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With Cheerful Courage

February 23, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert


Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this Quinquagesima weekend comes from our Old Testament text, where Isaiah speaks YHWH’s Word, Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”  Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Death, disease, and uncertainty have all visited our little corner of the world, and it’s made life significantly more difficult for many of us. A common sentiment I’ve heard over the past few days has been, “When it rains, it pours,” and my reply is simply, “Yup.” Because it has been a difficult, trying few months that we have been going through as a family here at St. James. That’s the reality we’ve been dealing with here, but we’ve also been facing long-standing issues here, as well. It’s no secret that we’ve been struggling with church attendance. Our school house is only little over half full. Our board membership, while extremely dedicated and selfless, is small – the Board of Stewardship, for example, is completely vacant.

We’ve been struggling, my friends, and we’re not the only ones. Across our synod, even across denominational lines, the Church has been struggling. Some have been rocked by scandal after scandal. Some have given themselves over to the ways of the world – and are, consequently, hemorrhaging membership. Some church bodies – especially in Africa, Asia, and South America – have to deal with the everyday reality of persecution and martyrdom. St. James specifically, and the Church at large, has had a difficult go of things recently, and as we all know, people can only take so much before they break – which, frankly, is why our Old Testament text is so vital.

What do we see in this chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy? Something wonderful. Hear those words again: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. Beautiful imagery, wonderful promises … but these are not things that we see.

Arthritis still makes hands weak and knees feeble; even artificial joints aren’t eternal. Anxiety is at an all-time high, with numerous sources to blame. Injustice still thrives throughout the world, especially for God’s people. The blind are still blind, the deaf are still deaf, the lame and paralyzed are still thus, the mute are still silent and the dead remain in their caskets and vaults and urns. The wilderness is still wild, the deserts are still bone-dry. So … why are these words from Isaiah so absolutely vital during a time when it’s difficult being the Church of Christ Jesus? Faith.

I don’t say that as some pious platitude; I say that as the reality. What is faith? It’s a word we throw around rather loosely, but what is it actually? The Preacher to the Hebrews reminds them in his letter that … faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. The nature of faith in Christ Jesus is trusting in the promises that God has given to us through Him, in spite of, and sometimes in clear contradiction to, things that we see. A perfect example was seen earlier today/yesterday, as we laid our brother Russ Shoemaker to rest. To human eyes, death is death, and all we see is a lifeless body lying before us; but faith trusts the promise that Jesus gave to Martha in the wake of Lazarus’s death: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” Human eyes cannot see that, but eyes of faith do. Why? Because of who our faith is centered on: Jesus Christ.

Because He died in our place, bearing our sins and the penalty those sins deserved, we have the promise that our sins are forgiven, fully atoned for, even if we don’t see it. Because He rose from the dead, conquering sin, death and the devil, we have the promise that we, too, will be raised from the dead to live with Him for all eternity when He returns. Because Jesus ascended to heaven and is currently living and reigning over all creation from the Father’s right hand, we have the promise that He has prepared a place for those who trust His promises. We cannot presently, physically see how these things can be, but with the eyes of faith, we trust that they are, and that they will be. Faith in Jesus knows fully that what Isaiah saw will come to pass. Weak hands and feeble knees will be strengthened. The anxious will be strong and fearless. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will leap, the mute will sing, and the dead will rise in Christ.

Our issues, the difficulties and trials that we’ve been facing as St. James specifically and the Church at-large, are nothing to sneeze at. They are real, raw, and painful, and we don’t have any promise that the burden will be lifted or that easier times will come. What we do have … are eyes of faith, which trust the promises that God has given us in Christ Jesus. Because of that, we can face it all, and nothing will take those promises away from us. In spite of what our human eyes see and the hardships we face, I can confidently say to all of you, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.