February 7, 2021

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
    and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23 who brings princes to naught,
    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows upon them, and they wither,
    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28 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.
29 He gives power to the faint,
    and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
    and the young will fall exhausted;
31 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.


“Grasshoppers & Curtains”

Hard as it is to believe, we’ve turned the page on the first month of what once was a new year. Speaking of the new year, how are those resolutions going? That’s what I thought.

According to the University of Scranton, just 8 percent of people reach their New Year’s goals. What’s more, research from 2018 surveyed more than 30 million people and came up with the exact date when most people’s resolutions go out the window—January 12.

Oh, we can try to eat healthier and exercise to lose weight, but many of us can only keep that new lifestyle going for a brief time.

That’s part of the reason many folks have what neuroscientists call “COVID brain.” Seriously, it’s really a thing. Symptoms include fatigue, lack of motivation, and brain fog. Sound familiar?

 Jessica Stillman, writing in Inc. Magazine, described what COVID brain feels like.

A lot of my desire to climb into bed and read all day has to do with the grinding sameness of it all and the impenetrability of the future. Vaccines mean there is hope on the horizon, but for now every day looks like the next and I’m not sure where it will all end.

Mask wearing grinds away at us. So does social distancing, the constant, low-level, stress-inducing fear of infection and, now, the impatient wait for a vaccine. Worst of all, though, is what the pandemic has done to our relationships.

Physically distancing ourselves from friends and family grinds us down, big time. It’s at least part of the reason, I think, for frayed nerves and short tempers, for gloom, despair, and agony on me…and you…and lots of other folks, too.

Clip, Hee-Haw

“Gloom, despair, and agony on me” describes at least some of us. It also describes the exiles from Judah. Their relationships were fraying at the edges, too. Isaiah knew that also included their relationship with God.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,

‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’?

Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He doesn’t faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

COVID brain can fool us into thinking that our way is “hidden from the Lord,” and that God has disregarded us. How could we ever forget, the prophet asks, that the same God who created the “ends of the earth” is still creating, even now?

How could we ever imagine that any person or any part of creation could fall out of God’s sight or care?  No matter how bad the news, Isaiah said, God’s purposes will win out.

Those long-ago exiles had trouble believing that. We do, too. And, just as those exiles did, when our relationship with God frays, we try to fix our problems on our own. Even better, we tell someone else to fix them for us. That hasn’t worked out so well.

Some problems are beyond fixing. Some questions defy easy answers or, for that matter, any answer at all. That’s especially true for the ones that keep us away at night, angry questions like, “Why me?” or “Why my loved one?”

Fatigue and despair set in when we’ve done everything we know how to do, and it all seems for naught.

“Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted,” Isaiah says. We can’t “fix” everything, no matter how hard we try. Isaiah’s advice is to “wait for the LORD.”

Right about now you’re thinking, “There he goes again with, ‘Pie in the sky, by and by.’” That’s not the kind of waiting Isaiah means. That’s not what waiting means for people of faith. Henri Nouwen put it like this:

Most of us consider waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? We cannot do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” Words like that push us into passivity.

But there is none of this passivity in Scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are, and that we want to be present to it. A waiting person is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment.

Our smartphones and gadgets can tell us exactly how much time we spend staring at a screen every day. I know, I try not to look, either. It’s scary.

What would happen if we spent that much time—or more—listening to God instead of catching up on Facebook or doom-scrolling through Twitter?

If we brought our COVID-brained weariness and worry to God, maybe, just maybe, we’d be able to put them in perspective and realize, as Nouwen said, that this moment is the moment to renew our strength and deal with the things we can actually do something about.

And as for the rest? Well, we can just take the rest and put it in God’s hands. God’s resolutions don’t fade, and God’s promises are forever. Remember?

Haven’t you known? Haven’t you heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He doesn’t 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.

We wait on the Holy One of Israel, whose faithfulness we see not just in the glory and wonder of creation, but in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Resolutions fail. Spirits falter. But those who wait on the Lord wait with anticipation and hope. We know that this moment can be the moment, for all has been seen, lived, and redeemed in the Son of God. We know where our hope lies—today, tomorrow, and always.