“Speak Tenderly”

Isaiah 40: 1-11, December 15th 2013

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Here is your God!” 

“See, the Lord GOD comes & will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them and gently lead the mother sheep.”  Yes!  Oh yes indeed!  Our God is here in the midst of our lives!  Our God comes to us as we reach out with our hearts, our faith and our very hands!  God puts the nourishment we need for our very souls as-well-as our bodies before us.  God has gathered us together and supports us in every way – all we need do is accept God’s love and follow God’s will for us and we shall be lifted up!  The prophet Isaiah had his hands full working to uplift the spirit of a crushed and discouraged people.  The same is true of thousands of pastors throughout our country, who are striving, with the help of God, to bolster up their sagging congregations as the strain of this point in American history drags on.


Rev. Kate Huey, a Pastor in the United Church of Christ, says to us: “The God of Israel is also a gentle shepherd, feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms and carrying them close to his heart.  The people are urged to make way for this good news in their lives, a transformation of their situation.”  Clearly Kate is moving us to embrace the words of encouragement from Isaiah and to move us to accept the gentle touch of the Great Shepherd in our lives.  Our God loves us in good times and in bad times and even in the in-between times.  We have seen and lived the hard times, now we must allow the hands of God to uplift us as we are carried into the promise and hope of the future.  Today, our Lord, our Shepherd is carrying us into a time of transformation and renewal.  The situations of the past are now behind us and the good news and glad tidings are now gently stirring in the air.  Can’t you feel it?  Can you not sense it?


You and I, we are no different then the people of old.  The Israelites had been splintered and broken apart by the armies of their enemies.  So have we!  Our enemies came in a different form and hold different names, but make no mistake they came.  Doubt and insecurity led the charge; confusion and discontent followed, with despair and defeat rounding up the weak.  Yes, we are just like the Israelites of old!  But we must remember the old German proverb which proclaims that: “Joy and sorrow are next-door neighbors.”  We have walked, crawled and worked through much of the sorrow of our failings, now it is time for us to reach out and grasp the reigns’ of joy that are within our reach.  Let us all allow the words of the prophet Isaiah to lift up our spirits and lift up our hearts – as we set our eyes upon the signs of the Living Spirit of Christ in our midst!


Signs of the Living Spirit are all around us.  I have seen the Spirit alive in this congregation.  Are you aware of what I am referring?  Some of you are so – so completely involved in the life of this faith community you may not be seeing what I have seen.  I have seen energy, involvement, dedication, sincerity, and love in so many ways.  The Rummage sale, Ten Thousand Villages, The Labyrinth, Our Daily Bread, Committee members, leaders and volunteers.  I have seen and heard voices of praise during every worship service I have been a part of and I know the Spirit of God is in your midst.  I can feel God’s presence.  I can see God’s love in action.  God given talents are being used in every level of this community.  The Living Spirit of God is here in our very midst this morning.  In the eyes of children and in the eyes of each one of you the Living presence of God is here with us!  Our enemies retreat in the midst of such a presence as this!


The Prophet stood before the people and proclaimed: “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.”  In the same manner the prophet speaks out to us saying: ‘take comfort my friends for God has moved us beyond our failings and urges us to now “Speak Tenderly” to one another; Speak tenderly in, of and about this our faith fellowship, our community, our beloved church.  The will of God is before us!  Together, we shall see all that God has in store for us!  Let us throw open the doors and welcome in all who come to us seeking to know the love and the will of God! This community has done so in the past, is doing so now and shall do so well into the future; therefore, let us do so enthusiastically, fully believing in ourselves and believing in “[His]God’s steadfast love (which) endures forever!”  /Psalm 100 VS 5b/   


The Prophet Isaiah predicts the coming of John the Baptist who shall and who has proclaimed the coming of the Messiah.  {A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”}  We know from the accountings in the gospel according to Mark chapter one that indeed this comes to be.  Isaiah goes on to tell us that “Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed!”  Yes indeed and in the gospels of Matthew and Luke the birth stories of Jesus are told, telling us how Jesus arrived into the realm of humankind.  This ties us tightly to our coming Christmas celebration.  This affirms the credibility of the prophecies of Isaiah.


Dr. Mickey Anders, a Pastor in the Disciples of Christ, says: “Isaiah describes the preparations for the coming of God as tearing down the mountains and filling in the valleys.”  So as we prepare for Christmas – as we prepare for the coming of Christ into the world; as we renew this ancient tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Messiah, what mountains must we tear down and what valleys must we fill?  One potential mountain that can be leveled by filling in the valleys is your need, as a congregation, to combine two distinctly different worship styles into one, thus becoming one worshipping fellowship on Sunday mornings; this will need to be done in order for this faith fellowship to accomplish the goal of become a yoked parish.  The ‘yoking’ plan is what you voted to do at your October church meeting with your sister church in Melbourne.  Once both communities have just one worship service on Sunday mornings the sharing of one “full-time” pastor, between the two churches, becomes possible.  Your Moderator has told you of the committee that has been formed to receive your feedback on this very important issue.  Take advantage of this in-between time to talk about what this means to you personally and how you feel about it.


Anders goes on to say: “Let’s imagine ourselves traveling down the Christmas Highway.  Traffic is already building up on the Christmas Highway. We see in front of us a line of vehicles racing to and from the retail shops getting just the right purchases for every person on the Christmas gift list.  We are listening to the jolly music on the radio, frequently intermixed with advertisements for last minute gifts that we simply must purchase.  It seems like the whole world is headed down this highway of holiday joy.  At the top of our lungs we sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!  It’s the hap- happiest time of the year.”  Is this the highway we are meant to travel as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth?  Is it?  As we continue our preparations for Christmas what things are getting in your way, what is holding you back from truly embracing the full meaning of the celebration this season?  


Most of you, like most folks who chose to journey with any given church do so because they love something about the community of faith they have chosen; they like the music, they like the old hymns that remind them of the journey that brought them to this time and this space; they like the drummer or the contemporary gospel singer; they like the vocalist and the upbeat modern Christian music.  Many folks love the old traditional style of the worship service; still others come because of the relaxed informality of worship offered here.  Knowing this – consider what it is that makes this particular church, the Riviera United Church of Christ, what makes this church “Your Church?” Prayerfully, lift up all the elements of this church, lift up all the elements of the current worship styles and ask God, ask Your God, to bless them!  Ask the Living God, the Spirit of God to help you, to help all of us, to consider what we can change and what we cannot.


Isaiah tells us to “Get up to a high mountain, and lift up your voice with strength, and do not fear; saying: “Here is your God!”  If this is the Christmas highway you are traveling on then keep on going – you are on the right road! But if Christmas has become a vehicle that is contrary to the message of “good tidings” the message that proclaims the love of God through the birth of Jesus, then it is time to tear down that roadway!  If this is the path you find yourself upon – get off that pathway!  Just because there is a crowd of others upon the roadway this does not guarantee it is the path one ought to take.  No quite to the contrary; both the Prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist were strongly suggesting there would be some changes needed in order to be prepared for the coming of the Lord our God!  So look carefully at the pathway you are following.  Ask yourself: are you just following the crowd or are you following the proclamations of Isaiah and John the Baptist?  


As you set your eyes upon the future, be it Christmas or the coming New Year, or plans you have made for your children, your grand children, or your own career, or even your pending retirement, let your heart be filled with the love of God.  Know it, and believe it for God is already in our midst!  The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the coming of our Lord, John the Baptist affirmed that the time was at hand; the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke have witnessed to the story of the baby Jesus’ birth.  Therefore: be of good cheer and be a herald of good tidings, be the bearer of good news! 




Isaiah 40

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.

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”  A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?”  All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass.  The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. 

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”

See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.  He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

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