(Photo taken at Trimpley Reservoir, Worcestershire, in 2009)
Sermon for today. Text Isaiah 40:21-31.
There is a story that I read recently of African-American slaves toiling in the hot sun. They are working so very hard to pick cotton. There is a young woman and beside her is her small boy, maybe six or seven. She’s working in the fields and she has such incredible dexterity that she is able to pick cotton with her right hand and caress the forehead of her child with the left. But eventually, exhausted by working so hard in the fields, she falls down from the weight and the pressure of the work. Her boy attempts to wake her very quickly, knowing that if the slave drivers were to see her the punishment would be swift and hard.
He tries to shake his mother, and as he’s trying to shake her, an old man comes over to him. He looks up at the old man and says, “Is it time? Is it time?”
The old man smiles and looks at the boy and says, “Yes!” And he bends down and whispers into the ear of the woman who was now upon the ground and says these words: “Cooleebah! Cooleebah!”
At that moment the woman gets up with such incredible dignity. She stands as a queen and looks down at her son, grasps his hand and begins to look toward heaven. All of a sudden they begin to fly. The slave drivers rush over to this area where she has stopped work and they see this act of human flight and are completely confused. They do not know what to do! And during their confusion, the old man rushes around to all the other slaves and begins to tell them, “Cooleebah! Cooleebah!”
When they hear the word, they all begin to fly. And at that moment the slave drivers grab the old man and say, “Bring them back!”
They beat him, and with blood coming down his cheek, he just smiles at them. They say to him, “Please bring them back!”
And he says, “I can’t.”
They say, “Why not?”
He said, “Because the word is already in them and since the word is already in them, it cannot be taken from them.”
The old man had a word from West Africa, ‘Cooleebah’, a word that means God. It had been placed into the heart of these displaced Africans and now they had dignity and they were flying.
How big is our God? I ask this question because it’s an important one. Sometimes we have no problem singing “Our God is a great big God…” but other times, especially when problems are looming large our God seems to shrink doesn’t He? Have you ever heard the expression “You can’t put God in a box”? It means that we try to restrict God, we try to place limits on what He can and cannot do, and we start to believe that He could not help us, or heal us or provide for us or forgive us, when He can of course do all those things and so much more. So let us ask ourselves today, “How big is my God”?
The background to our reading from Isaiah is that the people of Judah were in big trouble; for generations they had turned their backs on God and now it was Isaiah’s job to warn them that because they would not change their ways they were going to be punished. A foreign army was going to come and attack them, defeat them and drag away many captives. But also there was hope, God would ultimately save them not only from the Assyrians and Babylonians, He would save them from themselves too. A bit like us, the people’s view of God had become stunted and small, they had not only put God in a box, but also stuffed that box away in a corner and out of sight. In our reading today, Isaiah reminds his original audience (and us today) that God is all powerful and at the same time longs for those people who have deserted Him to come back.
Isaiah reminds us that there is only one Creator God, who not only originates all, but maintains and controls everything too. This supreme Creator God also directs all of history towards a definite goal. Therefore to believe in Him is to be assured of ultimate safety; that both the present and the future are secure in His hands. In verse 21 we read:
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Isaiah tells us that it should be obvious to us that God is not only there but that He is also the source of all things; that in comparison we are like grasshoppers, we are very small and He is very great. I like the second half of verse 22, which reads:
… who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in…
I have problems putting a wardrobe together, but God stretched out the vastness of space with a spoken command.
How big is our God?
Isaiah reminds us that the vastness of our universe allows us a glimpse of the might and majesty of our Creator. Philip Yancey in his book “Prayer: Does it make a difference”, gives the following description to help us appreciate the scale of the universe:
If [the galaxy in which we live] the Milky Way galaxy, were the size of the entire continent of North America, our solar system would fit in a coffee cup. Even now, two Voyager spacecraft are hurtling toward the edge of the solar system at a rate of 100,000 miles per hour. For almost three decades they have been speeding away from Earth, approaching a distance of 9 billion miles. When engineers beam a command to the spacecraft at the speed of light, it takes 13 hours to arrive. Yet this vast neighborhood of our sun—in truth, the size of a coffee cup—fits along with several hundred billion other stars and their minions in the Milky Way, one of perhaps 100 billion such galaxies in the universe. To send a light-speed message to the edge of that universe would take 15 billion years.
No matter how big the people of Judah’s problems were, God was greater; no matter how big our problems are, God is greater. How big is your God?
Look at verse 25 and 26, we continue on with the theme of God’s greatness. Isaiah asks us to look up at the night sky and says:
“Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who … numbers them and calls them all by name.”
How many stars do you think there are? Scientist are not sure, but:
“In July 2003, scientists at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Australia announced their latest estimate for the number of stars in the Universe – 70 sextillion. That is 7 followed by a mind-boggling 22 zeros…”
To give us some idea of the large number we are talking about, the number of stars is far greater in number than all the sand on all the beaches in the world. Yet God not only has them all numbered, he has names for all of them too!
How big is your God?
O.K., you might be getting a bit fed up with me asking that question by now, but I do not mean to nag or annoy and I ask the question to myself too, “how big is my God”? It’s not very nice to be someone who is suffering in some way and someone starts going on asking you how big your God is. Of course we have all been there haven’t we, we say that God either doesn’t know about me or if He does He simply doesn’t care or is not powerful enough to make a difference, and if we were to feel like that we wouldn’t be the first to do so, the people in Isaiah’s day felt the same too. Look at verse 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’?
They thought that their way was hidden from God, that He could not see them and that he did not regard them in any meaningful way. But nothing, NOTHING, could be further from the truth. Look at the answer the doubters are given, and look a the answer we are given when we think that God doesn’t care about us:
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
30Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
31but 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.
We grow tired yet God never tires in any way, we only know a few things, God knows everything, (even before it happens).
Have you ever been in a hurry at the airport? I can remember one time in Dublin airport running to get to the Departure Lounge, carrying a couple of heavy bags and puffing and panting as I went. Then I looked to my left and noticed a man walking at a normal pace and going at least as fast as I was – he was of course standing on one of those moving platforms that you get at airports. He was going the same direction as me, with the same amount of baggage and yet with a fraction of the effort! When we walk with God it is a bit like that, by His Spirit he comes underneath us and bears us along. We’re still walking, but we walk dependent on him.
What is going on in your life right now? Are you tired or sick? Walk with God. Are you lacking in faith or courage or wisdom? Walk with God. Have you lost your job or worried that you might lose it? Walk with God. Perhaps you don’t know how you are going to pay the bills and put food on the table. Walk with God. Do you dread going to school or college tomorrow morning? Walk with God. Are you afraid, do you seek forgiveness, are you lost or lonely? Walk with God. And when you walk with God, before you know it you will be flying.
A.W. Tozer wrote:
“Anything God has ever done, he can do now. Anything God has ever done anywhere, he can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone, he can do for you.” 
Please pray this prayer with me:
Heavenly Father I ask that you would walk with me now and that you would come alongside me and bear me along. Help me to walk alongside you, to hold on to you. Help me to not try and walk only with my own strength but to know your support at all times and in every sense. Lord I have many questions, but I somehow know that You are the answer, I choose to trust you now and for always…