Sunday, April 9, 2017

“Against the Wind” (Isaiah 50:4-9a)

There is one thing common to everyone who lives in Montana . . . it is the wind.  There is no place in Montana where one can escape the wind.  It is a natural part of Montana.  The wind blows . . . and, often, it blows hard.  Especially around places like Nye and Livingston.  We Montanans know a thing or two about the wind, especially when it comes to going against the wind . . . it is hard work to walk against the wind.

That phrase, “against the wind”, actually has meaning.  It is a nautical term meaning to sail against the wind . . . a nearly impossible task.  Thus whenever the phrase, “against the wind”, is used it means an attempt at something that is unlikely to succeed.

So, why are we talking about “against the wind” when we have entered into the start of Holy Week in the church liturgical year?  Why are we talking about “against the wind” as we have gathered to celebrate the triumphant entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem on a day we call Palm Sunday?  Seems kind of strange when one considers that we should be dancing in the pews . . . shouting “Hosanna!” . . . and celebrating with those followers of Jesus gathered to mark his entrance.  Why are we talking about going “against the wind” . . . talking about something with little opportunity of succeeding . . . on a day when the hope and joy should be at its highest?

Well, I will tell you why.

A lot happens between the triumphant entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem and the purpose we will gather to celebrate next Sunday . . . a lot!  That’s the problem with only having worship on Sunday mornings, especially during Holy Week . . . we miss a whole lot of the story between this Sunday and next.  In centering upon the joy of the entrance, we miss out on the rest of the story . . . a story that is not much to celebrate, but vital to the whole reason we gather next Sunday.  We miss out on the struggle, the arrest, the defections, the trial, the beatings, the crucifixion, and ultimately the death.

As much as we would love to just skip over that part of the story . . . we can’t.  We can’t because it is in that story that we see the whole foundation of what we have come to celebrate as Easter.  The prophets remind of us this.

In our reading this morning we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of the Messiah . . . the one who is yet to come.  In the Old Testament the prophets paint a picture of the Messiah and what that individual’s life is going to be like.  Rarely is the picture that is painted pleasant to look at.

Thus it is that we hear the prophet Isaiah tells us of the struggles of the Messiah . . . of the Holy One who is still to come.  He tells us of the struggles this Messiah is going to have . . . the journey is not going to be easy, nor is it going to be pleasant.  In our reading this morning we hear that the Messiah will encounter much opposition . . . opposition set on stopping the Holy One from succeeding.  Isaiah, speaking for the Messiah, talks of being beaten . . . being mocked . . . being spit upon.  Definitely not a walk in the park.  No, Isaiah tells us that the Messiah will be going “against the wind”.

The Messiah will be facing what seem to be insurmountable odds . . . and, the Messiah knows this.  The Messiah knows of the difficulties that lie ahead; and, yet, the Holy One chooses to go ahead.  Not only does the Messiah chose to move ahead, the Messiah choses to move ahead with great excitement and anticipation.  The Messiah moves ahead because he has been instructed by God to do so . . . “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.”  And, the Messiah embraces this call upon his life with great anticipation and willingness . . . like a student who cannot get enough of what the teacher shares . . . “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.”  So gung ho is this individual, that he is willing to endure whatever is thrown at him to succeed in doing God’s will . . . and, he does it with enthusiasm.

He is willing to go against the wind.

Against the backdrop of Palm Sunday there is the rest of the story that we cannot ignore.  There is the story of Jesus entering into the den of maleficence in which he is taunted, ridiculed, baited, and eventually arrested.  He is tried . . . beaten . . . and nailed to a cross.  He is left to die.  Not quite the segue one imagines for the glory and happiness of Easter.  Yet it is those days between the triumphant entry and the glorious resurrection that show us the way.  Jesus knew what was coming, and yet, he still chose to do it.  As he said in the garden that night, “. . . not my will, but yours be done.”  (Luke 22:42)

A life of faith is not easy.  It is not easy because it goes “against the wind”.  Ask Jesus.

You don’t have to explain to a Montanan how difficult it is to walk against the wind.  We all know how difficult it is to attempt to swim upstream against the current.  It is hard.  Yet, Jesus chose to go “against the wind”.  He chose to go against the wind because he knew and understood from where the strength and ability to do it came from.  It came from the Lord.  The prophet Isaiah proclaims the words of the Messiah, “It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.”

It is the Sovereign Lord who calls . . . the Sovereign Lord who teaches . . . and, the Sovereign Lord who sustains.  Who sustains despite the ridicule . . . the public humiliation . . . the physical beatings . . . and, in the case of Jesus, even death upon a cross.  It is from the Lord that the perseverance and audacity come to do the will of the Lord.  Because of this the Messiah, according to Isaiah, proclaims, “Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”

The strength comes from the Lord who will not abandon us . . . who will not abandon us no matter how tough the going gets.  

That is the “good news” in our reading this morning.  As we face the “facts” of what happened to Jesus between the time he made his triumphant entrance into the city of Jerusalem and that fateful moment of his death upon a cross, we discover the power of walking “against the wind”.  It is in the “. . . the Sovereign Lord who helps me.”  
As Lent is a season of examination, reflection, discernment, and prayer about our lives being lived in faith, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter up the ante.  They challenge us to examine our lives as to whether or not we are heeding the call of God upon us.  Are we truly walking in the footsteps of Jesus?

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Messiah recognized his call from God as being one who brings hope to those who are weary . . . “to know the word that sustains the weary.”  As we look around our lives and the world in which we live . . . do we recognize the weary?  I imagine that we do.

From those we encounter on a daily basis to the world at large . . . it is difficult not to see the weariness of God’s children.  To this weariness Jesus spoke words of hope . . . and, we are called to do likewise.  But, we know that the ways of God are not the ways of the world.  We know that God’s ways are often in opposition to the ways of the world.  And, we know that the world will spare no expense in wiping out the ways of God.  We saw that in the death of Jesus himself.

Yet, Jesus persisted.  In the end, he won.

He won to demonstrate that we, too, can win.  Jesus sailed “against the wind” to show us the way.  It won’t be easy, but it can be done.  I do not think that there is anyone among us that does not see this time as a time to go “against the wind”.  Lean forward . . . believe . . . and, God will sustain you in doing God’s will.  It might be tough, but God will be there every step of the way.  Amen.

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