Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 9/6

Summer doesn’t officially end for a couple more weeks, but Labor Day weekend kind of unofficially marks the transition into fall but after an unusually cool summer and an especially cold and rainy weekend last week, this week we’ve had some of the most beautiful days of the year, sunshine,  temperatures in the 70’s, nice cool nights; it doesn’t get much better. 

Last Tuesday I took a ride down to Fortune Lake for Bishop’s convocation and it was just gorgeous; clear blue skies, some splashes of early fall color along with other leaves you could see were close to turning, the sunlight beginning to have more of that fall slant to it.  Friday I kayaked from Little Presque Isle up to Loma Farms and there’s one stretch of rocky lakefront along there as beautiful as anything you’ll ever see especially on a beautiful day with the sun sparkling on the water and an eagle looking down at me from the rocks above.  It’s hard not to be in awe of it all and I hope you too have found ways to enjoy these days.  The beauty of creation does incline us to offer thanks to the creator and it seems appropriate that on this last Sunday of the summer, the lessons are very much about praise and thanks to God.

Last weeks lessons were more of the “Yeah, but how are we supposed to live our lives” variety.  Today though, apart from James who is always full of helpful advice on how to live, it’s more about God; who God is and what God is like.  So the only real “to do” for us this week as we consider who God is and what God is like, is to offer thanks and praise.  The lessons for today, especially the two from the Old Testament that I’m going to focus on, but also the gospel, provide us with plenty of reasons.

In the psalm, God is praised as creator of heaven and earth kind of like we offer praise when confronted with the beauty of nature.  But the psalmist goes beyond creation praise and also praises God as the one who keeps promises, brings justice, feeds the hungry and opens the eyes of the blind, a god who lifts up and loves and cares and sustains, all things that we want God to do.  If there was any crisis or question in the life of this psalmist, it’s past, it’s behind him so that having experienced God’s presence, praise is his response.  

In the Isaiah passage there are more reasons for praise with proclamation about a God who will come and save, who will open the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf, a God who will enable the speechless to sing and the lame to walk.  Then there is an image of a new creation where streams flow in the desert and water is abundant in places that have been dry, a reversal of that which seemed irreversible.  There are some similarities between this passage and the psalm but what is notably different is that Isaiah is future oriented.  In the psalm the reasons for praise had already happened.  In Isaiah it’s in the future, praise for what will happen.

Even in the case of the psalm though, in terms of specifics we don’t really know what prompted the psalmist to offer such abundant praise. Although there are some psalms that are assigned to David or Moses or Solomon, the truth is that little is known about the who, when and why of any of them.  What we have are voices of individuals and communities speaking out of circumstances ranging from great joy to the depths of despair and everything else in between.  The last five psalms of the Bible, including today’s, are all expressions of praise and are no doubt intentionally placed as they are to end the Psalms on a high note.  But again, we don’t really know what prompted the praise.  We don’t know what was going on in the life of the psalmist. 

In the case of Isaiah, we do know more about what was going on, but what we know makes his words a little bit surprising.  What is remarkable about this passage as well as many of the other beautiful and poetic passages in Isaiah, is that they were written at a time when there was little or no reason for praise, little or no evidence that God would ever do any of the things the text says he will do. 

Jerusalem had been invaded and conquered, the leading citizens taken away into exile.  The known world for these people had been assaulted and destroyed, all the structures and symbols that held life together were gone.  They had been defeated and they understood the reason for the defeat to be the Lord’s judgment on them.  He had finally lost patience with their disobedience so that defeat and exile were the result.  It was over, not a time that one would expect praise or an articulation of reasons for praise; lament maybe, repentance maybe, but not praise.

Lament and repentance were voiced out of this time of exile.  But the most remarkable literature to come out of this time was that which voiced hope; the possibility of new beginnings, new actions on the part of God.  Prophets like Isaiah were able to imagine that there was still reason for praise, that it wasn’t over, but that something new was about to happen, something that would in fact reverse that which seemed irreversible, something that would in fact be cause for praise.  Mind you this isn’t a move to praise that denies the reality of what it going on; it’s not offering blind praise when life is kicking you in the teeth.  Instead it reflects an ability to see beyond, to hope beyond the reality of what is going on and to trust that God can and will act to change things.

It does makes me wonder though how people like Isaiah did it, how they could offer such hopeful praise and hopeful images when there wasn’t much apparent reason for it.  We say that such people are inspired by the Holy Spirit but then you wonder how the Holy Spirit works and obviously there is no one answer to that.  In the church we talk about the Sprit working through Word and Sacrament and that’s true; but I also think the Spirit can work through something like a string of beautiful summer days.  It can be that beauty of creation that opens our eyes to wonder and opens us to deeper truth and deeper praise.  Maybe for the psalmist, maybe for Isaiah, that’s what prompted the praise, who knows?  Maybe that’s what prompted the confidence that God was still active and at work and would always be active and at work.

God, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is active and at work.  God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit will always be active and at work.  The beauty of creation can be a reminder of that, a reminder that as we speak God is at work bringing the entire world under his good rule.  We can be easily sidetracked by things that raise questions in our mind about God’s presence and activity, so we need reminders, that tell us that God is at work, sometimes with us, sometimes in spite of us, and for that we can offer praise.

Our proclamation and our faith must always come back to that of Isaiah envisioning streams in the desert, burning sand becoming a pool, possibilities where we might have thought there weren’t any, new life from a dark tomb.  In the story of Jesus we have the ultimate story of hope beyond what we could have ever imagined, resurrection truth for which we can only offer praise.  Maybe though, sometimes, it takes a string of beautiful summer days to remind us of that.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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