Sunday, May 26, 2013

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE - Rev. Dennis A. Steckley

A Message on Isaiah 55:10-13
May 26, 2013—1st Sunday after Pentecost
First Christian Church—Palestine, IL
Rev. Dennis A. Steckley

The Reverend Dennis A. Steckley
My cyber friend of many years who in addition
to rescuing lost souls to refurbish, also 
rescues vintage sewing machines, pipe organs and cats.
Such a wonderful sense of humor and wonderful teacher.


It was a dark and stormy night….a fierce blizzard was raging outside Dr. Frankenstein’s castle in Transylvania. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Hill were trying to drive through and ran off the road. They were seriously injured in the accident, but there was no way to get them to a hospital. Igor carried them into Dr. Frankenstein’s lab where the doctor did what he could for them, but, alas, he was unable to save them. In sorrow, he covered the bodies with a sheet, and went to his study where he seated himself at the organ to console himself at the tragedy.

As the music filled the castle, Igor, behind in the lab, noticed that the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Hill started to move—and then actually sat up! Perhaps there was hope yet! “Master,” cried Igor, “The Hills are alive with the sound of music!”

Of course, we must, as Paul tells Timothy, “rightly divide the word of God [2 Timothy 2:15b].” Otherwise, you can “prove” some awfully odd things with the Bible. For example, some sports are mentioned in the Bible. Baseball is in the very first verse—Genesis 1:1—which opens with the words, “In the big inning.” And, of course, there’s tennis because we know that Joseph served in pharaoh’s court. King David rode a motorcycle because “the sound of David’s triumph was heard throughout the land.” The apostles, though, preferred Hondas since the book of Acts reminds us that the apostles were gathered together in one Accord. Some have even suggested that the three wise men were southern firemen because we are told that the “wise men came from a far.”

Two more examples will suffice: the person who learned to talk at the youngest age was Job, who “cursed the day he was born.” And the three shortest men in the Bible were Knee-high-miah; Bildad, the Shuhite; and the shortest of all, the Roman soldier who slept on his watch.

Back to our text—I really haven’t forgotten or abandoned it. I’m not like the Rev. Grady Nutt’s father, of whom Grady said he always preached with his finger in the text just in case he ever got back to it!

But in today’s text, the hills certainly do seem to be alive—they “break forth into singing” and “all the trees of the field clap their hands.” It’s a text of utter joy, an ecstatic exaggeration reminding us that to be in the proper relationship with God is a great and wondrous thing. As a seminary professor of mine used to say, “The greatest miracle is not the feeding of the 5,000 or the raising of Dorcas from the dead, or the healing of the blind man. No, the greatest miracle of all is turning a sinner into a saint!”

And lest you forget—or perhaps don’t know—remember that biblically speaking a “saint” is anyone who follows Christ, who is in that restored relationship with God. It’s not just a handful of particularly holy people; it’s all of us—back there is St. Earlene. On this side are Sts. Leroy and Fred; up in front is St. Shirley—and way in the back is St. Tanner! And all the rest of you, too, of course!

Today's text happens to be one of my favorite texts because it is such an affirmation of God’s working in our world to accomplish God’s purposes. I never thought about it before, but I suppose if I were to make a “top ten” list of personal Old Testament scripture favorites, this passage would probably be on the list. And I want to look at four things the text tells us.


First, note that “God’s Word has gone out.” We do not serve a remote and detached God, but one who has sent his Word into his creation. Some people have tried to cast God into the mold of a divine “watchmaker”—that is, God created the universe and this world, wound it up, so-to-speak and then sat back to watch it run. God exists, but he really doesn't matter very much since he is doesn't have any active engagement in our lives.

In this scenario, God is involved in God’s creation, but not in it's ongoing operation. Such a position is called “deism” from deus, the Latin word for god. And while the United States was mostly founded on the Judeo-Christian view of the world, we should note that many of our founding fathers were deists. That’s one reason so many of their speeches talk about God-given rights and for what godly people should be striving—but these things depend solely upon human action to a deist. Thomas Jefferson, for example, thought Jesus was a wonderful moral teacher, but no more. Since miracles would predicate God’s continuing involvement in the world, Jefferson didn't believe in miracles. He took two New Testaments and cut out all references to miracles and pasted the remainders of the text into sort of a scrapbook of moral teaching, devoid of any divine action. The book still exists—it's in the Smithsonian. Curiously, especially for those who seem to think that Congress should be almost a Christian institution, the government gave copies of this Jefferson Bible—the one minus all the miracles; the one that insists that God is detached from day to day affairs—the government gave copies to all new congressmen from 1904 into the 1950's!

Well, deism is an interesting idea, but the one big problem with it is that it simply isn’t what the Bible teaches! Rather, biblically-speaking God is involved with the Creation from the beginning right up to the present. I pray because I believe the Creator hears and responds to my prayers; if I were a deist, prayers would be only for a sort of moral encouragement to myself and to others.

You can’t just rip out all the miracles—for one thing, it is the miracles that bolster and demonstrate God’s truth. Jesus, for example, tells one man his sins are forgiven and notes that anybody could say such a thing. But Jesus then heals the man’s physical condition, explicitly noting that his deeds are confirming his authority to say the words he said!

God’s Word has gone out—God is involved in our world!


Second, please note that God’s Word is efficacious. I like that word, efficacious! It just rolls around in the mouth so delightfully! Some words are just fun to say—words like efficacious, deleterious, eschatology, perspicacity, and, with Daffy Duck, “sufferin’ succotash!” I think my favorite of all words is syzygy! It’s not only fun to say syzygy, but how can you not like a word spelled S-Y Z-Y G-Y! Syzygy. Syzygy. Syzygy. If you don’t know what it means, you’ll have to go home and look it up! Okay, okay, the dictionary defines syzygy as “an alignment of three celestial objects, as the sun, the earth, and either the moon or a planet.” I really don't care what it means; I just like to say it! Syzygy!

Anyway, God’s Word is efficacious. That’s just a $20 word that means God’s Word is able to accomplish whatever God wants it to accomplish. Isaiah says God’s Word is like the rain and snow…….when they fall from the heavens, they water the earth. It can’t happen any other way! If you stand out in the rain, you get wet. Snow doesn’t evaporate and go back to the sky before it ever hits the ground—though it might be nice if it did!

And when the rain waters the earth, plants grow. Look at the wonderful dandelion—it doesn’t ask for much. A little moisture and a day or two above freezing is all it takes to burst forth into bloom. I’ve seen dandelions blooming in my yard every month of the year. And let me clue you in on a little secret—don’t spend all your time trying to get rid of it; rather, rejoice in it! It has a beautiful flower, you can eat the leaves for a salad, grind dried roasted roots for a coffee substitute, make wine from the blossoms, and enjoy the “seed puffs” as a fun little toy! What’s not to like? T he lowly dandelion comes close to being nature’s perfect plant! Even its scientific name, Taraxacum officianale means roughly “the official remedy for disorders.” That, my friends, is exalted territory!

And God’s Word is going to accomplish God’s purposes. You can stand in its way if you wish. God might even let you slow it down for a time, but ultimately God’s Word is going to accomplish what God wants it to. Trying to oppose it is like standing out in the highway saying, “Na, na, na, na, na, nah!” to a Mack truck barreling toward you. You may feel like you’re doing something—but that truck’s going to hit you with the bodily equivalent of the John Denver song, “You done stomped on my heart—you smashed my aorta!”


And then, God’s Word surprises with its effects in nature and humankind. The mountains and the hills start singing and the trees are clapping their hands! That’s not intended to be literally true, of course, but true in a spiritual sense. A few weeks ago on Palm Sunday, the officials told Jesus to settle down the crowds who got rather too excited in what we call the Triumphal Entry. And you may remember that Jesus said, “If I quiet the people, the very stones of the road will cry out.”

Many a psalm resonates with the same kind of imagery. Psalm 148, for example, calls creation to worship the Lord:

You great sea creatures and all the depths;
Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
Mountains and all hills;
Fruitful trees and all cedars;
Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and flying fowl;
Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
Both young men and maidens;
Old men and children.  
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name alone is exalted.
There’s a wonderful hymn which says:

Let the whole creation cry, “Glory to the Lord on high!”
Heav'n and earth, awake and sing, “Praise him, our almighty king!”
Praise him, angel hosts above, Ever bright and fair in love;
Sun and moon, lift up your voice; Night and stars, in God rejoice!

And since we are a part of creation, when we serve the living Lord, we, too, bubble over with wonder. Isaiah 51 says:

The ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


Finally, let us remember and take heart in the knowledge that God’s Word is eternal—God’s Word will last: “an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” God keeps God’s Word! You can count on it.

Years ago I used to go to a grocery store that had a huge banner hanging at the front which read, “We guarantee that the express lane will be open from 4 to 7 pm daily.” Like many others, I would often stop by for a few essentials for supper during that time period. But often the express lane wouldn’t be open.

Finally, I went to the service counter and pointed out that there was no one manning the express lane. The clerk said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t have anyone to do it right now.” I took it a step further and asked, “What, then, does your guarantee mean?” The answer was that it meant nothing. The store promised to keep the express lane open at certain hours, but if they didn’t, it was just, “Sorry. Tough luck.”

In other words, it was a totally meaningless “guarantee.” Guarantees often have “fine print,” don’t they? Years ago, a major piano maker offered a long guarantee on their products. It looked like a great deal—but in the fine print, you had to ship the piano back to the factory at your expense—and after they fixed it, you paid to ship it back to you! It was a guarantee that cost the company nothing because nobody was going to ship a piano across the country and back!

Or how about a product with a lifetime guarantee—but the minute it breaks, the manufacturer tells you that the lifetime of the product is over, so the warranty is over!

God’s guarantees are not like that! God keeps God’s promises. They are not mere empty words, but literally gospel truth! You can take it to the bank—the bank of heaven, which has never failed and never will fail because it is God’s bank!


So, let’s remember this morning that God’s Word has gone out, that it is efficacious, that it surprises us with its effects, and that it will last forever!

I've mentioned a number of hymns this morning. Yet another describes the totality of the creation and our human efforts together praising God. I especially like that it speaks to the modern world.

Engines and steel! Loud pounding hammers!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Limestone and beams! Loud building workers!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

Classrooms and labs! Loud boiling test tube!
Sing to the Lord a new song!
Athlete and band!
Loud cheering people!
Sing to the Lord a new song!

And it doesn't get any truer or any better than that! So go out there ans “sing to the Lord a new song!” Amen.