Wait for the Lord (Ordinary Time 5/Epiphany 5, Year B, 5 February 2011)

Wait for the Lord

Readings
Isaiah 40.21-31
Psalm 147.1-11, 20c
Mark 1.29-39

Where is God?

Someone in India once asked a group of Hindu children, ‘Where is God?’. These Hindu children pointed to their hearts. That person later asked the same question of group of Indian Christian children. ‘Where is God?’ They pointed upward, to the sky. Where is God? Within us, or in heaven? Which group was nearer the truth?

Let’s see what Isaiah says.

Haven’t you known this? he says. Haven’t you got it yet?

It is God who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…

Sounds like the Christian children were right according to Isaiah. God sits high above the circle of the earth. Isaiah does mean a circle and not a sphere; we should think of the world like a pizza with a dome over it. And Isaiah pictures God, sitting, on his mighty throne, over this world. When God looks down, he sees us—but we’re like grasshoppers moving around.

Does God care?

Perhaps not. After all, God says

To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

What can we compare with God? Nothing. Every picture we have falls short. God is Father—but not like any father we’ve ever come across. God is judge—but God’s judgement is unlike anything you’d ever get in the Queensland Supreme Court. God is Lord—but not the kind of lord we’re used to.

God is more than all this. God is greater. God is so great we can’t grasp more than a tiny piece of God. Not even that, if the truth be known.

To whom then will you compare me,
or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Erm, no one really, God…

I feel a bit like Job here, being barraged with questions by God (ch. 38.4-5a, 12, 18, 21):

Where were you
when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements—
surely you know!
Have you commanded the morning
since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place?

Have you comprehended
the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!

That’s only a tiny bit of it. These questions take the whole of Job chapters 38 and 39. God is beyond our understanding.

In fact, St Augustine (354-430) once said: ‘If you understand it, it’s not God.’

Homer Simpson once said: ‘I may not know much about God, but I have to say we built a pretty nice cage for Him.’ We build cages and boxes all the time to put God in! St Augustine was right: If we understand it, it’s not God we understand. God is eternally beyond our grasp. We can’t ever put God in a cage or a box and say, I’ve got it sorted! We are always like grasshoppers under God’s gaze.

So does God care?

According to Isaiah, God does care. And according to Psalm 147, God cares. The eternal God cares so much that God has sent the Holy Spirit to be with/in us. Both the Hindu children and the Christian children were correct.

Isaiah says that this incomparable God who ‘does not faint or grow weary’, whose ‘understanding is unsearchable’, also

gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

To receive this power, Isaiah says we should ‘wait for the Lord’. He says,

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.

In a similar vein, the Psalm says the Lord

heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.

These broken-hearted ones, these wounded ones, are the people who ‘hope in God’s steadfast love’. They hope for it, they wait for it. Because you know, it takes time to become truly broken-hearted. It takes time to have wounds that need to be cared for and bound. The broken-hearted and the wounded are people who can learn to ‘wait for the Lord’. And sometimes they wait for a very long time indeed.

A theologian from the Czech Republic (Tomáš Halík; see also ABC Religion and Ethics) has said that the difference he sees between people of faith and atheists is patience.

Halík lives in the Czech Republic, which is of course a former Eastern Bloc state, where state-sponsored atheism was rigidly enforced. He was ordained a Catholic priest in Communist times; but he was ordained in secret, and ministered to an underground community. He lived with his mother, but not even she was allowed to know that he had become a priest.

In the West, we can believe but it’s fashionable not to believe; it’s commonplace for people to proclaim loudly that there is no God. Halík says that atheists are impatient.

They feel an absence of God; therefore, they decide there is no God. Halík says they’ve been too hasty. He says,

maturing in one’s faith also entails accepting and enduring moments—and sometimes even lengthy periods—when God seems remote or remains concealed.

We exercise faith precisely where the future is not obvious to us. We exercise faith when we pray, plead, or sit quietly with God—and wait for the Lord as we do so.

But we live in an impatient time. People go deeply into debt to buy the greatest and the best, they want things to happen and now. They want God to do it now.

God is great. God is totally and utterly above and beyond us. And God is with us, walking beside us. Through the Spirit, God is also within us, renewing our spirit in the likeness of Jesus God’s Son. But God’s time may not be ours.

Let’s talk a bit about Jesus. He comes into the synagogue at Capernaum, healing a man of an unclean spirit; then he heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Truly, Jesus

heals the broken-hearted,
and binds up their wounds.

Jesus

gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.

But Jesus also waited on God his heavenly Father. In Mark 1.35 we read

In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

And we know that in Gethsemane he agonised and sweated blood as he waited on God. On the cross, God became so remote from him that he cried out,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Yet he was always God’s Son. God brought him through death and he emerged on the other side a victor over everything that would take him away from God. And he offers it all to us.

I think Tomáš Halík is right about many atheists. They are too impatient. They haven’t waited on the Lord. Yet sometimes we who believe may not wait all that well, either? I’m more and more convinced as I walk the life of faith that we need the  honest, consistent support of a community of faith if we are to wait for the Lord.

Soon we’ll share the family meal, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, together. Do we wait for this Meal? Do we come desiring to share it with our sisters and brothers? Do we eat and drink expectantly, knowing that

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again!

As we wait for the Lord, the living Christ feeds our hungering, waiting souls week by week through Word and Sacrament. And in being fed, in opening our spirits to the Spirit, we can truly begin to appreciate that

The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless…
those who wait for the LORD
shall renew their strength…

Thanks be to God! Amen.

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