Sermon: September 3, 2017 – “Ancient Wisdom; Always in Style”

 

Ancient Wisdom; Always in Style

Text: Isaiah 40: 28-31

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.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 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 had a really odd experience about a year ago. I had been to the dentist for some oral surgery. I had something like 6 teeth removed and was under the influence of a particular kind of anesthesia that puts you under without putting you under. In other words, I didn’t feel a thing, was completely relaxed, but was still conscious enough to open my mouth when told to do so and help the dentist in any way I could. Obviously, I was in no condition to drive, so when the surgery was complete, they called Heidi and she came and got me and drove me home.

This is where the story gets kind of interesting. After we got home I was awake and not in any pain and Heidi and I had a discussion. After a few hours of sleep and rest, it may have even been the next day, Heidi made reference to our conversation. I didn’t have a clue. I could not remember anything or any part of what we had talked about. I could have agreed to move to Alaska or paint our house purple and would not have known it. The entire episode was a blank. I didn’t even remember being picked up from the dentist’s office. It was an odd sensation to say the least.

I tell this story because I think my mental condition coming out of that anesthesia from the dentist may be a little like what we often experience in our relationship with God. We are maybe awake, but the substance of what we experience is not truly absorbed.

This text from Isaiah I think is a good example of what I’m talking about and I think the prophet Isaiah is trying to explain to us how to avoid this situation. Most of us have heard this text a 100 or more times, but has it sunk in? Have you ever really studied it and asked some questions about it? What is Isaiah trying to say?

That being said, let me ask a couple of questions that pop up for me and you can see what you think. My focus really becomes verse 31 and the overarching question for the entire text, at least for me, becomes “what does it mean to wait for the Lord?”

Most of the text is about how we become tired and fatigued and how God doesn’t experience that sensation of becoming worn out. God is always strong and always present and seemingly never needs a nap. Further when we do experience exhaustion or fatigue and are about to faint, God bolsters us up, God gives us strength and renews our power. To quote exactly verse 31: “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.”

Ok, so I will ask the question again. What does it mean to wait for the Lord? What does that kind of waiting look like? Does it mean sitting in a corner, twiddling your thumbs and doing nothing? Does it mean patience? Does it mean focus? What is the context of this word, “wait” and how are we to interpret what it is we are supposed to do?

To answer my own question, I think the word ‘wait’ could mean any of these things and more. Actually I think it has many layers of meaning and is not simply explained or translated; actually I think the concept is very complex.

I also want you to remember my dentist experience. Even though I was talking, even though I had every appearance of knowing what was happening – I clearly did not. I didn’t have a clear grasp of what we were talking about and did not remember a thing after the anesthesia wore off. I guess my question becomes how many of us unwittingly have conversations with God while we are in that condition? And if we do talk to God in that state, wouldn’t it be better to ‘wait’ for the anesthesia to wear off before we talk to God again?

So now comes a follow-up question. What causes us to fall into that trance like state? What causes us to become anesthetized to the point of needing to ‘wait’ for the Lord and ‘wait’ for the anesthesia to wear off? What causes that?

The prophet Isaiah speaks in terms of fatigue and growing faint. Isaiah says there are times when we are powerless and even the young fall exhausted. Why would we be so tired? What kind of activity causes us to faint with weariness? Are we all running marathons or what?

If you have been around here for a while, you may know that it is not unusual for me to sometimes look at a different sacred text and look for overlap or a new interpretation of an old idea. Ancient wisdom is still wisdom regardless of the source and there is much to learn from other writings.

One case in point in the Tao de Ching. This manuscript has been translated almost as much as the Bible and is close to being the same age. The Tao is considered to be about 2,500 years old and parts of our Old Testament, or the Hebrew Bible, are at least that old, perhaps older, but the New Testament is considerably younger than the Tao. The author of the Tao is considered to be an ancient Chinese sage and prophet name Lao Tzu. I think it is interesting that Isaiah and Lao Tzu could have been alive during some of the same years in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.

So the Tao de Ching is a respected ancient Chinese sacred text, full of wisdom and is the primary sacred text for a number of Eastern religions, including Taoism, Buddhism and others. The Tao is a collection of sayings broken in to 81 different verses. In verse 12, I found something that I think is interesting.

  • I won’t read the entire verse, but I’m reading basically the last few sentences:
  • “The chase and the hunt craze people’s minds.
  • Wasting energy to obtain rare objects only impedes one’s growth.
  • The master observes the world, but trusts his inner vision.
  • He allows things to come and go.
  • He prefers what is within to what is without.”

I think what Lao Tzu is talking about here is the quest for riches and wealth, the quest for security and fame, the quest for recognition and honor. In a 21st century context, it is the quest of what many call the American Dream. The success of the upper middle class, the education, the good job, the nice house and the 2 and half kids.

It is the chase and the hunt the craze people’s minds – it is the chase and the hunt that is the anesthesia which clouds our connection to the Divine. We waste so much energy trying to obtain rare objects like gold or money or prestige. Consider the overlap of what Lao Tzu says about wasting energy and what Isaiah says about falling exhausted.

Lao Tzu suggests that we allow things to come and go; he suggests that the master prefers what is within to what is without. Isaiah says it another way. Isaiah says for us to wait for the Lord. Perhaps to get quiet before God. Perhaps to leave the material things of this world out of our thinking and focus on a spiritual inner world instead.

I think the two texts are remarkable similar and say the same thing. We are to be wary of the anesthesia that Lao Tzu calls the chase and the hunt. We are to be wary of the anesthesia that Isaiah identifies as weariness and exhaustion. All of these things cloud our connection with God and we must wait for the cloud to clear before we can truly commune with the Divine.

Go in peace and wait for the renewal of your strength by preferring what is within to what is without. Allow things to come and go and you will be lifted up on eagles wings. Ignore the chase and the hunt that craze people’s minds and you shall run and not be weary, you shall walk and not faint. This is ancient wisdom.

Amen.

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