This week some of us saw the Lunar eclipse, with the gray moon slowly darkening into a crescent and then turning deep red before returning to its normal gray color and setting at dawn. I must admit I missed it, but I did watch it online in 60 seconds seeing this amazing show. Annie Dillard a thoughtful theologian said of an eclipse, “The meaning of the sight overwhelmed its fascination” (Feasting on the Word, B1, 314). Watching the shadow cross over the moon reminded me of how wonderfully made our universe is and who it is we can thank each and every day. Isaiah also declares how wonderful God is, in a string of questions attributed to God. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” “Who is my equal? says the Holy One.” God is recounting the ways God creates and provides. Through this passage we learn three things:
First, faith begins with memory. I want you to recall who shared the faith with you. Picture that person in your mind. Was it a memory of a beloved relative singing hymns, being moved by sermon or being discipled by a caring mentor. Maybe nature, something moving like an eclipse spoke to you about our awesome God. We often forget God’s amazing gifts. We have theological amnesia that causes us to fall apart when the crisis comes. You hear the dreaded C word, your parent is slowly slipping away mentally, or your child struggles with life and your faith is tested. But for faith to thrive God’s deed must be remembered, honored, shared, especially in the dark times. Isaiah is doing that during their crisis from the Babylonian exile. When times are dark and hard, cling to God’s powerful deeds. Terry Waite knows something about darkness. He was held hostage for 5 years in solitary confinement in Lebanon. As an Anglican Christian he had been brought up with the Book of Common Prayer. He had unconsciously memorized it as a choir boy. Sharing the hope he had in these prayers he wrote, “If I can just give you an example of what I mean from one of the great old collects of the prayer book: ‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night . . .’ This is very, very meaningful when you are sitting in darkness” (By Sheridan Voysey , Wednesday 24 Apr 2013, Open House with Stephen O’Doherty). Terry Remembered and prayed this prayer and it gave him comfort. Faith is rooted in God and Christ. Rooted in prayers, rooted in faithful Christians, rooted in memory.
The second thing we learn is that God is in charge. God brings princes to naught and power to the faint. When we wait on the Lord amazing things can happen. Many of us will be cheering for a team today, either the Patriots or the Eagles. I want you to know I did not pick this passage that speaks of eagles wings, that was divinely inspired. But no matter who we root for, we realize that the outcome of the game really is not up to us. It is not up to Tom Brady or Nick Foles either. Now I am not saying God determines the outcome. But I want us to remember that life works better when we know God is in charge. I have mentioned to many of you a new phrase I am using when in a tough spot, “God’s words, not mine.” It is much like, “Thy will, not mine” which echoes that God is ultimately in charge. But when I need to address a concern and words need to come out of my mouth it is so helpful to ask God for the words. This puts me in a surrendered place with me acknowledging God is God, I am not in charge.
Isaiah has taught us that faith begins with memory and that God is in charge. The third thing follows right along those lines. Only when we feel weak and helpless will God’s power be fully available to us. Not to put too fine a point on this, but when we consider who God is, with power and compassion, grace and forgiveness it is true that we are the inhabitants of the earth, like grasshoppers. I can hear you say wait a minute Anne I am no grasshopper and of course you are not. But for us to even try to grasp God’s abundant strength and love we get to see ourselves as weak and helpless as a bug. It is from this surrendered state, this humble position, that God can renew your strength and mount you up with wings like eagles. When we see a lunar eclipse, the magnitude of creation, the intricacies of God’s universe that we start to see ourselves right sized. Start to depend upon God the creator and redeemer of us all.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us of being right sized, not expecting a reward for our work for Christ. In other words, we have a commission to share the gospel free of charge. I love that phrase. We do not speak to our neighbor about Jesus because we want a reward, we do so out of love for Jesus, love for our neighbor, love for humanity. We are empowered to share the gospel because we have already heeded the first three things: remain mindful of faith, concede God is in charge, and acknowledge we are simply humble servants. You see, Paul makes himself a slave of all and seeks to bond with any one who has yet to hear about Jesus. The word “made a servant” is the Greek verb that literally means “to enslave.” Paul said in effect, I have placed myself under bondage to every person who does not know Jesus Christ that I might win as many people to Christ as I possibly can.
What was it that motivated Paul? It was love.
Love for the gospel. Love for other people. Love for the Lord.
What is it that motivates you? There is only one motivation that matters in the Christian faith: It is Love. Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians: “Do all things in the spirit of love.” (16:14) That is the only motivation.
Paul then shares the ways he adjusts himself to be of service to others, “to the Jew, I became like a Jew… to the weak, I became like the weak.” That reminded me of solidarity, a term discussed by Debby Irving in Waking Up White, finding myself in the Story of Race. After a person of color signed a note, “in solidarity” she felt uncomfortable. She thought only angry activists stood in solidarity. So she looked up the definition of “solidarity” and “found descriptors such as “union” “fellowship” “common responsibilities and interest.” Then she wondered, “How on earth did a concept as compassionate and life giving as solidarity get so misconstrued in my head as angry and aggressive?” When you and I stand in solidarity with people who may face different circumstances, then we are showing Christ’s love for our fellows. You are invited to learn more about race and how we might stand in solidarity as we do our own self-reflection through the book study of Waking Up White. We will be meeting Sunday mornings at 9:00 am and Wednesday at 1:00 in the afternoon. It is an insightful, challenging and compassionate book about how we as white people may get to be like Paul and try to walk a mile in the shoes of people of color. How finding our shared humanity is really what our faith calls us to be about, not trying to only be with people just like ourselves. I invite you to join me in this study. Call the office by Tuesday if you would like us to buy a book for you. Through this reflective book, I started to see race through a new perspective as my world was gently expanded.
If Paul had only talked to those like him, the Jews, we probably would not be here. Paul reached out to people different from him, he was in solidarity with people, and brought his love for Christ to bear. When we encounter people different from us I hope will also bring the love of Christ to all we meet, and for ourselves as we expand our thinking about race. Gospel free of charge, means we bring the love of Christ with us and share it openly and freely with those we meet, no matter their background, their religion or their race.
God’s gospel is free of charge, but Jesus paid an immense price for us to receive this gift. Now go and share this gospel gift with the world! Amen.