Time Lapse Theology (Isaiah 40:1-11)



    That was called “Cheonan By Night,” and it is a time lapse video by our own Andy Phelps.  One of the things I love about this video is the contrast of stability and change.  If we could expand the length of this video to 24 hours, we would see even more change.  The ebb and flow of people and traffic and light would change. 
    If we could expand the video to a month, we could see more coats and scarves emerging.  We could see the huge Christmas tree being installed.
    If we could expand the time frame to a year, we would see the streets packed for a few frames with the Cheonan Dance Festival.  We would see the changing of the seasons.  We would also see Yaoori change to ShinSeGye
    If we could expand the time frame to ten years, we would see the art plaza remodeled and the addition of the flower spear.  We would see the renovation of the river, construction projects, changing fashions, and businesses moving in and out.
    If we could expand the time frame to one hundred years in the same location, we would see Cheonan arise out of the rice fields and pine forests.  We would see North Korean tanks roll in during the Battle of Cheonan.  Even earlier, we might see occupying Japanese soldiers and cars replacing horse drawn carts.
    If we could expand it to one thousand years, what would we see?  Maybe kings on their way to the OnYang springs.  Maybe invasions by the Mongols or the Manchu. 

    If we could expland the time frame to one billion years, then what?  We might see whole mountains moving, continents shifting, meteors falling, dinosaurs stopping at the crosswalk – or where the crosswalk is now.
    What would we see if we could stretch this time lapse video to a trillion, trillion years? The last few seconds would show the creation of the universe and the crafting of earth, and the last half second or so might have humans.  The rest of the video would show only God – God’s Eternal Presense – Being and Being and Being  .  This is the really, really, long-term time lapse video.

    In our passage today, Isaiah is encouraging Israel to step back and develop some time lapse theology.  Most scholars think this passage is directed toward a people who have been conquered.  In fact, they have been defeated so badly, that most of Israel has been taken into exile to be the slaves and subjects of the Babylonian empire.  In the short-term, all they can see is exile and pain, defeat and sadness, a complete loss of their sense of God’s presence in the world. 
To make matters worse, the prophets kept reminding them that their exile was a just punishment for their own sin, so they also felt heaps of shame and guilt every time they remembered where they were.  They began to doubt whether God was strong enough to deliver them, and they began to doubt whether God still cared enough about his rebellious children to deliver them. 
Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet,” speaks for Israel in exile:
1 Jerusalem, once so full of people, is now deserted …
 2 She sobs through the night… there is no one left to comfort her.
 7 In the midst of her sadness and wandering… there is no one to help her…
17 Jerusalem reaches out for help, but no one comforts her.  (Lamentations 1)

Then, God speaks in Isaiah 40:
1 “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
 2 “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
   Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned.
   Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over for all her sins.”
 3 Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
   “Clear the way through the wilderness for the Lord!
   Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!
 4 Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills.
   Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places.
 5 Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
      The Lord has spoken!”
 6 A voice said, “Shout!”
      I asked, “What should I shout?”
   “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field.
 7 The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord.
      And so it is with people.
 8 The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
 9 O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops!
   Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid.
   Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!”
 10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.  He will rule with a powerful arm.
      See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
      He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.
      He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.

    God is telling Israel to expand their view, to develop a time lapse theology.  All people are like the grass that grows and fades away.  Kings come, and kings go.  Kingdoms rise, and kingdoms fall. 
    At this moment, most of the Israelites could only see exile.  Most of the Israelites could only feel the pain and discomfort of their current situation.  God was bringing in Cyrus, the king of Persia, who would free Israel and give their exiles the money and equipment to return home and to rebuild their nation.  But Israel’s hope doesn't rest on getting a new emporer.  Israel’s hope rests on God.  God is saying:
Stretch your vision.  Expand the scope of your perspective.  I am the God of history.  I am God beyond the moving ebbs and flows of history.  I am God beyond your failures or faithfulness.  Your problems are passing.  Your leaders are passing.  Your oppressors are passing.  Your pain is passing.  Your sin is passing.  I remain.  I am always faithful.  I love you, and you are still my people.  I always redeem my people. I am coming to comfort you.  I am coming to redeem you.  I am coming with power and tenderness.  Trust me. 
The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God stands forever.  Only God stands forever.  Take the long view, and trust in God.
Shout it.  Shout the good news.  Go to the moutaintops.  Go to the street corners.  Tell all who are afraid.  Tell all who despair.  Tell all think God doesn't care anymore. Tell everyone who thinks their sin is too bad.  Tell everyone who thinks their pain is too deep.  Tell everyone who feels like their world is falling apart.  All of that is passing.  The word of our God stands forever.  God is coming in tender power.  God is coming to redeem.

    What about us?  What does Isaiah have to say to us?  One part of this passage really stood out to me as being important for our church. 
“Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field.
 7 The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord.
      And so it is with people.
 8 The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”
    Our world is passing, withering, fading.  Everything we see and touch and taste is passing away.  Everything we buy, most of what we think about, most of what we spend our time on, most of the things that concern us most are fading, withering away, passing into nothingness.  Let’s talk about some of the “important things” in our world that are actually passing and fading.  After each one, I’ll say, “The grass withers and the flowers fade,” and you finish the verse with “but the word of our God stands forever.”
    Beauty is passing.  Fashion changes.  Zits come and go.  Supermodels wrinkle. Even our perception of beauty changes from generation to generation. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Technology is passing.  Computers are obsolete before you throw away the box.  Your cellphone company already has three new models in the production process to replace the one you just bought. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Sports are passing.  The NBA, KNBA, MLB, KLeague, World Cup, World Series, Super Bowl – all will be like the gladiator games in Roman Coliseums – dust and memories.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Politics are passing.  The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are passing.  Free trade protests and Mad Cow protests are passing.  Progressives and conservatives are passing. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Money is passing.  Income and savings are passing.  Economic downturns, recessions, and recoveries are temporary events.  Employment and unemployment move through the sands of time. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
Relationships are passing.  Loved ones come and go.  As wonderful as they are, as necessary and helpful as they are, no human relationship lasts forever.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Leaders are passing.  Someday, I will die or move away.  President Im is passing.  The next president of KNU will be passing, too.  Obama and Lee MinBak will all go the way of all leaders.  Julius Caesar, Lenin, and King Tutankhamun are all rotting in their graves.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Institutions are passing.  Someday, KNU will become a relic.  Someday, the Blue House and the White House will become like the pyramids - meaningless except as a history exhibit or tourist attraction.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Language is passing.  The Bible was written mostly in Hebrew or Greek, but it’s not the same Hebrew and Greek in use today.  New languages emerge, and old languages change or die.  In our world, one spoken language dies every month. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Knowledge is passing.  Whatever fact you learn today may be obsolete when it comes time to teach it to your kids.  Pluto is a planet – no it’s a moon – no it’s a big rock – so like a planet?  The total amount of information in the world doubles every few years, and that pace is increasing.  You can never learn enough.  “But … where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Pain is passing.  When you broke your arm or lost your job, that was all you could think about for a while.  But you’re better now.  Yes, pain hurts, but pain fades.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
Failure is passing.  Low test scores will not ruin your life.  Getting fired or dropping the ball with that major event will not be a weight around your neck forever. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
Success is passing.  That promotion, that degree, becoming debt free, publishing that paper, winning that race --- all of these things are important and valuable in their own limited sense.  But in the grand scope of life, they aren’t all that important.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    The universe is passing.  Stars have a lifecycle.  One day, even our sun die.  One day, our earth will be rolled up and put on the shelf like a worn-out coat (Psalm 122:25-26). 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
Sin is passing.  Your sins do not define you.  If you repent, God throws your sins into the sea of forgetfulness (Micah 7:19), and they are as far from you as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.
    Righteousness is passing.  Your good living is good, but it doesn’t define you.  God doesn’t love you because you’re good.  God just loves you.  When you go to heaven, you’ll be standing next to prostitutes and drunks whom God also loves just like you.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.

    What remains?  In this great wide world where everything is passing and fading away, what is not passing?  What is reliable?  What is trustworthy?  What is forever?
    The word of our God stands forever.  You can trust these words – God’s Word – the Bible.  Yeah, I know there are hard and confusing parts.  Yes, I know that some of it doesn’t make sense to us, and we don’t understand how all of it fits together.  But this much we do know.  This much is clear: Our God is coming!
 10 Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.  He will rule with a powerful arm.
      See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
 11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
      He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.
      He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.

    The love of our God endures forever.  Just in case we forget, Psalm 136 says it 26 times – in every verse: “His love endures forever.”  When all else fades, his love endures forever.  When we can see nothing else, his love endures forever.  When the world is crashing in around us, his love endures forever.  When we feel like giving up, his love endures forever.
    We sinned, but God loved us still.  Jesus died for us, and God loved us still.  Jesus was raised for us, and God loved us still.  God pours out his love into our hearts, and God loves us still.  We stumble forward like drunk people, following Jesus with fits and starts, failures and progress, and God loves us still.  God changes us and we resist change, and God loves us still.  God always calls us forward, deeper into his love.  Forever and ever, this is the one stable foundation of our lives. 
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.

    God is forever.  God is the foundation of the universe.  The DNA of all life is held together by his Spirit.  The electrons and neurons of atoms are suspended in God’s eternal Being.  Everything that is - exists within God’s Being.  God is our one Foundation.  God is the only thing in our world that does not change.  Everything else is passing.  Everyone else is passing.  Trust only in God.  Only God is forever.
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.

Develop a time-lapse faith, a time-lapse theology.  Develop a time-lapse perspective on life.  Don’t get lost in the passing things and passing people.  Take a step back.  Take a million steps back and see the God who does not change.  See the God who loves you and all of us.  See the God who is constantly at work in our world to heal us all.  See the God who loves all people and has given his life to redeem us.  See the God who is coming for us.
And speak the Good News. 
9 O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops!
   Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid.
   Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!”
    Don’t be afraid to remind people that God is faithful.  This problem is passing.  This person is passing.  Don’t get lost in the storm.  See the stars beyond and the God beyond.  See the God who loves without changing.  See the God who is coming for you.
   
--- communion ---


    We’re going to watch one more time lapse video.  This one is by Terje Sørgjerd.  It’s called “The Mountain,” and it was filmed on Tiede Mountain in Spain.  Interestingly, while Terje was there, a sand storm from the Sahara desert blew in.  He thought his shots would be ruined for that night.  Instead, what you will see is the Milky Way galaxy shining through a sea of low-lying yellow clouds.  With his human eyes, he could only see the sand, but his camera could see the stars.  As you watch this video, think of all that is passing – all the storms and all the successes of this life – and allow your spiritual eye to look beyond those to the Creator of Stars.  Put your hope in our God who stands forever.


The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.