They are Waiting

In my hand I am holding a silver globe overlaid in 24k gold that was designed and created by artist, Sam Philipe to commemorate the establishment of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel by King David over 3,000 years ago.

Scattered around this globe are representations of buildings and locations that have become symbolic landmarks for the peoples who have inhabited this city. Rachel's Tomb, the Church of the Nativity, Absalom's Tomb, The Church of the Holy Spulcher, El Aksa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, Synagogue of Judah the Prince, the Western Wall, etc.. Obviously, these are places that religious pilgrims and moneyed tourists have visited for centuries and these sites have enduring meaning - tied as they are to the history and struggles of several nations and religions.

America even as young as we are has its locations. Walk the streets of Washington D.C., the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Smithsonian Museum. Head to Philadelphia to the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House. Head West to Mount Rushmore. Down to Texas for the Alamo. These are locations that symbolize the purposes and strength of our nation and the willingness to die for freedom. Even nature can evoke the character of earth's peoples. The vastness of the Grand Canyon. The slow steady power of the moving glaciers of Alaska, the enduring life of the mighty Redwood trees, the flight of the bald eagle. You get the idea.

Now, what happens when these places are threatened by natural disaster or human aggression? The people rally to protect and defend. They gather together in memory of the departed ancestors, in memory of the struggle of a life shaping event in history. An event that forged an identity. Human passion rises and falls with the relative security of the symbols of its heritage.

But can we truly depend upon our initiative, our technology, our strength? Fires, flood waters, bombs destroy in a matter of minutes. And all we can do is create a replica. Time alters memory. Generations upon generations eventually forget what really happened here. And historians reinterpret the significance in light of new discoveries. Graffiti mars the walls, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and beer cans litter shrines, young students sit slouched at their desks asking what is the point of learning this stuff. So, what is the point?

Interestingly enough, this Jerusalem commemoration was created in the shape of a globe to symbolize the city as the center of the world. Certainly the news would bear this out to some degree. Israelies and Palestinians battle over possession. Muslims, Christians, and Jews continue to demand the right to worship there. Pretty much any time period you choose you will find major struggles on Jerusalem's soil. In fact, our reading in Isaiah reflects a time period when the Jews lost possession of their land, their temple was destroyed, and the people were sent into exile in Babylon. Truly, Jerusalem is the center of the world for many people, but maybe not for the same reason.

So, let's look at our reading for a moment. The author of this portion of Isaiah is addressing a people that are longing to return home. During the years of exile, children have been born and others have grown into adulthood. Many have mainstreamed into their surrounding culture, intermarried, and perhaps become successful in business. Others, however, have remained faithful to their heritage, their God, their culture. They purposely isolated themselves from getting too close to their captors. Their memories cling to the locations and events surrounding Jerusalem. Many are downtrodden and discouraged and they pray to God to answer their cries. "Why did this happen?" "When may we return home?" "Where were you when the enemy killed our friend and family, carried us off and destroyed your holy temple?"

Isaiah responds with reminders of God's steadfast promises of deliverance and salvation. "Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many."

Their physical origin was one old man and one old woman around 100 years old. But identification of their ancestors was not what Isaiah was getting at. When we look back at Abraham we find a man of faith. We find a man who was willing to get up and follow without question when God said, "Go." We find a man who believed in God's promise. In Genesis chapter 12 verses 1-3, the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." And Abram went - with all his household based solely on a promise. It was 25 years later that God established the everlasting covenant with Abram involving the son that Sara was to bear. It was to this promise and the faithfulness of God and Abram that Isaiah was pointing. It was to the epic story that followed, the rescue from famine and ultimate bondage in Egypt, and the monumental exodus out of slavery. God's intervention again and again in the history of these people.

These were the events that spoke of the rock from which they were hewn. God's steadfast promise. "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats, but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended." What is being said here? I think with all the apocalyptic fervor of our time we should be careful not to assume that this is a prediction of future events, but rather a hyperbole that assures us of God's ever present faithfulness. We know that the earth and the inhabitants on it are part of God's good creation and humanity has been able to count on their enduring existence since the beginning of known time. What Isaiah is saying is that even these could pass away and yet God's promise of salvation will continue to protect us.

So, in our zeal to revere our human landmarks, to honor our historic events, and to find identity in our own achievements, perhaps we are missing the one and only thing that lasts. The one and only thing that gives any of our lives real meaning. The one and only thing that offers hope for a future. God.

Now, in the days of Babylonian captivity, the Israelites did not know of the coming of Jesus. But they did hear of the hope of deliverance. In just one more chapter they would hear of the servant of the Lord who was to startle the nations, who would bear their infirmities, who would be wounded for their transgressions, who would be led like a lamb to the slaughter. I don't need to read those two chapters, I believe we can recognize the description of the one we know as the Messiah, the Christ. We who stand in the future know the rest of the story. But the Israelites did not. They were simply asked to have faith in the one who had always been faithful and to trust in the one sure foundation.

Isaiah reminded them of the covenant made with Abraham but in so doing it also reminded them of the promise that Abraham - and hence Israel - would be a blessing to the nations. Ultimately that would occur with the advent of Jesus. But in the meantime, God says, the coastlands wait for me and for my arm they hope. God chose a nation. Why? So that only they would have special privileges and honor? NO. So that they would be God's messengers of hope. He says, do not fear. You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock, I know not one." 44:8

Isaiah 42:1-4 says, Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights. . . he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not fail or be discouraged til he has established justice in the earth. And the coastlands wait for his teaching." So, we hear again of the promise of the Messiah but we also hear of the coastlands who are waiting. Who or what are the coastlands and why are they important? God says in chapter 66 verse 18. I am coming to gather all nations and tongues and they shall come and see my glory. It talks about sending survivors out to all the nations and to the coastlands far away that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory.

God called Israel to be a part of God's unfolding plan to bring salvation to every nation, family, and individual on the face of the earth. In the painting of Jesus I shared with the kids, he wears a robe that is made of the fabrics of many cultures and the flags of many nations symbolizing him as the light of the nations. Yet, we know that even with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus - every nation still does not know him. I spoke with a missionary from Thailand two days ago and she shared with me that of the world's population have never heard of Jesus. Some internet statistic sites such as American Religious Identification Survey revealed that 29.4 million people in 2001 in the US have no religious background at all. In 2000 it was claimed that only 5.7% of China's population was Christian. There are people in war torn countries, others with oppressive governments, still others whose geographical and economic challenges make ministry and mission difficult. Many have experienced hardships, abuse, and tragedies that make believing what they hear next to impossible.

We have been called as Christians to be Christ's witnesses to the nations. The opportunities are vast and some right before our very eyes, in our communities, our neighborhoods, perhaps even in our very pews. Some may hear the words, but not hear the promise. Some may see our bodies but not see the life-changing affect it has on our attitude and our hearts. There are without a doubt people in this room who are going through some crisis for which they are praying. Some are relatively new seeking the reality of the promise. Some ask for a sign of assurance or affirmation or direction. Often God uses us, unknowingly, to deliver that message. Paul constantly appealed to his congregations to be transformed by the gospel. To be renewed and to discern God's will. We form the body of Christ. So let's look. Are we living out our faith? There are those who wait for God's arm of hope. Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago. Now he walks through us. How will they feel God's arms except through us?

Brothers and sisters they are waiting. We know that the rock upon which this church is built is Jesus' love and faithfulness. God has revealed it to us just as the Father revealed it to Peter. Trust in it. Honor it and live a life worthy of that knowledge.


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