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Sermon for Epiphany 5, February 8th 2009

The readings today are for people who feel discouraged and tired. Isaiah is preaching to a people who have lost faith in God. They have turned towards anything which might give them hope – idols, wealth, possessions, power. It is a familiar scenario and one that we see often today. God has not done what we want or expect, so we reject him. In fact we are not looking for God, we are looking for a fairy godmother, who with one flick of her wand, will grant our every wish.

No, instead Isaiah reminds the people that God is beyond their understanding. God, sees, as it were, the whole of time and space spread out at once like a blanket. God is the eternal here and now, without beginning or end. God is the context of our lives, the reality in which we exist. Neither the grasshoppers on the ground nor the stars in the sky are separate or hidden from God.

How foolish, then, are those who think they are forgotten by God! The Israelites complain that God does not see what happens and ignores the suffering of people. How wrong they are! It is God who gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. And the power and strength given by God is not to be compared with mere human strength – the strength and power of young athletes – no indeed, the strength that God gives is a strength of spirit which can never be overcome.

This is echoed in the psalm, where, it is declared, The Lord takes no pleasure n the strength of a horse, nor does God delight in human achievement, but the Lord's delight is in those that fear God; who wait in hope for God's mercy.

Of course God loves all that is created, and the power and grace of a running horse or a human athlete are miracles of God's creation, and God sees that they are very good. But it is the spirit which inspires creation where God is truly to be found. The cunning of the human mind is a wonder of God, but the cunning that devises weapons of mass destruction is not inspired by the spirit of God. On the contrary, the spirit of God inspires all that is good and pure, lovable and gracious.

This is the point that Isaiah is trying to make clear to the Israelites. Look around at the world, not at the things that bring grief and despair, for these things only reveal the spirit of grief and despair – spirits which bring death and not life. Instead Isaiah urges the Israelites to look up at the stars. “Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? The Holy One of Israel, who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.”

If ever you do this yourself, on a clear night, away from the pollution and light of the city, let yourself experience the awe and wonder of creation.
Then think, think of the power that fills the universe, with all the galaxies and nebulae, the quasars and black holes, the power that gives the laws by which they come into existence and flourish and and come to an end.

Then look at your hands, or look in a mirror and say, “This same power is in me. The same spirit that guides the universe gives me the power of thought and speech and movement. The will of God, working in the universe, is working in me.”

This is the message that Isaiah wanted the people of Israel to hear, it is the message that Jesus wanted people to hear, and it is the message that I want us all to hear today.

We might ask why it is important to hear this message.

It is important because now, more than ever, we need to know that we have power to change things. Our world does not have to be held captive by the cruel, the greedy and the warlike. Thing can be different, and it is the people of God who will bring this change about. Not through their own efforts, their own strength or their own intelligence and cunning – mere human effort will pass away. It is God who will make a difference – in fact God is already making a difference, through Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit and through those people who are prepared to let God work through them.

Now I want to be one of those people, I want the Holy Spirit to work in me and I want the Holy Spirit to work in all people. This means being open to what God is saying to me, it means being prepared to change and to take risks, it means being prepared to do things I may not feel confident to do. It means keeping my eyes on the stars and my feet on the ground. In means taking what I believe in seriously, and being honest in what I say and do.

In fact, Jesus summed it up for us all in the Great Commandment, to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbours as ourselves.

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