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Overpromising & Underdelivering

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Humanity's propensity for faithlessness and God's perfect faithfulness

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25 O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2 For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4 For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled. 6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7 And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8 he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9 It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. "Overpromising and Underdelivering" The Lord certainly does not disappoint. In this morning's reading we hear how God has conquered even strong nations, striking fear and inspiring awe in the enemies of Israel. He has been a refuge and a shelter to the downtrodden and oppressed and, the Prophet adds, there is coming a day when He will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth. These are His plans formed of old and this is the assurance that the people of God have in Him. Such is the character, the faithfulness of the Covenant God of Israel. These words of comfort must have been a wonderful message for the Hebrews to hear back in the days when they were spoken by Isaiah. He lived in a time of turmoil in the Land of Promise. The northern and southern tribes of the People of Israel had not been getting along; many people in both kingdoms had been given over to apostasy; powerful, hostile nations were making aggressive moves against their lands.. It was an unsettled time in the life of the Hebrews. How wonderful for us to be reminded that even to this day the Divine nature has not changed. The very same God who was present in the midst of the distress of His people during the time of Isaiah is the very same God who is present in the midst of the distress of His people today. He remains faithful and true; He does not disappoint His people, whom He loves. This week, once again, I'm afraid, has had its share of disappointments. Some have involved people I don't know personally, some have involved folks involved with a church, some have involved organizations or institutions. But each of these disappointments has stemmed from a failure to live up to an obligation that had either been overtly stated or implied. I'm sure you've all suffered this a time or two or more, as well. It is an all-too-common and all-too-unfortunate scenario of overpromising and underdelivering. In my experience, one of the most blatant and repeat perpetrators of the art of overpromising and underdelivering are the purveyors of high technology. I'll grant that I am a bit of a geek, myself, with an interest in - even a fascination with - gadgets and gizmos that are designed to accomplish some neat and helpful things. When they work as intended, they are marvelous. But most of the time, well, that's not the way it goes. With the shifts that we are having to make in the ways we work, learn, shop, and worship, the promise and the shortcomings of technology have become increasingly apparent. Microsoft this week became the latest large American-based company to announce that it would allow more of its employees to work from home for more of the time. They joined the ranks of many of their counterparts in the corporate world who have been adopting a similar decentralized productivity model. As many public school districts, including those around here, are opening back up for some form of in-person instruction, others remain closed or have been forced to suspend classes on account of new COVID outbreaks. The number of children who are receiving technology-mediated remote instruction has never been higher. More and more of the brick-and-mortar retailers are filing for bankruptcy and closing up shop. Many longstanding, well-established, and well capitalized corporate household names are going the way of the dodo. Those which are not are having to remodel their stores and re-tool their online presence in order to accommodate the emerging ways of commerce amidst a pandemic. And, of course, there are the churches, yes, the churches. We, too are having to figure out how worship, ministry, and mission have to change in order to adapt to the demands placed on us by a socially-distanced culture. Technology has offered to aide us in all of these venues and ventures. We will be, like the six million dollar man, who was a paragon of bio-technology from several decades ago - better, stronger, faster, as a result of the actions we are taking to respond to the Covidian Era. And, to be fair, there have been and there are some solutions which seem to be proving beneficial. But frequently, my experience has been that the implementation of and help from the technology don't nearly live up to the hype of the technology. I read about the many cases of communications disruption caused by network outages. I hear of umpteen zoom-bombings of online classrooms. I see a note from Facebook visitor who informed me that our website seemed to have been hacked - and indeed the server it was hosted on had been hijacked, causing me more gray hair to resolve. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, ways that I had typically gone about getting the video recordings of our worship service made, edited, and distributed for viewing on the internet have failed at various steps in the process. It has been extremely frustrating to have a process which works one week not work the same way the next week. But such is the fickleness of the technology. And I really should not be all that surprised by it, for I worked in the industry for many years and saw firsthand how common the practice was of overpromising and underdelivering. What is certainly more disappointing and probably more disturbing though, is when these sorts of failures take place within the bounds of the covenant relationship between God and His people. While we have pledged to obey the commandments, we have not. While we have agreed to put God above idols, we have not. While we have promised to seek first the kingdom of God, we don't. In the words of a recently released song that has been playing a fair bit on the Christian radio station I listen to, "Truth be told, the truth is rarely told." And that is the truth. What makes the song a bit difficult to hear, is the fact that in it, Matthew West is singing about the life of the church and how we often behave as Christians. So it's not just "out there" in the world of technology, business, education, and commerce that the problem needs to be confronted. It's right here as well. These are not the easiest words to receive. And that is precisely what makes these words from the 25th chapter of Isaiah so much more pleasant to hear again. For no matter how badly we keep covenant, no matter our shortcomings and our faithlessness; no matter how much we overpromise and underdeliver in our relationship with the Lord, we have the eternal assurance that the one who has made us - the one who has redeemed us, the one who sustains us - the one in whom we have placed our trust, this is the God who is and shall be our hope and stay, throughout this life and straight on into the life to come. The one who, in the beginning, formed the heavens and the earth, is the same one who will, at the end wipe away the tears from all eyes, having destroyed the power of death and sin for all time. What comfort, indeed, these words must have been in the days of the Isaiah; What comfort these words are in our own day, as we face so much uncertainty, so much disappointment, so much anxiety. These are words on which we can hang our hat. They speak of a solid rock, a sure foundation, an anchor that will not give way, though everything else just might. An author once described his experience with the craft of writing as like that of driving at night. Though the car's headlights only illuminate the road for a fairly short way ahead, one can drive through the darkness all night that way. And so it is with the promises of God recalled in Isaiah 25. We have enough hope in the future that we can make our way through the present difficulties. We may not be able to se the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, but we already know the One who is the light. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and therefore He is the God of - and in - the present, as well. So as we continue to wrestle with our daily routines that have become anything but routine; while we struggle to maintain the health of body, mind, and soul; while we seek direction and discernment about how to respond as Christians - individually and as a congregation in this unprecedented time in our lives may the words of the Lord through His prophet Isaiah bring a measure of comfort. May we be reminded again of the power and sovereignty of God who has created and ordered the universe and who has come to dwell with men in a sign of solidarity for the human condition and the love of his crowning creation. May the hope shared thousands of years ago be sufficient to sustain us as we press on our own journey as servants of the Most High- the One who never has nor ever will overpromise and underdeliver. And for that we may truly say, thanks be to God. 2
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