Isaiah 40; Romans 8:38-39
November 8, 2020
— Navigating after the Election in Difficult Days
Back in my college days, I worked most of my summers at Camp Hanover, a Presbyterian Residential Camp in Mechanicsville. I got to do all kinds of interesting things like a mission program in Kilmarnock fixing houses and sailing on the Chesapeake Bay or rock-climbing and spelunking and hiking and whitewater rafting and canoeing. All of this was done with young people as we worked on creating expressions of community over the days that we were together. Maybe that is why building community has remained an integral part of my life ever since. But one summer in the high adventure camp, my group and I went up into the Blue Ridge Mountains to the base of a mountain where a spring was coming out of the rock at this small opening. We knew what we were doing there – we were going caving, but this was different from the other time we had gone into the darkness. This was wet caving when we would have to actually swim into the cave. To help us do this, we were all given dry bags to keep a change of clothes that we would take in with us. We were all there at the opening of this cave and ready to jump in – or at least I thought. That is when the guide pulled out her wetsuit. Now, that so much felt like cheating. We were all going to get soaked but she was going to remain largely dry. But still, she was the guide, the professional, so I could not fault her for that extra protection. After all, she was the expert. After she went in, it was my turn. As soon as I got into the water and began to swim into the cave, I realized the real reason why she was wearing the wet suit. IT WAS FREEZING. That was the coldest water I had ever been in, and I used to enjoy polar bear swims as a child. Thankfully, it was not a long swim, and we were able to change quickly, but the water was so cold that people were yelling at the top of their lungs the whole way in, and they did not even realize they were doing it. For that swim, we were completely unprepared.
In some respects, we are also completely unprepared for what is going to happen next in the aftermath of this election. It may seem tumultuous and scary and completely up in the air. For most of this year, it has seemed like the best we could do is hang on by our fingernails. And I don’t think things will suddenly resolve now.
But this is not the first time that the people of God have faced truly uncertain times. This is not the first time the people of God have wondered what was coming.
700 hundred years before the birth of Jesus, I want you to imagine a world in which there was a civil war but the North and South did not reconcile. They lived divided next to each other in weakness and animosity. This was not in America but in Israel where the country split into a Northern and Southern Kingdom. This made them each weaker, easy pickings for the other, larger nations next door who were eyeing the divided kingdoms for their resources. The people had a choice to make in the face of the external and internal threats: return to following and trusting and living for the Lord or to turn to human powers and fear. Guess what they did? They gave up on God’s promises and the power of the covenant. They turned to the ways of the world to deal with their problems. Are you surprised? It is far too easy for us to forget the strong faithfulness of our God and to rest instead on the shifting sands of the world and faltering human strength and limited understanding. In their floundering though they cried, “What’s next?”
The Prophet Isaiah had an answer, and it was not the answer they wanted. The Northern Kingdom was hauled off into captivity to be slaves in Assyria, and the Southern Kingdom was taken captive and went to slavery in Babylon where they lived for generations. But through it all, there was the promise of hope.
Isaiah 40 is one of those passages that speaks beautifully to this hope. It is all about who you can really trust and what that trust means: God knows you have suffered; God knows you need help; God is the one who made everything and is exalted above all. The mighty things on earth are like dust compared to God – can you believe it? God is so far above us all but also intimately involved with our lives. Even though we lust for idols, God is familiar with our frailty and loves us and is there for us offering us a future. No one will succeed with human power. All will grow faint, even strong, young people, but the ones who truly rely on God, who wait upon the Lord, will be renewed in glory. The Maker and Redeemer of all will preserve you and lift you in his grace.
This hope was just as important in the decades following Jesus’ death. When Jesus died, everything about his movement was thrown into questions and confusion. No one expected for their beloved rabbi, messiah, and friend to be killed, let alone crucified. Even when they found out that Jesus had somehow come back from death through the love of God, they still did not know how to process it all. You know they were constantly confronted with that question, “What’s next?”
The Apostle Paul has an answer, and we have Paul to thank for the fact that we are here today. If it had not been for him, the followers of Jesus would have largely stayed in the area of Israel, and they would have remained Jewish. But God had bigger plans for us all. The Jewish people were meant to carry God’s gift of salvation to all people, so Paul took that message out into the world and invited anyone to be a part. He framed a vision of God’s Kingdom that included all people, whoever looked to Jesus as their Messiah. Even though the Roman Empire, the world’s superpower in that day, was unstoppable and did not welcome the Christian message, Paul pushed on and helped worshipping congregations all around the Mediterranean, even in Rome itself. But the followers of Jesus had a hard time seeing themselves in the same family. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians were not on the same page nor shared the same ideas. They held suspicion and resentment of the other. As much as they tried, they saw each other as competitors more than siblings, as different peoples more than family. Almost sounds like another time closer to use.
In Romans, Paul cuts right through all of that and confronts their differences in one of the greatest truths ever written: nothing in all creation can separate us ALL from God’s love for us ALL in Jesus Christ our Lord. I added the ALLs because it is easy to think about how I am connected or you are connected, but that misses the larger point: we are all connected to God in love through Jesus our Lord and NOTHING can change that. It is not about you or me; it is about you AND me. It is about us.
Today, we are living in some of the most interesting times that we would have probably never asked for. We have a historic election, in a historic epidemic, in a historic economic situation, in a historic period of social unrest. We are beset by politics, finances, cultural issues, health concerns, and isolation and division. That does not even get into the personal struggles we continue to face – the things that would have happened anyway. Our own problems do not take a break while the world deals with all of these other crises. It is enough to make us sit up at night and cry to our God, “What’s next?
We have already witnessed things that we never would have expected. The future may also be just as surprising. A vaccine is still a ways off, so life will continue to be a struggle. Oh, and you are going to be looking for a permanent pastor soon.
But if we take Paul and Isaiah seriously, then there is a strong case for hope. The God who can spin the galaxies on his fingertips is very, very, very invested in us all. Even when we feel like we have reached the end of our rope, in the Living God and Father of our Lord Jesus we can be renewed and freed to live even more fully. Like eagles, we can be given the support to be carried to new heights, but this will not come from our hands. It is the gift of the same God who needs our hearts – the same God who has given us his heart.
So if someone is wondering, “What’s next?”, I’d like to purpose that it will be the love of God for us all like we have never seen before.
To God be the glory. Amen.