Still Standing Strong

Isaiah 40:6-8

A voice says, “Cry out.”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
    but the word of our God endures forever.”


“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field” Isaiah says in our sermon text from Isaiah 40(:6).  Seems to be an odd comparison, but yet, there are worse things one could be compared to.  On our way to and from Fremont, Nebraska, where our mission team served a couple of weeks ago, we got a lot of windshield time of looking at rolling hills covered in corn and beans as well as the majestic beauty of fields with wheat and grass flowing like waves from the blowing wind.  With all the rain and the flooding this spring, these fields with their crops growing in them are things of beauty and are a welcomed sight.  Even when things are going more normal, whether living in Nebraska where we were literally surrounded with corn and bean fields wherever we went or be it here, there is something to admire when looking at crops growing in a field.

The other thing which is prevalent in Nebraska, which we didn’t get any of on our mission trip are cattle feed lots.  I’m glad Isaiah didn’t try to make that comparison.  “All men are like cows, and all their glory is like the smell of ripe manure rising from the yard.”  Trust me, there is no beauty found there, except maybe the future vision of a juicy steak on my plate.  But no matter how bad they smell, every time you talk to a farmer running a feed lot or who has hog sheds on his property and you mention something about the smell and how bad it is, they all say the same thing … “That? That’s the smell of money.”

But let’s get back to the much more pleasant grass and the glory of the flowers of the field.  If you ever go through Nebraska in the spring, summer, or fall … it is an absolutely beautiful state.  Notice I didn’t mention winter.  Winters can be beautiful right after it snows, but after a few days, not so much.  Nebraska winters are cold.  The landscape is barren and after a few days of digging out, it is covered in snow of multiple colors.  The rest of the year, Nebraska is a beautiful, flourishing state with a wide variety of things to look at.  In the east there are rolling hills, yes, there are hills in Nebraska.  There are rolling hills covered with crops and trees and cattle yards.  In the middle of the state you have the Sand Hill area which is literally hills of sand.  And then in the west you have ranch land. It is an absolutely beautiful state if you stop, take a deep breath, and truly take in the landscape.

For the people in Northern and Eastern Nebraska … all that changed though on March 17th.  On March 17th a historic flood caused by torrential rains and melting snow on frozen ground as well as the breaking up of ice on lakes and rivers came rushing down rivers destroying thousands upon thousands of acres of good farm ground.  The waters also took out those smelly cattle feed lots as well as many homes and even entire communities.  Projected damage at the time of the flood for the state of Nebraska was estimated at $1.4 billion dollars.  Of that total, damage to agriculture was estimated at $900 million.  That included crops, land, and livestock.  Of the whole upper Midwest at the time of the flood, projections were around $3 billion dollars in damages.  The people of Nebraska and others who were flooded out know far too well the reality that “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers, the flowers fades” (Isaiah 40:6-7a).

The people of Isaiah’s time, people who have been through a major disaster, especially the people we helped in Fremont, Nebraska know that things in this life are temporal and that they can change in a matter of seconds.  Some people in Fremont literally only had minutes from the time they were told to get out of their house and to safety before the rushing water would be taking over their property.  In the matter of minutes, lives were changed for days, weeks, months, and even years to come.

And yet the amazing thing … no matter how much damage the people we helped and others received … they were still standing strong.  They were still staying in their homes even though they were tagged as having limited access and had mold growing in the insulation underneath them.  Insulation our Mission Trip team went in to remove only to have a different mission organization come in and spray to kill the mold.  But unlike other natural type of disasters we have seen on the news in the past … one thing we didn’t see on the news when this flooding took place back in March were people complaining that help wasn’t coming quick enough.  The people of Nebraska and the surrounding areas are a different kind of people.  They are a tough type people who when they see a need, they drop what they are doing and go and help.  From talking to people and from my own personal experience of when I lived in Nebraska … neighbors help neighbors.  People living on the same square mile of land help those near them.  Family members jump in and help others.  Probably the most popular hashtag where people could post pictures, give support, and offer help which shows the type of people living in Nebraska was #nebraskastrong.

You know, God once said to His people through Moses that we are to “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the people around you; for the LORD your God is a jealous God” (Deut. 6:13-15a).  Many times, without even thinking about it, we live as if no sort of disaster will fall upon us.  We live as if nothing bad could ever possibly happen to us.  We don’t fear God, instead we take His blessings for granted and follow the other gods of stuff and self, the manmade idols of the world.  But ask a person who is trying to put their life back together after horrendous floods, or ask a person who lost their job after years of dedication, or ask a person who has cancer, or ask a person who is going through a divorce or the loss of a loved one … do bad things happened?  Do disasters happen?  Of course they do.  Isaiah puts it this way, “The grass withers and the flowers fall” (40:8a).  One day things are great in our lives, the flowers are blooming, they are smelling great, and then all of a sudden, in minutes, in days … the blooming flower petals begin to fall.

But” … but Isaiah says.  Yes the grass withers and the flowers do fall.  Because of the devastation which sin has brought into the world, bad things are going to happen.  But … “But the word of our God stands forever” (40:8b).  The word of God stands forever!  This word of God is a strong word upon which we stand strong upon.  It is a word which created light and the order of the seasons.  A word which breathed life into man, which breathes life, eternal life into you and me through the Holy Spirit.  It is the word from a cross which forgives not only the men who nailed Jesus to it, but which forgives you and me of all of our sins.  A word which lives in our living Savior, Jesus Christ.  A word which gives us lips to sing God’s glory, tongues to proclaim God’s mercy, throats to shout the hope with in us, and mouths to speak God’s holy name.

In the gospel reading Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33).  The word of God, the still standing strong word spoken to Joshua 8 times and to me numerous times through my confirmation verse, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9) helps people get through the challenges of life.  No matter what, no matter what disaster befalls you or me … God is still with you.  Though the raging flood waters caused billions of dollars in damage … God is still with the people of Nebraska, of Fremont … but just in a different way in which most people may not think.

Let me close by sharing a part of a devotion with you.  When in the midst of disaster, in the midst of devastation, in the dark and depressing times when it is easy to question if God is really in control … hear these words and stand strong upon them.

God does have a wonderful plan for your life, but it’s not what you think. His merciful plan is to crucify you with Christ, bury you with Christ, and raise you to new life in Christ. All this he does in baptism. Baptism unites you with the only God we know. And in that God—the crucified and resurrected Christ—God reveals who he is.

He is the God who will never leave you in your sickness, never forsake you in your brokenness, for you have been washed into his body, blooded into his veins, grafted into the limbs of his flesh.

He is the God who goes with grieving spouses to the graveside, and will one day go with you as you are carried to the place of your burial, for he is the God who is the resurrection and the life, the one in whom we live, even though we die.

Jesus is the crucified and resurrected God who gave his cheek to those who struck him, his hands to those who pierced him, his ear to those who mocked him, his body and blood to those who crucified him. And in so doing, he secured absolution for us for the most evil acts imaginable. He reconciled us to the Father by building a bridge from him to us that’s constructed out of the wood and nails of his cross. He gave us something better than answers to our questions; he gave us life for our death, heaven for our hell, forgiveness for our sin.

These are the revealed things of God—his revealed gifts to us. These gifts are not only all that matters, they are also all that satisfies. Here is hope for the hurting. Here is adoption for the rejected. Here is the God you can see and taste and touch and smell—the God whose name is Jesus Christ.

To those of you who are hurting, know that there is a God who loves you, who has always loved you and always will. Jesus Christ will not answer all your questions, but he will give you all of himself. And in the end, that’s all any of us need.”  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.