, strangers in a strange land. And when they sang of God, they sang the blues, the great laments that wondered how they could be faithful amid so much calamity. And then suddenly, without much warning, here was a new prophet, who was sounding the old themes, the good news that wasn’t really news. Haven’t you heard, God is still God.  God made the heavens and the earth, and God’s love is still the most important power of all. It was reassuring; the voice of comfort, like cuddling up in the great lap of God.

As we gather for worship this morning, back together again after a summer apart, we might welcome a bit of reassurance. And even if we’re feeling good, rested and restored, and glad to be back in the routines of work and school, and glad to be back together as a congregation doing the work that we enjoy so much, even so, it’s good to hear again the good news that isn’t really news. And so I don’t mind offering up a few brief words of reminder, even at the risk of edging up upon the boring, the banal. Have you not heard? Have you not known? God is the maker of everything, the whole world and all that is in it, including you and me. God has been steadfast, always at work, even when you haven’t needed, or noticed, still God has been surrounding you, supporting you, upholding you. God’s love is complete, without beginning or ending, and it’s with you now, whether you deserve it or not, whether you want it or not.  It’s not news, but it’s good news, for sure.

But the good news that isn’t news is not the end of it.  Not now, and not to the exiles in Babylon either. Because the prophet who spoke first in these words of comfort had come to tell them that God who had been steadfast, with them, in them and around them, that very same God was about to do a new thing. They were going home, he told them. God’s word, God’s new word to the people was that it was time for the return to Jerusalem. The day for which they had been longing, the day for which their blues had yearned, was now upon them. It might not have been news, exactly, that God was in the business of strengthening the people. But what was news was that they were going to need strengthening. Between Babylon and Jerusalem was the great wilderness, mile after mile of hot, barren country, dangerous heat and bandits and outlaws willing to use violence to separate people from property. The road ahead was long, and even if the Promised Land was once more before them, and even if the history of God’s affection for the people was long and deep, still the present was going to be a challenge because God was breaking into their lives once more, doing a new thing, disrupting the old, what seemed, bringing them home.  But home was not a paradise; the Temple was in ruins, the land was fallow, home was a promise, but not yet a reality.

And you see, that too is a part of the old, old story of the Bible. For while it is always true that God is steadfast, God’s love as comfortable as a mother bunny’s lap, it is often also true that God is the source of all that is new, of all possibility. And that there are times when God is found not only in the comforting reminders of all that has been, but also calling to us from the future, from what is not yet, from what is promised, but not yet fully present. “Behold, I am about to do a new thing,” God said to the people through the voice of the prophet, “and I need you to come along and be a part of it.

I am not a prophet. I would lay no claim to the mantle of Isaiah or those who are certain about what God is doing here and now. As a pastor and as a preacher, I am on much more comfortable ground when I look back, when I repeat to you good news that isn’t quite news. And yet, as I look today at our grand old building, now torn up so that tomorrow all will be welcome and able to move freely, as I listen to the voices of some of the workers here, Scott and the Christian Service Committee speaking boldly of new paths for justice and love, Brendan speaking with the energy and wisdom of youth declaring that our young people feel God’s spirit moving in them and among them, Amy looking forward to the day when her energies are spent not just getting from here to there, but rather given to worship, and prayer, and fellowship, and when I look out and I see your faces, and I ponder your resolve, your commitment, and when I see men and women who have been here for a half-century or more sitting side by side and praying heart to heart with others who have just arrived this morning, then I cannot help but be moved to say to you that even now, even here, among us, God is stirring, about to do a new thing.  The affirmation stands: God is steadfast, has always been.  God is with us, will always be.  The good news that isn’t news is yet true: God’s love is here, with us, in us, for us, among us.

But listen, because God is still speaking. And if God has called us home together this day, it is only because God has much more for us to do. I have no crystal ball, no way of knowing for sure what will be asked of us, and so all I can do today is urge you, to urge us, to get ready. Say your prayers, often and honestly. Sing God’s praises, loudly and with energy. Open your heart to care for another. Open your eyes to see the oppression of hunger and poverty and violence in our world.  Come, be together, again and again open your arms and welcome the stranger, the sister or brother you’ve never met. Get ready, friends, because God still speaks, and when God gets ready, we’ve got to move. In the name of the One who was and is and is to be, Amen.