We interupt our normal blogging schedule for last night's sermon.
Isaiah 40:1-8 (ESV)
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries "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. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fade when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
“The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
It’s a beloved phrase. I have known pastors to use it at the end of every sermon they give. A reminder that this word that God has spoken, of forgiveness and life, of all flesh seeing the glory of the Lord together, is true. The comfort that God has exonerated Isaiah to speak to his people is true. Comfort, comfort my people.
Perhaps it is a bit counter intuitive. The grass withers and the flower fades. This isn’t beautiful imagery. No one wants to think of withered grass and faded flowers. Come July in Utah and I’m tired of withered grass and faded flowers. It’s the spring when the snow is melting on the hills, and the weather is nice. That’s the time for hiking around Tooele and visiting old mines and hilltops. It’s fun and exciting to see the green grass poking up through the old withered vegetation, to see the first of the Indian paintbrushes blossoming on the hill side, perhaps next to a prickly pear in season. It’s fun to see a desert valley turn golden orange with California Poppies. It’s life, and it is beautiful. Green grass on a freshly mowed lawn framed with blooming rosebushes, what’s not to enjoy.
All flesh is grass and its beauty is like the flower of the field. The fields Jesus points to, clothed in lilies, and Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed like one of those. Indeed, beautiful women array themselves in flowers hoping to capture their beauty. But they fade. And flowers can fade fast. So with life itself, with our flesh. It goes by so fast. Everything is going along fine and highschool, your stint in the service, college pranks were just yesterday, but tomorrow you turn forty, and the day after 60. Ten years and you think, really? Is it possible I stayed here that long? How? And you notice it fading. Your eyes start growing dim to the point that they don’t notice the grey sneaking up on you, just one morning you look in the mirror and you see your dad, you see your mom. As one old man told me, if there is something you want to do, well you better get to it now. The grass withers and the flower fades.
Somehow we just know it isn’t supposed to be this way. Oh we really don’t care if it happens to grass or flowers. But why is it that we should go the way of the flowers of the field, the grass which today is alive and tomorrow thrown into the oven? Why, we ask. What is the sense of it all then? Why even live this life. And some suppose there is no sense to it then. But you catch them complaining about this imperfect world all the same. Imperfect, we instinctively know it isn’t what it should be. We look around at the exploitation of people working in sweat shops. We watch loved ones fade out in the last years of their life, we see our children and wonder if we will see them graduate highschool, or get married and we know that none of this is certain. We struggle with bills to pay. And eternity in our hearts. Eternity in our hearts. Why? I often marvel. This would not be a question we ask of ourselves if the life of this grass wasn’t filled with pain, suffering and death. We ask what the meaning of life is, only because we know it comes to an end, and between now and then the flower fades. We know life shouldn’t be this way and we resent that it is. Far be it from us to blame ourselves. We are helpless to do anything about it.
And that is the kicker. We are helpless to do anything about it. We know that somehow we are responsible for this mess we are in. That we made this bed. But it doesn’t make us enjoy the bed when the going gets rough and the mattress a bit lumpy. We would rather change it for a different bed. A different life. And of course, that is the comfort that Isaiah offers the people of Israel, there is a new life waiting, Israel receives from the Lord’s hands double for all here sins, her iniquity is pardoned. That is, we receive twice as much forgiveness as we actually need if such things could be calculated. The Lord who takes care of the sparrows of the air, and the lilies of the field, he takes care of your soul too.
Yes he knows that all flesh is grass, he knows that your flower fades. But he does not leave it there, that this life should be lived a meaningless mess. No, he pardons your sins, and comforts you amidst affliction. He sends his son to live the life of grass, alive today and tomorrow thrown into the oven, that the glory of the Lord would be revealed to all flesh, and that glory comes not in judgment but in forgiveness from the cross. There the Lord himself withered at the breath of God, died in his judgment for the sins of the world, that in his body and blood we would find forgiveness and life eternal a double portion for our sins in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. There we have forgiveness. There we have life, and no longer the life of grass that withers, no longer the beauty of a flower that fades, but the life of God himself who died and rose again, and lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forever, because he is the word of God, and the word of our God will stand forever. His word is comfort, his word is pardon for iniquity, his word is a double portion for her sins received from the hand of the Lord, that his glory would be revealed and all flesh would see it together. And when the grass withers, and the flower fades, forgiveness still stands.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.