We Can Choose To Fly Like Eagles in the Heaven of Love
A sermon based on Isaiah 40:21-31
given at Mount Vernon, OH on February 8, 2015
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Most of us at one time or another have had to step in and resolve misconduct by a child or two. We can take some comfort, I suppose, knowing that even God’s omnipotence does not seem to always be of help with God’s children’s misconduct. I mean, humankind has been misbehaving for along time. Since the very start this has been true. I want to share what I think is a funny summary of God’s first interaction with humans:
After many other things God created Adam and Eve. The first thing God said was, “Don’t.” Adam replied “Don’t what?” “Don’t eat the forbidden fruit.” “Forbidden fruit? We have forbidden fruit? Hey, Eve…we have forbidden fruit!” “No way!” Eve exclaimed. “Yes, way!” “Do NOT eat the fruit!” said God. “Why?” said Adam. “Because I am your Father and I said so!” God replied probably wondering why he did not stop creation after making elephants.
A few minutes later, God saw his children having an apple break and boy was he upset! “Didn’t I tell you not to eat the fruit?” God, the first parent of human beings asked. “Uh huh,” Adam replied.”Then why did you?” asked God.”I don’t know,” said Eve. “She started it!” said Adam. “Did not!” “Did too!” “DID NOT!”
Having had it with the two of them God decided the consequence of the conduct was that Adam and Eve . . . should have children of their own. 1
I adore and dearly love my children, and I am sure everyone here does loves theirs too, but . . . I like the consequences at the end of that joke.
I also like the joke for its simplicity. There is at one level a beautiful simplicity to creation and the rules of creation. The quilts on the walls behind me lay out what the Bible in Micah 6 claims are the only requirements God has for us. That we seek justice and love kindness and walk humbly with our God.
You might have noticed that some Biblical Literalists who push a loathing of others do not seem to follow these rules – even though they are in the Bible. I cannot explain how they avoid this text, as they self-righteously walk with an angry god, reject justice and avoid kindness for those they loath . . . but sadly they do.
Micah 6 is in the Old Testament (The Hebrew Scriptures) . And Jesus, a Jewish Rabbi, can be understood in his teachings to amplify its mandates. Justice is about getting what is due. Kindness is about making sure what is due comes about. Humble walking with God is about non-violently and hubris-lessly practicing one’s faith.
Jesus’ commandment to love is the means to make these mandates come about. Last week we talked about the pretty simple rule of loving. Jesus called it loving God and loving neighbor.
Loving our neighbors is the area humans seem to have the most difficulty with. Humans want to get what is due and be cared for by the Creator and by creation and by others, but as a whole we don’t seem to want to apply that to every other person. As a rule of existence, however, we must apply it. Which is why every major religion states in one way or another the simple rule Jesus also told us to follow “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luk 6:31 NRS). Most of us know this as “The Golden Rule.” The Book of Matthew even records that this rule is how Jesus sums up Scripture. He says: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Mat 7:12 NRS).
And actually other Jewish traditions make that same summation Leviticus 19(18) tells us to love our neighbors as our self. The Talmud says “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” 2
The Golden Rule also appears in Islam, Muhammad said “Wish for your brother, what you wish for yourself” 3
In Confucianism the rule reads: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Analects 15:23). 4
Hinduism put it like this: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” (Mahabharata 5:1517) 5
And Buddhism provides in the Udanavarga (5:18) “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful” 6
The list goes on and on. The Golden Rule is a fundamental law of religions regarding how we are to relate in community. So like the Adam and Eve joke I told, we too have a simple rule here in the Garden of Creation. It is to be treat people like we want to be treated. But like the Adam and Eve joke we also break the rule and we tend to blame everyone else for it but ourselves. We are like bickering children. Only this is not a fable. Our bickering leads us far astray from the purpose and possibilities of this idyllic Eden we call earth. It’s a world we are supposed to enjoy and could enjoy a heck of a lot more if only we were to actually do to others what we want done to us. But we don’t. Do we?
As a whole humans tend to love themselves, but fail for the most part to love goodly portions of the rest of humanity. Hence the universal religious creed to treat others as we want to be treated. Which if we think about it, is really a call to have empathy and to understand and relate to the feelings of others. In short, it is a call to act lovingly– a basic mantra at this church because it is the heart and soul of Jesus’ teachings. We also hear every week the truth that each person is loved and matters much. God loves me and you and everyone else– whether we like it or not.
We discussed six weeks ago or so how we can see this in the beauty and the bounty of creation, everywhere we go there is God, and God has made all of creation in such a way that there is enough for all creation’s well being – and this includes the well being of every single human being. All of us are loved by God. All of us matter to God. Creation is set up in a way that would allow all of us to survive and stay alive and thrive, but our violation of the Golden Rule gets in the way.
Our text today from Isaiah comes from a time period when all of Judah had suffered under the rule of Babylon which had conquered Judah. Babylon’s leaders did not treat the Jewish leaders as the leaders of Babylon would have wanted to be treated. Instead they exiled them to Babylon.
And the Jewish leadership grew weak and weary in exile. And who can blame them, it lasted a half century or so.
When the Golden Rule is violated humans not just lack empathy, but can act downright cruel and evil. In Psalm 137 verses 1-6 we can hear the sorrow and cruelty of Babylon’s forced exile from Zion:
By the rivers of Babylon– there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
In the words of that 2500 year old song we can still feel God’s call for empathy vibrating. It puts us in the shoes of the exiled and we want for them what we want for us, that is, well being. Centuries and centuries later we long for these people to be allowed to return to Judah and their beloved capital city Jerusalem. That’s God’s voice we hear in verses 1-6 calling us to care.
The suffering reflected in Psalm 137 came to an end. The lack of empathy and the cruelty of the Exile were over once Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon and treated the Exiles as he would have wanted to be treated. He let them return home to Judah. Cyrus followed The Golden Rule
In the context of the Exile, and relief from Exile, our Isaiah reading can be heard to laud the limitless glory of God and need for human patience as God’s work unfolds in our lives– through human instruments, which for the Exiles was Cyrus’ empathetic, caring release of the captives so that they could return to their beloved Zion.
The first half of the reading today contains a poetic celebration of the vast greatness and power of God who, in one unforgettable passage, is said to “sit above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers . . .” As we heard Kasie go onto read there’s this great imagery of God unequal in power and permeating creation. When the people of Israel lament that they are hidden from God and of no concern, as the grasshopper image might suggest, the answer is NOT “Yeah, you are right you do not matter.” Instead it is
Why do you say . . . “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 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. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
This text is an affirmation that God is good and everywhere and cares even when circumstances suggest otherwise. God’s working God’s goodness in creation. This is true all the time. Just like we also hear every week “God is good/All the time.”
But life is hard right? It’s messy. The troubles we experience can wear even the best of us down. The captive elders after decades of exile are run down. Verse 30 notes that it’s not just elders who tire, but children and teens do to, it says: “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted.”
But see, God never gets exhausted. God’s always as work. God is good all the time. God chips away at what ails creation including what harms humankind. We may not always see or appreciate it, but like a river slowly wearing away rock, God’s love is washing away mountains of trouble to make us a grand canyon of life to thrive in and soar above.
We want it to all be grand overnight. But that is not how it works! We get weary from the troubles of life but we cannot give up. We may have to rest and gather the ability to help each other soar, but the hope – the promise– is our good and loving God is making it worth the effort and the wait. As the Isaiah text famously puts it “ 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.”
Life has a whole bunch of messes in it. It just does. We are human. We are alive and that is a part of life, we really have no choice over it. What we do have choice over is “hanging on” through the rough patches– what Isaiah calls “waiting for the Lord.”
And we also have the choice to be like Cyrus, the kind of people who do to others what we want done to us. When we make that choice, that’s the LORD at work, that’s love doing it’s thing through humankind.
Empathy is God voicing a call for us to act. Justice, kindness and love are the acts. Those acts are summed up in what Jesus and every religion teaches: to do to others what we want done to us. The book of First Peter (3:8) puts it like this, “all of you/ have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1Pe 3:8)” Paul in Romans tell us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Rom 12:15). At the end of the day isn’t that really what we all want?
We cannot, however, just want it for ourselves we have to want it for everyone–and work to make it come about. Which means we have to, as Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Plain, “Love our enemies.” We have to, otherwise when God’s call to help one set of people is answered, their enemies will no doubt be suffering next when their enemies gain the upper hand.
And that’s what happens after the Exile. I read to you the first six verses of Psalm 137 to show God’s call for empathy still echoing in lament of the Exiled. Ordinarily when we read Psalm 137 aloud in church we usually stop at verse 6 because the remaining verses are the opposite of God’s voice, they lack empathy for the now vanquished Babylonian enemies. Listen to the awful last three verses of Psalm 137:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!
What an awful horrid text. The cycle just starts all over again.
Cyrus acting as God’s hands and feet rescued the Exiled with empathetic acts freeing the exiled to go home– doing for them what he would have wanted done to himself. And the weary worn out Exiles go home and having waited the Lord was ready to renew their strength so that they could “mount up with wings like eagles [and] run and not be weary . . .” But apparently, at least some of them– including the Psalmist– don’t want to mount up to fly like eagles, instead they want to go back down in the mud with their former captures and do to them and their families what was done to them.
Revenge and retribution are not the stuff of love. They do not allow us to mount up with wings like eagles. But rather keep us down in the mud like . . . unclean pigs.
And so between the Psalm 137 and Isaiah 40 readings we can hear the dilemma. Humans cause other humans trouble– Humans in trouble cause God to cry out for humans to help them– Humans help– The troubled are rescued.– The rescued cause other humans trouble– Those humans in trouble cause God to cry out . . . and the cycle starts again and it goes on and on and on with endless sorrow and wailing in the mud of hate instead of soaring with wings of eagles in the heaven of love.
Jesus did not add The Golden Rule to world’s religions. All of them have it. Jesus did not even add love your neighbor as a religious concept, as we heard it’s in Leviticus. What Jesus did add, was he figured out the weak link in the chain of love, enemies hating enemies. So he declared that his followers – that’s us– are supposed to love our enemies. Here’s how he put it:
I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luk 6:27-31 NRS).
If we want to mount up on wings like eagles; if we want to run and not be weary; if we want to walk and not faint then we need to always, always, always to do others as we want done to us. That’s what following Jesus’ Way is about . . . May we choose to fly like eagles in the heaven of love!
1. I found this creation joke/story at this fun website: http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/quotes/God_jokes.html
2. I found this religious quote at Wikipedia on the Golden Rule at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule
4. I found this quote at Got Questions. Org on the Golden Rule at http://www.gotquestions.org/Golden-Rule.html
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