Blessed and Broken

Passage: Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39
Date: February 05, 2006
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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Can you all remember a time when you were distracted? Your focus went from where you wanted it to be to someplace else. Usually the results are not very satisfying. Now sometimes it's important to pay attention to distractions like fire alarms or babies crying. But even when the distraction is compelling it can be annoying to lose focus on something else.

There's an old joke about a guy who got distracted just when he was about to get what he wanted: This guy had three wishes. His first wish was a Cadillac convertible. His second wish was $50 million. And he was so happy driving along the highway with the top down in his new car money in the bank listening to the radio singing along. And do you remember that old advertisement jingle for Oscar Meyer? The ad for the hot dogs? There he was singing along and not thinking distracted by the ad on the radio: "Oh I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener"

He got his third wish.

So anyway let's just say distractions can be annoying. And sometimes the things in life that distract us are TERRIBLE things. We are distracted from the everyday events of our lives by news of war. Anxiety over money distracts us from playing with children we love.

Our jobs distract us from our spouses. Or the illness of a loved one distracts us from our jobs.

That's where the people of Israel were in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah. They had been distracted from God. They had been living in exile under the rule of the empire of Babylon. But they had settled down in exile and tried to begin to live again. Things had begun to go along sort of ok. Home was not what it used to be. Jerusalem had been destroyed in their absence. And all along through this they got distracted.
They were not focusing on God. Which I can certainly understand.

Instead of focusing on God they were focusing on the powers of Babylon. The powers of Persia. They were focusing on the violence and injustice of these nations. They were worrying about how great these powers of destruction were.

I imagine that is a temptation today in places like the Middle East. I can imagine Hamas leaders distracted by the power of the U.S. I can imagine people in Iraq distracted by the violence. Citizens of Columbia distracted by the corruption of drug trade. I can imagine being distracted by two skyscraper towers falling. Or being distracted by decreased Medicaid benefits. Or by the challenge of trying to figure out how to fix that system. Or by a sick child or a broken marriage. Or a chronic illness that deforms your body.
I can imagine why a person would stand in awe of how bad it is instead of standing in awe of God.

And I believe that is part of what is happening in the Old Testament text for today people are standing in awe of how bad it is instead of standing in awe of God. Isaiah asks, "Why do you say O Jacob and speak O Israel why do you say my way is HID from the Lord and my right is disregarded by my God?"
Well to respond to Isaiah I can imagine why. Why a person might feel disregarded by God. And Isaiah says back but "have you not known have you not heard?" God is so far above and beyond you. So magnificent as to be incomparable to anyone or anything.
"Lift up your eyes and see" begs Isaiah. "Don't be completely distracted by what gets you down. Focus on God. Look up. Look at the stars the same stars that the Babylonians looked at. Don't risk losing yourself to the distraction." Isaiah begs.

How tragic to stand in awe of evil instead of standing in awe of the God who made the heavens. The God who is the same God everywhere and always. "Look up at the heavens together and stand in awe." This is Isaiah's plea to us.

But think of what we do instead of responding to the plea. Instead of standing in awe of the stars we want to go TO them and possess them. We send men to the moon to plant a flag. Exploratory robots go to Mars. We make movies about conquering Martians. And we fear and conquer the unknown instead of standing in awe and wonder.

Because maybe we don't trust that God will free us from fear. So instead we have to do it for ourselves.
Look up into the sky and remember that you are God's beloved people. You are loved by God.

God who stretches out the heavens and brings down the powers of this world. God who gives power to the weak. And to those who feel like they are in exile. As I think about Isaiah's plea I realize that I DO believe some of it. Or at least I've said some of it. God is great and raises up the weak. God is not necessarily easy to understand but we can trust in God's love. I've said these things. But that doesn't negate the previous feeling that there are some really bad things that happen and there are distractions and things I don't like.

And as I am caught between these two feelings it helps me to think of the people of Israel in EXILE. They are in exile and YET they thought of themselves as "the chosen people". And so comes the question HOW can BOTH be true? How can you feel both EXILED and CHOSEN at the SAME time?

A Lutheran pastor named Mary Anderson asked this question in an article in the Christian Century a few years ago. "How can it be that sometimes we feel BOTH BLESSED by God AND DEMORALIZED simultaneously. It is a question for Israel in this morning's text. And I believe it is a question for us too. I think part of the answer is just that we DO. There is truth in the paradox.

But I think the Gospel reading for this morning also helps spin me in a different way around this dilemma.
As I read the Gospel reading the words from Isaiah ring in my ears: "Have you not known have you not heard?" And the IRONY in the Gospel reading is this: Guess who HAS heard? Who is it that KNOWS exactly who Jesus is? Mark tells us that the DEMONS the ones who Jesus is casting OUT they KNOW. They know who Jesus is.

The power of sickness the power that breaks down the weak THAT power knows Jesus.

At sundown standing in the THRESHOLD of the doorway of a house is Jesus. Crowds of followers have come to him to be healed. Maybe some of them don't really KNOW who Jesus is. They don't know like the DEMONS know. Like we who don't know if we understand the mysteries of God and God's ways. Maybe some of them like some of us are a little bit in and a little bit out when it comes to all this church stuff. Or this Jesus stuff. But they show up. They trust. And Jesus stands right there in the doorway with them.

The point isn't to KNOW it's to TRUST.
And the ones who Jesus and these trusting people are trying to resist are the ones we're told KNOW Jesus. Meanwhile we're NOT told anything about what the followers KNOW. We're just told that they follow. And that they are healed. Those trying to follow are so often a little confused about Jesus.
Demoralized by powers that oppress. Outcast or weak. Trusting. Not knowing, Not needing to know. Not distracted even by the very things that demoralize them. Both broken and blessed at the same time.

My prayer today is that we could be that way as well. In some small way that we could be a little more at peace with this double identity. We the people of God. We the body of Christ. Both blessed AND broken. Simultaneously. And the brokenness does NOT negate the blessing. May it be so in our hearts.

May we trust it just a little bit more.

As we receive the communion elements today from the hands of the younger members of our congregation may we trust in God's presence. May we trust. May we consider what it is that would make our congregation whole. May we consider what would make our world more fully what God intends. And may we each and all trust in God's magnificent mystery. And may we receive God's amazing grace.