Replace Your Bad Beliefs
Fr. Tom Simmons, 5 Epiphany 2018, Isaiah 40
The Great Sadness.
That’s what Mackenzie Phillips felt after the murder of his daughter Missy.
He’d always felt a certain sadness since he was a child, probably because his father was an alcoholic and a violent man…and a pious church-goer.
Mackenzie grew up to be a man, and struggled, successfully, to be a loving father, but the sadness never went away.
At church with his family, Mack would look at the stained-glass windows portraying Father Son and Holy Spirit and wonder what God was REALLY like.
The same God his father pretended to worship.
Though his wife felt close to God, Mackenzie didn’t.
And then Missy was abducted and murdered
Though his whole life felt tinged with deep sadness, Mackenzie descended into what he called The Great Sadness.
His life was shattered, the lowest of low points in life. With no end in sight.
I imagine that’s about where Israel is in Babylon, when Isaiah writes to them in our Old Testament reading.
They are in Exile in Babylon. Suffering their own Great Sadness.
Conquered by the brutal Babylonians. Jerusalem destroyed. Temple burned. King killed along with countless of their countrymen.
The rest, taken in chains to serve as slaves. With no end in sight.
Though most of us are spared suffering that extreme, we all have our low points.
We can identify our own shattering losses, our own deep sadness, and seeming hopelessness.
That’s the address to which Isaiah sends his message to God’s people.
It’s a very surprising message.
In BAD TIMES, we focus on our circumstances, how we can change them.
But Isaiah didn’t do that.
He reframes the issue from a focus on BAD TIMES to focus on BAD BELIEFS, how we can change the message in our mind.
That’s because theology REALLY matters.
We often have little control over what others do. But we do have control over how we INTEPRET those events.
And those interpretive lenses – your theology, what you believe about God – has great influence over your mind, mood and actions.
è Let’s look at their bad beliefs – and ours - AND how to replace our bad beliefs.
So, what are those Bad Beliefs?
Isaiah states them in v 27 ‘Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?’”
Do you hear their theology?
They look at God and see blindness and disregard, silence and neglect.
And because they believe that about God, they descend into despair.
Through that interpretive lens, their enemy is all powerful. Nothing can change.
There’s no meaning to what they suffer.
There’s no cavalry coming over the hill.
That’s how Mackenzie was.
He believes in God, but thinks God doesn’t care. Or can’t help.
God wasn’t there for Mack dealing with his abusive father. God wasn’t there when Missy needed him most. God wasn’t there when Mack needed him after Missy’s death.
God doesn’t take care of his people.
In bad times, bad beliefs just add salt to the wound.
They weaken us, makes us more prone to anger, suspicion, substance abuse.
Bad beliefs about God make that glass always half-empty.
Bad theology hardens us so we can’t adapt as easily or change.
It makes us bitter with blame, pessimism.
If God’s not in control, then I’ve got to be a control freak.
I wonder what your bad beliefs are.
The best way to enhance your mental health and relationships is to recognize and replace those bad beliefs.
That’s what Isaiah is helping his hearers to do.
He chides them in v 21 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”
Five times: “Come on, y’all…don’t you know BETTER that THAT?!”
“Well…now that you put it THAT way…”
è In case we’ve forgotten, Isaiah invites us in v 26 to “Lift up your eyes and see.” for a little reminder…
Isaiah wants us to elevate our eyes and see that God is Awesomely Able, and Energetically Engaged.
God is Awesomely Able
He’s the Creator who spread out the heavens like a tent.
In ancient Hebrew cosmology, God made creation as a temple to live in, with human beings as priests and friends.
He decorated the ceiling with stars and orchestrates their movements like a dance or parade through the sky for the sheer delight of it.
What a show! Every night!!
Now in Babylon, they believed those stars are gods controlling human fate. You know, your horoscope predicts your personality and future based on alignment of stars.
Silly pagans…the things they come up with!
Babylonians say the stars rule the earth. But Isaiah declares that Yahweh rules the stars.
He’s rules the earth’s rulers, too.
The rulers come and go at his whim, even the mighty Babylonians!
The Babylonians say they rule the nations, but Yahweh rules them.
“No no,” Isaiah says, “He’s not impotent. God is Awesomely Able.”
God is also Energetically Engaged.
If you think God’s snoozing, or too busy elsewhere, check this out!
v 28 He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
“That’s what I need…especially since tomorrow’s Monday.
God is Energetically Engaged!
When you are able to lift your eyes above the dreary day to day to focus on the very highest thing,
that gives a grandeur of purpose that empowers you to not just endure suffering but to thrive in the midst of it.
Instead of becoming a sour puss, you can take those lemons and make lemonade.
That’s the gift Isaiah gave to the Exiles.
And they survived and thrived and returned and rebuilt Jerusalem and the Temple. And in Jesus of Nazareth they welcomed their King.
If that was true of Jews in Babylon, how much more so for us?
They just knew Yahweh. But since then Jesus and the Spirit have stepped into plain view.
That’s what Mackenzie experienced. His story is told in The Shack.
In his Great Sadness, he was invited for a weekend of love and truth with Father Son and Holy Spirit, hosted in The Shack where his daughter died.
It changed his life.
God wants to meet you in your bad time and bring healing and transformation there, by replacing your bad beliefs with love and truth.