“Have You Not Known?”

EPIPHANY 5B – 5th February, 2012 – St Matthew’s, Guildford

SERMON NOTES

 

Did you see this, the front page of Friday’s “West Australian”?  It’s about the hills areas to the east of Perth and how unprepared they seem to be for the prospect of bushfires.

 

It’s just a year since the horrendous fires which raged through Roleystone and Kelmscott, destroying 71 homes and damaging 39 more.

 

And, according to this report the level of fire danger in the hills, from Mundaring to Armadale, is still very high, especially since we have had good winter rainfall and corresponding vegetation growth.

 

According to the “West”, “firefighters are frustrated at the ‘apathy’ of residents in fire-prone areas who still fail to safeguard their properties”  The article continues, “Roleystone volunteer fire captain took The West Australian to a forested area with houses he described as his ‘worst nightmare’.  ‘If a fire gets going in there, you’d have 100 -120 houses go without any way of stopping it because the terrain is so steep and people have bush up to their houses”.

 

And the people of these areas could well do with hearing the words of the prophet Isaiah in today’s reading:         “Have you not known? Have you not heard?

                        Has it not been told you from the beginning?

                        Have you not understood…”

 

Surely no-one can complain that they’ve not been told, but as the article continues, it is clear that many home-owners (and possibly local government authorities) are not listening.

 

The people of Israel to whom the prophet is writing are in a vastly different situation to that of the folk of the Darling Scarp, although they might well sympathise with those who have lost the homes and livelihood.

 

The Israelites are mostly descendants of those who were taken captive to Babylon some seventy years previously.  Their land and houses had been destroyed, as had their beautiful city of Jerusalem with its Temple and artefacts.

 

They are in mourning still, as represented in Psalm 137, made famous as a song by the group, Boney M.

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
.”

Chapter 40 of Isaiah, from which we are reading this morning, begins a new section of the book.  In the first 39 chapters, Israel has been admonished by God for their sins of idolatry and forgetting or neglecting to keep God’s commands.  As a result of their sins, they are to be punished and the captivity in Babylon is the result.

 

Now, seventy years later, there is a new message of hope. Chapter 40 begins (as we heard a few Sundays back,

“Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.”

 

And then we have “a voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight in the desert a highway for our God’”

 

As the chapter progresses, the people are reminded that God is still on the throne and still cares for God’s people, being very much aware of their suffering and grief.  God has not forgotten them, but they seem to have forgotten God.

 

A sad state of affairs, indeed!

 

If we read the Old Testament books of the history of God’s people, Israel, we see a roller-coaster ride of times when the people and their leaders and kings seemed to alternate between honouring God and going off to serve the gods and idols of the land – the Baal and Ashteroth and Molech and the rest.  When they serve God, they prosper; when they desert God for other gods, they suffer.  But they never really seem to learn!  L  And the exile to Babylon is the ultimate punishment.

 

Reading the history, we might think Israel would have learned their lesson.  And maybe now they have.  They are in a depressed and downtrodden state and help seems impossible.

 

Until, “Comfort, comfort my people” rings out across Babylon.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

                        Has it not been told you from the beginning?

                        Have you not understood…”

 

Take a look at the sky, says the prophet.

Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?

  He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name;

  because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.”

 

God knows that the people feel forgotten and deserted.

‘Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,

  “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?’

 

And how often, when our own circumstances are bad, when we feel lost, lonely, depressed, grieving over lost youth, lost opportunities and lost people, do we feel like these people, as though God has deserted us?

 

So God’s words to Israel are words to us in our situations of loneliness, loss and grief;

 

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

                        Has it not been told you from the beginning?

                        Have you not understood…”

 

One of the reasons we need the church and our gatherings together on Sundays and at other times is that we need to be reminded.  So easily and so often, we forget that God is God, that:

 

“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.”

 

We need to hear again and often the stories of God’s greatness, of God’s grace and compassion and forgiveness.  We need again and often to celebrate what God is doing in the lives of God’s people in this place and in myriads of places all over the earth.

 

We come to draw strength from worship, reading of Scripture, preaching, prayer and Eucharist.  We come together, in the prophet’s words, to “wait for the Lord”.

 

And the promise to Israel is a promise to us,

 

“[God] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

but 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.”

 

I do not know how people in our “fire-prone areas” will respond to the calls for greater care and attention to the bush-fire threat.  Though I doubt enough will ever be done.  We forget so easily.

 

But never forget this: We have known and we have heard and it has been told us from the beginning that God, our God, is with us, and God, our God, is for us.

 

 

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