Sermon: The full stop of God – Isaiah 35:4-7a

full stop

Isaiah 35:4-7

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;

I’ve been afraid many times in my life.

On rare occasion it is a good feeling (usually only when I’ve paid $10 and I’m sitting in a movie theater).

But for the most part it is an awful experience that I try to avoid. It’s September and I’m afraid that the Cubs are going to give up their 6.5 game lead on the wild card. When I was about to graduate college I was even afraid because I was absolutely certain that I had missed some assignment or some necessary detail that was going to prevent me from finishing. In what should have been and awesome and happy time I was afraid enough that I couldn’t process what was happening to me.

I’m told that when we are afraid that is what happens. Our brains concentrate only on survival and all ability to process new information, all ability to remember the good, our ability to imagine, and really all ability to think clearly goes out the window.

“Say to those who are of a fearful heart…” begins our first lesson. God has a wonderful message in our first lesson: that God will save a fearful people.

I want you to imagine for a minute that you have sat down to a watch a movie. The movie is called Isaiah. In this movie it seems like everything is going wrong. The nation of Judah is under attack. The most powerful enemy of the day is marching and their army is destroying everything in it’s path. The king and all his advisers are desperately trying a solution. They look to their armies to save them, but that doesn’t work. Maybe their wealth can save them and a bribe will work. Nope. Relentless still is the destruction and death in the land. They even look to Egypt to help them, but still that doesn’t work.

And in walks Isaiah the prophet. That prophet who had preached doom and destruction to the nations. That prophet who preached judgment, that prophet who endlessly criticized the king. That prophet who had been hanging around the court for so long.

In walks Isaiah and the word of God has something that could not be imagined:

“Say to those who are of a fearful heart,”

It gives pause in the movie scene because it nails the problem so well. They have been fearful. The people of Israel, in their fear, have turned to other gods. In their fear they have closed their eyes to the suffering and oppression happening around them. In their fear they have stopped listening to the word of God and the word from their neighbor. In their fear kings and leaders have forgotten to trust God and looked for any other way just to survive.

And it gives us pause because it is a story so familiar it could be about our world.

To the people of God in those times came the word from God “say to those with a fearful heart…” To us today that word comes again. Because we are fearful.

Our churches are fearful of declining numbers so in order to survive our brains shut down and work hard just get more people in the doors.

Our politics are of “a fearful heart” and we are all afraid. Afraid of Donald Trump, of Hillary Clinton, of Jeb Bush, of  Bernie Sanders. Afraid of Conservatives, afraid of liberals

We are afraid of our neighbor. Our nation grows more and more afraid of immigrants. Europe grows more and more afraid of refugees, and we have grown afraid of our neighborhoods. I know you have heard it brothers and sisters. That statement that always begins “I’m afraid to come down there at night.”

 In our fear, like the people of Judah, we find ourselves unable to think, trust and imagine God’s grace.

But the story doesn’t end there

Now in school, when I was paying attention, I was taught that a comma means there is a pause in thought, but that it’s not quite done yet and that a period is what really indicates a stop in the sentence. The terminal punctuation; which is just a fancy way of saying full stop.

“Say to those who are of a fearful heart,” comma… pause a minute to reflect, know, admit, and confess the fear you feel

But don’t stop there “be strong, do not fear!”

Do not fear would be a fine place to end, but it’s not exactly helpful. Just telling someone do not fear is a bit like telling an addict “just don’t be addicted” or telling someone who is angry “just don’t be angry.” The results aren’t good when you end there.

Isaiah says this though: “Here is your God.” period. full stop.

Back to our movie that is what Isaiah the prophet walks into the room and says

“Yes you are afraid, but Here is God.” Full stop. “Your God will come and save you” full stop.

Yes you have trusted in everything earthly and human other than the Lord, but here is God and your God will save you. Full stop

Yes you have trusted in your military might, in your wealth, in your technology, in everything,

“Here is your God.” full stop

“He will save you.” Full stop

It’s no comma. No pause, no and if’s or buts. It’s not “and if you shape up then your God will save you.”

“Here is your God. He will come and save you.” full stop.

It’s not “maybe your God will come and save you when you done the right thing, found the right king, made the right person president.”

“Here is your God. He will come and save you.” full stop

The shock I am sure you can imagine. You mean God is coming here? that can’t be. We have messed up to many times. Our kingdom isn’t as great, or strong, or powerful as it was. Our kings, frankly, aren’t that good anymore. I can’t possibly imagine it.

And that is point. to a people who are afraid, who have their minds clouded and disturbed by fear God decides to announce for them what they can’t possibly do or even imagine.  The people of God in every age, and in all our fear, could and can never imagine where God’s full stop really is. That is why it is grace. The people of God could never have imagined that slavery wasn’t the end, the full stop. But instead God moved and brought freedom. They could never have imagined that the wilderness, in all it’s scarcity, wasn’t the full stop. But God provided in the wilderness. The syrophonecian woman was a gentile and a woman too. She didn’t deserve grace. that should be the full stop. The man who was deaf and speechless should have been left that way. that should have been the full stop. In both cases the full stop of God is beyond what we can possibly imagine.

Ultimately even death, what seems like the true and final full stop (the truly terminal punctuation) becomes the powerful wittness to the full stop of God. By Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection we can proclaim, even in death,

“Here is your God. He will come to save us.”

In our fear we can’t possibly imagine it, but the Word says God is here.That just as much as when this church was filled with 600 people on a Sunday morning God is here now. That yes this church, and really every church, faces the challenges of aging buildings, aging congregations, and fearful people in a fearful world. But that isn’t the end. God will save us. Full stop.

Among people who are different than us: Here is our God (and that God really does love them as much as us). full stop.

And no matter how much politicians, the news, the media, and everyone else say we should be afraid we are the people who have heard that vital and amazing word of God:

“Here is your God. he will come to save us.” full stop.

What happens then? What happens after God’s terminal punctuation, God’s full stop of grace?

“Eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” And our eyes have been opened brothers and sisters. I witness opened eyes and unstopped ears every time this church says “we are committed to ministry in and with this neighborhood community.”

“For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” And I those waters in desert brothers and sisters. We live here in a food desert. Not a real grocery store in sight. But yet in this desert fresh food comes from what was once abandoned lots.

Despite our fear, despite our anxiety, God has come to save us and God is here. Full stop.

Brothers and sisters I confess to you my fear. I fear for the future, I fear what I have done in the past. And I confess to you that fear governs my life many times.

And in my fear, in your fear, in our fear God’s word is the same:

“here is your God. He will come to save you.”

amen.

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