Listen to or download the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: “Have I Not Told You?” (Isaiah 44:6-8)
“Have I Not Told You?”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When you hear the Word of God, you are caught up in a Story. A story that began before you; a story you are not telling; a story that will continue after you. It is a story that begins in God and ends in God. For us, it is a story that is from creation to creation. When you hear the Word of God, you do not only hear a story, or hear about a story, about things that happened a long time ago, a distant, dusty history; you are actually brought into the Story which God is telling, which He is speaking into existence, and which He will bring to completion. It is a story that revolves around, that is centered in, Jesus Christ. His Story is the story into which this congregation was brought, and into which you were brought. That story, in fact, is the only story, because there is only one God. One author, one finisher, one story.
That doesn’t mean that there are not challenges to this story and this God. There have always been other so-called gods, with their witnesses, telling their so-called stories. At the time of Isaiah, it was the gods of the Assyrians, and it would later be the gods of the Babylonians. And their witnesses told compelling stories. They told stories that seemed to have a lot of evidence for them. Assyria had conquered Israel and Babylon would conquer Assyria and Judah. It seemed that the gods of Assyria and Babylon were more powerful than the God of Israel, Yahweh. Otherwise, why would Yahweh have let His people be conquered and taken into exile? To these gods, Yahweh lays down His own challenge: “I am the first and the last; apart from Me there is no god. Who is like Me? Let him declare it, let him lay out his own word and we will see if it comes to pass.” It is the same challenge that Elijah, the witness of Yahweh, laid down for the witnesses of the god Baal on Mt. Carmel. You call on your gods and I will call on Yahweh, and the one who answers is God. So the prophets of Baal cried out to him, but there was no answer. Elijah called on Yahweh, and fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice and the water in the ditch, and even the stones of the altar itself. And the people fell on their faces and cried out, “Yahweh! He is God! Yahweh! He is God!” (1 Kings 18:20-40).
We, no less than Elijah or Israel, are surrounded by the witnesses to other gods and their stories. We are familiar with them and they have compelling stories. Stories of the gods of the physical material of this universe, that this is all there is, and whatever we can use it for must be good. This is all there is, so get what you can while you can. Stories of the gods of individualism, which speak of my story and my life and my stuff. Stories of the gods of modern celebrity, movies and television and magazines, through which we live vicariously. We know the stories well, because we live them and hear them every day; and sometimes we begin to believe them: they become to us more real and more compelling than the one Story of the one God. That story has become common and repetitive, especially to those who hear it least. And we gather the evidence that those gods are more powerful: the destruction and violence and unspeakable crimes of our world, which all seem to come to the same conclusion: how can you believe what you cannot see? No: your God is defeated, His Word is silenced, His story is over.
But, as one writer put it, the Church learned at the beginning of her centuries that every funeral for God is a premature burial (Chesterton, “The Crimes of England”). And so it was 2000 years ago: the Word of God hung silenced on a cross, seemingly defeated, at what appeared to be the end of the story. But it was a premature burial, because, come the Lord’s Day, the tomb was empty, and the story was made new in the beginning of a new creation. And that Story was proved true. The story of Jesus is the story of every member of His Body, and it is the proof that His is the only story: the story of this congregation and of the entire Church of God: there is only one Story, only one God, only one Kingdom; there will be a harvest, and every false story will be proven false; every false idol will be destroyed; every witness of those false gods will be put to shame. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). Heaven and earth will pass away, says Jesus, but My Words will never pass away (Matthew 24:35; Luke 21:33).
Our hope is in that Word of God alone; it doesn’t seem all that powerful, it doesn’t seem to produce many results; it doesn’t seem to have the evidence to back it up. But hope that is seen is no hope at all; our hope is grounded in the promise of Christ’s death and resurrection, the hope of the redemption of our bodies from the earth: that is the hope in which we were saved. And all creation is waiting with eager expectation for the revealing of the sons of God; all creation is waiting to be set free from the bondage of corruption and decay, for the redemption of this story in a renewed creation. This is the only story and the only word that through life guides our way, and in death is our stay. This is the Word that causes us to say with the psalmist: “I wait for Yahweh, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope” (Psalm 130:5), because if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. To you, and all the witnesses of what God has said and done in Jesus, of His death and His resurrection, God says, “Do not be afraid. Have I not told you? This is My story, and who is a God like Me, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness? There is no other God, no other Rock, no other refuge, no other story.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/16/11