The Sign We Are Given – Br. Todd Blackham

Isaiah 7:1-9
Ps. 48
Matthew 11:20-24

I remember learning to drive before the advent of personal GPS devices.  I remember getting directions that involved both signs and physical landmarks to get from one place to another.  Take a left on River St. and go down until you see the mailbox with a yellow bird on it, then we’re three houses down on the right.  Nowadays, I’m more likely to just plug an address into my phone and let it guide me moment by moment down the comforting little blue line until I get to the red destination pin.  I hardly have to pay attention to my surrounding at all while the little voice just coaches me turn by turn.  But, in truth, I’ve become overly dependent on it.  I get a little anxious when I try to do without it because it forces me to put my trust in a different system of navigating that doesn’t offer real-time reassurance.  There is simply much more trust involved.  Trust that the signs will be there when I need them, trust that I will make the correct turns, and even trust that if I get off track, I’ll be able to get back on course and reach my destination.  Looking for signs and waiting for direction can be a precarious thing in the spiritual life.

Do you find yourself waiting on a sign from God?  Or, have you ever suddenly beheld a sign that arrested your attention and pointed you in a new direction.  God’s engagement with people often catches us unaware or seems absent when we want it most.  We may feel like things are going just fine until suddenly our circumstances change and we are gripped with uncertainty and fear.  Or, we may be so much on auto-pilot that we don’t realize when a new course of action is necessary.  Todays readings highlight both of these kinds of encounters with God and help to point us to Jesus who is an unfailing sign to return to the heart of God.

King Ahaz was one of those wicked kings of Judah.  He didn’t even bother to pay lip service to the God of Abraham, the God who anointed David, his own ancestor as King over the people.  Ahaz ran after any idol that seemed to suit his purposes best.  But, when two kings united against him he began to quake.  He had never learned to be in a position to trust in the God of his people and so he couldn’t conceive of the kind of faith that the prophet Isaiah was sent to teach him.

Maybe it’s hard to identify with King Ahaz, not many people would consider themselves much like a wicked monarch, but perhaps if we’re honest, we can relate to the seductive power of little idols that start out as simple comforts and assurances and before long seem to dominate our lives, squeezing out reliance on God.  The jobs, relationships, the bank accounts, even the fitness and health we enjoy, those things are uncovered as idols when their former power fades away.  We find ourselves beset by anxiety and fear because our circumstances have changed and we’re ill-prepared to trust something less tangible.

Isaiah had some powerful words to arrest King Ahaz in his frenzy, “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint.”  “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.”  I can imagine him grabbing King Ahaz by the shoulders when he says “If you do not stand by faith, you shall not stand at all.”  In place of idols, Isaiah offers trust in the unseen God.

Jesus had some powerful words for the people who had seen the power of God and yet refused to believe it because it wasn’t what they expected.  “Woe to you!  If those people you hold yourselves above had seen what you’ve seen they would have already repented in sackcloth and ashes.  They would have gotten it!  Why don’t you?”  The religious leaders were so conditioned to their particular paths of righteousness that they didn’t realize that a new traffic pattern had been established and the old way was no longer viable.  The signs should have called them to repentance but they refused and Jesus had a harsh warning for them.  There are only so many ways God can try to get their attention.  Sending Jesus, his only Son, was the pinnacle of God’s self-revelation and if that sign wasn’t enough for them to realize they needed to repent, to change course and take a new direction, then what would it take?

We probably don’t want to identify with those religious leaders either; who couldn’t budge from their entrenched ways.  But maybe, we can identify areas where we’ve grown over-confident or just complacent and comfortable.  Paying lip service to all the standard causes and parroting the accepted slogans.  You may reach a point when you wonder, is any of this making any difference?  Is it possible that should do this a different way?  Is this the freedom and love God has in mind for us?  If we actually encounter Jesus again in Scripture, we may find something that throws us off kilter, gives us a new direction to travel.  Jesus may not work a new miracle for us every time we ask for it but we are never left without a sign.

Sometimes, the most important sign is the one in the rearview mirror that pointed us in the right direction and all we need to do is stay the course until and for as long as it takes the next direction to appear.  We may not wake up everyday to the voice of God telling us exactly what to do and where to go, but we can be reminded of the signs that have brought us safe thus far and will continue to lead us home.

And each time we gather for this Great Thanksgiving we behold again the great sign of our redemption.  The crucified and risen Lord, offering his body for the life of the world.  Jesus, the visible image of the invisible God sanctifying us and strengthening us to bring the ministry of reconciliation to a broken world.  When we are lost and uncertain we can always look to Jesus.  When those around us are bewildered and anxious we can point them to Jesus.  If we do not stand in faith, we shall not stand at all.  May this supper of the Lamb be our sign and strength to return and trust in the Lord.

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2 Comments

  1. Faith O. on July 21, 2022 at 16:23

    Amen

  2. Mary W. on July 21, 2022 at 15:42

    Thank you Br. Blackham, this was a affirmation to be attentive to live in the unknown and it’s okay. I have been cared through God’s blessings and mercies and love for decades. My life’s journey has been challenging at times. How God provides in His timing blows my socks off.( amazing). Today message is actually what I need to receive and hold onto from Jehovah Jireh! Blessings to you.

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