the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Sunday 02/05/06 Year B - Epiphany 5

Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Grashopper Eyes and Eagle's Wings.*
Isaiah 40:21-31

I usually take my sermon from the Gospel reading for the week. But the Old Testament passage is so powerful that I cannot miss an oportunity to open to you a small portion of its wealth.

One of the most famous chapters in the Old Testament is this 40th Chapter of Isaiah. It was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln. It is said that on the eve of the Allied invasion of Normandy, General Dwight D. Eisenhower laid awake all night reading this chapter over and over. And, although this may be more legend than fact, on the eve of Desert Storm, General Norman Schwarzkopf did the same.

Chapter 40 is the beginning Chapter of Isaiah of the Exile. Chapter 39 ends during the reign of Hezekiah in 680 BC. Chapter 40 begins during the reign of Cyrus the Great of Persia in 538 BC. 142 years have passed between Chapters 39 and 40.

The opening verses in the King James tanslation have been imortalized by Frederich Handle in his choral masterpiece "The Messiah."

Comfort ye,
O. comfort ye
my people,
saith your God,
saith your God.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her,
that her warfare is accomplished,
that her iniquity is pardoned:
for she hath received of the LORD'S hand
double for all her sins.

Isaiah 40:31 has been one of my favorite scriptures of hope in the power of God.

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.

It is a great hope to feel that God can lift us up on Eagle’s wings. I love the idea of soaring above it all, being the swift and strong eagle, with a bird’s eye view of all the grasshoppers below.

But we have jumped too far ahead. We need to back up to verse 22

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

We need to remember that so much of our life is lived with the grasshoppers. In describing the greatness of our Creator, Isaiah starts off comparing us to the small leaf-hoppers who are more prey than predator. Isaiah had such a gift for metaphor, so I wonder if he carefully chose contrasting grasshoppers with eagles, or if any small insect or rodent would do for his literary purposes. This week I want to take some time to applaud the grasshopper as well as the eagle.

Grasshoppers have a bad reputation in the world of literature. In Aesop’s fables they are the lazy, playful bug that has not made preparation for the winter and must beg the industrious ant for food and shelter. This same motif carries over in the movie “It's A Bugs Life” where the grasshoppers are evil and torment the ants like a street gang. Humans generally have a negative view of the grasshopper as a pest that can eat us out of our spot on the food chain. Who can forget the story of the plague of locusts (a cousin of the grasshopper) that devoured the first year of crops of the Mormons who settled in Utah, and the saving grace of the Lord in the form of a flock of seaguls that came over from the Great Salt Lake to feast on the little buggers.

In Iowa, in the summer the grasshoppers are thicker than flies. walking in the pasture, each step causes a ripple of life that surged nearly 10 feet away as the mobs of grasshoppers leap out of the way. They eat everything, they eat the corn, they eat the alfalfa and they eat the tomatoes, planted by the farmers' wives up next to the house. One man reminiscing about his youth said, "Thank God they did not leave the Zucchini."

Grasshoppers have wings too. While they can not soar like eagles, they can leap 20 times more than their own body length. For a human such a feat would be a flying leap of 40 yards, which would revolutionize football, basketball and baseball if only we could land with the same grace as the grasshopper. Grasshoppers are one of the most successful species on the planet, coming in 18,000 different varieties and in a variety of colors. Their color is a kind of defense mechanism. Apparently the brighter colors of grasshoppers warn birds that they are not good to eat, something most every boy can attest to as well.

I also like grasshoppers because of one of my favorite TV shows. Remember David Carradine and the weekly drama “Kung Fu?” A favorite series, it can still be seen on the cable channels. The main character is a wandering Anglo-Chinese monk who immigrated to the US in the latter part of the 19th century. He passed from town to town spreading Zen wisdom and defending the weak by kicking and chopping the town bullies. Each episode would flash back to his memories as a boy growing up in the Budhist monastery. Before delivering a pearl of wisdom, his Kung Fu master would affectionately call him “Grasshopper.”

Something about grasshoppers speaks of playful adolescents trying to come into maturity. They look like their tongue is perpetually sticking out, they are quick to leap away and hide in the grass and have a built in fiddle to play away the day. Grasshopper seems like an excellent name for a spiritual novice.

Now here’s why I think Isaiah chose grasshoppers to represent humanity in this chapter. Grasshoppers not only have wings, though they are much less endowed than eagles, they also have 5 eyes. Part of their adaptability and survival comes from their ability to see everything around them in a great panorama. It is this ability to see the wide horizon that can take us beyond being a spiritual novice. If we only see the next blade of grass in front of us, we will not grow and thrive. As long as I remain down in the grass, content to only look in front of me, I quickly become weighed down by trivia- annoyed by the attitudes of other people, caught up in my own selfish struggles, wondering why the grass doesn’t taste better or worried that I will run out of grass altogether.

The Jews had been in Exile in Babylon for fifty years. Now they were free to leave and return to their homes. But they had lost hope. They had lost sight of the blessing of God that they enjoyed when the Priest went into the Temple carrying the blood of the lamb. And they had lost hope in the power of their God to make a difference in their lives.

Isaiah says to the people, "The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever."

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him?

Whom did he consult for his enlightenment, and who taught him the path of justice?

Who taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

Finally in this chapter, Isaiah brings his rhetoric to a great crescendo:

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. 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.

When I read Isaiah, I hear him saying to us, “Look grasshopper…Have you not seen, have you not heard? Look around at the big world. Behind it all is your creator, who has the expansive power of life, a power that can make a small grasshopper soar like and eagle.” In faith, it is the capacity to look at the vast expanse of the world with a sense of awe and wonder that lifts us to new heights. Seeing things with the eyes of amazement, seeing our selves in the context of being part of a majestic creation, gives our faith the “wind beneath our wings” to soar. May we all learn to live with grasshopper eyes and eagles wings.

*Thanks to bloomingcactus for this sermon.


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