Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Turn Your Life Over to God”
Isaiah 43:1-7, January 10th, 2016
Over these past 21 years as an ordained pastor I have heard a lot of stories. Some, well they are just sad; others are difficult to deal with in many different ways. Still other things I have heard over the years, give me a good chuckle and sometime they have some meaningful insights. This one story, has some insights into the whole concept of faith. You see, faith is associated with trust and… well I think you will see how both words are used in this account. One directly and the other is assumed.
The story goes like this. One of the financial secretaries was struggling to open a combination lock to the safe. She had been told the combination, but couldn’t quite remember it. Finally, she came into the pastor’s study and asked for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. After the first two numbers, he paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally, he looked up towards heaven and his lips moved silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the lock. The woman was amazed. “I’m in awe at your faith, pastor,” she said. “It’s really nothing,” he answered. “The number is on a piece of tape on the ceiling.” /Author Unknown/
Here is a short story about a young child and her father who were crossing a bridge. Father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, ‘Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.’ The little girl said, ‘No, Dad. You hold my hand.’ ‘What’s the difference?’ Asked the puzzled father. ‘There’s a big difference,’ replied the little girl. ‘If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let my hand go.’ /Author unknown/
In any relationship, the essence of trust is not in its tie or bind, but in its bond. So hold the hand of the person who loves you rather than expecting them to hold yours. Because holding hands is not only about taking care, it’s also about the trust and love you have for that person.
There’s this old, old told story about a man who falls over a cliff and grabs hold of a branch, which saves him from falling to his death. He calls for help and a voice from heaven answers him, telling him to trust in God and just let go. The man terrified and untrusting of God’s voice yells again: “Help! Is there anyone else up there?” No one seems to know where this story originated but it seems clear it was a preacher, or a pastor trying to explain how hard it can be, at times, to trust the lead of God. Yet, this is exactly what God asks of us: to trust without hesitation even when it seems ridiculous and unhelpful. I suspect that this is what some of our youth feel when they are given instructions that seem totally worthless. It is not the directions that are wrong, it is the level of bond or trust between the two; whether it be God, a teacher or a parent in the conversation. It seems clear that we need to focus less on the details of the instructions and more on the relationships that we are building with each other, and most certainly that relationship or lack thereof, between oneself and God.
In essence our scripture this morning from the writings attributed to the prophet Isaiah, is about trusting in God. Believing in God’s willingness to be with us and care for us, at all moments in our lives. It is easy to say: ‘just turn your life over to God’; it is another thing to actually ‘let go’ and ‘let God’ pilot your life. Especially, when it comes to things we still cling to, unwilling to let go of old ideas and old understandings, even though they are broken.
I know, from personal experience, it is always a question, a choice even, as to when one ought to ask for help. You know all you need to do is load those bricks on the back of the truck, you have done it a hundred times before. So this time you don’t ask God for help, nor do you ask anyone else for help. Maybe it’s not that task but another; one you just know you can handle by yourself, so once again you do not ask anyone to help. Perhaps you don’t realize that by asking for help it may actually be helpful to the one who extends their hand to assist. It may make them feel useful and a part of your life, or part of the team effort you represent. And if it is God that helps you someone might observe how you were able to navigate a seemingly difficult job with such grace and poise. Hum, maybe an opportunity to tell an onlooker that God helped you thus boosting their own journey of faith and trust; and possibly you and the one whom helped you will move closer to forming a more intimate bond.
Yet, there are many who find it easy to ask God for help especially when the solution is at hand, but it is harder when it is not. If this is you, then perhaps it is when it looks hopeless or dangerous to let go and do it God’s way… That’s when it is hard to let go. Your issue seems to be like the man hanging off that cliff, you don’t believe God has what it takes to save you, to help you through that next crisis. If that’s you I can understand. I have been there, more than once. It is not a pleasant experience, going it alone, when things all seem to be going wrong. If you are stuck here in your journey then it’s time to push forward.
My understanding of God, when I was a youth, was very different than what it has become. Like many, I thought I was indestructible and I had not experienced much of life’s fullness. I had a lot to learn. I gave it lip service and I was definitely a member of a faith community. I went to church on Sundays, and ‘Sunday School’ and was part of the youth group. It was the thing to do, so I did it. But as I look back, I did not have a grasp on what it meant to start truly trusting in God; and I certainly did not connect with the others around me in any deep sort of way. After I graduated from High School I went straight into the military. Then I learned to use God when I got in a jam. Like the average enlistee I knew enough about God to plead for help when I was in a fox hole, and it was always one I had dug. My enemy was myself but I couldn’t get out of the way long enough to figure that out.
Years later, as I entered seminary my relationship with God had changed from my earlier understandings. In this newly established role as student – answering God’s call – I had begun to listen to God! As my education and connection with God continued to strengthen I began to realize that God was a really good listener – much better than I had ever realized. That is when I started to understand a deeper side of a trusting relationship.
That’s right folks – we are talking about trust!
My journey through life is unique to me. Yet, my faith journey with God is very much like a great many. We start with a small idealistic understanding of God, usually passed on to us by beautiful ritualistic celebrations and observances like Christmas and Easter. Mix that with some dramatic biblical stories, like that of Moses and the journey of the Hebrew slaves that are freed from Egypt, and then you have the attention of those just venturing into their relationship with God. It is in those later years as we develop into responsible adults, with all its stumbling blocks and challenges, it is then that the journey of faith is tested and oftentimes fails to meet the standards of modern life! At some point, hopefully we begin to trust, trusting God is with us in good times and in bad.
This morning, I urge us all to dismiss our old misunderstood and ill-conceived, conceptions of God! Embrace a new understanding, a new perception of God! Listen to the ancient writings and words of the Prophet Isaiah. He was speaking to a broken people. People who had been defeated in battle. His words speak of a God that truly cares about each one of us, the children of God. Listen closely! “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” God’s desire to be with us and help us along the way has not wavered. It is only our willingness to trust that has become weakened. What has caused this to happen in your life?
There are those who think God is dead. Others think that the time for miracles has passed us by. Some say that religion and faith are for the weak minded and those who cannot care for themselves! Historically, dictatorial governments have closed and banned churches or scoffed at church goers. Yet, eventually, many of the faithful seem to walk out of the storms of seeming hopelessness and move forward with life. Why is that? Is it possible that God still lives? Is it possible that, even though we may not fully understand God, that the ancients had it right, there is a living God who cares for us and walks with us? The prophet Isaiah spoke for God saying: “Do not fear, for I am with you;” yes, many of the faithful continue to believe that the Creator still cares about us!
Are you brave enough, are you daring enough to trust in something you have not or cannot see, feel or touch? Are you so broken that no one is able to open your heart to the love that surrounds you? Have you allowed the damaged misunderstandings and ill deeds of humankind to close your senses to the caress of God’s mercy and kindness? Have you only tied yourself to a faith family, but are still unwilling to bond and become part of such a family? Let go of the false security of a dying branch; a branch that will surely break and drop you into the abyss anyway. Let go and turn your life over to God.
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, chapter: 43 verses: 1-7”
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth – everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
“Allow God to touch our hearts and minds, as we seek out and look for a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”