TEXT: Isaiah 55


Last week we talked about the importance of the stories we tell and the power stories have to shape how we respond to the events of our lives.  There are several stories, aside from the stories of the Bible, that I return to again and again for inspiration and guidance.  The Lord of the Rings is key, as is the Star Wars saga, the Sound of Music, and several tales from that grand literary master, Dr. Seuss.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas is one, Yertle the Turtle is another, and the one I picked for this morning, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, is a third.

For those of you from disadvantaged backgrounds who have never had the opportunity to read this particular classic, the basics of the story are these: Thidwick, as the title would imply, is a moose. And, like all good male moose, Thidwick has a huge set of antlers on top of his head. Now moose antlers are not like deer antlers. They are not round and pointy, but flat and broad -- which is important for the story. Because, you see, Thidwick's big broad antlers make the perfect nesting place for a number of animals.

The first to arrive on Thidwick's antlers is a bug, hitching a ride along the dusty road. Thidwick, being the big-hearted moose that he is, is quite pleased to be of service and the bug hops aboard. Well, the presence of the bug gives a tree spider the same idea and soon, he is spinning a web in Thidwick's antlers. Next comes a bird, who uses some of the hairs of Thidwick's head to make a nest in his antlers, and then invites his wife and his uncle the woodpecker to come along, too. Next come a family of squirrels,

"and the very next thing the poor animal knew,
a bobcat and turtle were living there, too!
They asked in a fox, who jumped in from the trees,
they asked in some mice and they asked in some fleas.
They asked a big bear in and then, if you please,
came a swarm of three hundred and sixty-two bees!"


Now those of you who do some hunting can appreciate the sudden desire of the hunters to bag this particular moose with the amazing antlers, and soon Thidwick is running for his life, guns blasting all around, but he is hardly able to move for the weight of all the uninvited guests living in his antlers. His herd is migrating, swimming across the lake to warmer climates. But Thidwick can neither run nor swim. If the hunters miss him, starvation will do him in if he cannot migrate with the rest of the herd.

"Finished? Not Thidwick! Decidedly not!
It's true, he was in a most terrible spot,
but NOW he remembered a thing he'd forgot!
A wonderful something that happens each year
to the horns of all moose and the horns of all deer.
Today was the day, Thidwick happened to know,
that OLD horns come off so that NEW ones can grow!
And he called to the pests on his horns as he threw 'em,
You wanted my horns; now you're quite welcome to 'em!
Keep 'em! They're yours! As for ME, I shall take
myself to the far distant side of the lake!"


And so the problem for Thidwick is solved. The hunters get their horns and stuff all the beasties that had taken advantage of poor Thidwick, and Thidwick gets to migrate with the rest of the moose relieved of his burden.

Now you may not immediately see the connection between the story of Thidwick and the passage we read this morning from Isaiah. And, chances are, Dr. Seuss did not have Isaiah 55 in mind when he wrote his book. But if you will look with me for a few moments at this passage in Isaiah, I think you will come to see how the two are related.

Isaiah is speaking out of the circumstances we have mentioned a lot lately…the exile of the kingdom of Judah to Babylon.  Jeremiah is written in this context, and Jeremiah then also writes the book of Lamentations to lament the fall of Jerusalem which is sacked and the temple burned to the ground as the people remaining are marched off to exile.  It was a time of unspeakable horror and the largest identity crisis that Israel had faced to that time.

With that in mind, read the sunny optimism of Isaiah 55. There's all this talk of rich food and drink, the submission of other nations to Israel, the fertility of the earth, joy and singing and flowers. All this flowery talk does not represent reality for Judah. They are captives in a foreign land--they, Judah, the people of the land, have been removed from their land, their heritage, their identity. There is no singing to be done on foreign soil -- no rich food has taste, no flowers seem beautiful.

Whether for Israel or for others in wilderness times, this is not the fun part. This is the part of suffering and doubt and questioning. This is the part where people are apt to give up hope, to erase any thoughts of a future, to see themselves as useless and without purpose or meaning. This is the part that lies between promise and fulfillment when we are getting ready to say to declare that God is dead or worse.

OK, Anne, but I'm still looking for the connection to the stupid moose. All right, let's go back to Dr. Seuss for a minute. Thidwick, too, was in a wilderness period -- trapped and imprisoned by the pests in his antlers, unwilling to break the rules of hospitality and oust his guests. And as a result, he was about to lose his very life to the hunters. He could see no future, no way out, and was about to give up and die. But what saved Thidwick? His memory. There was something he had forgotten, something basic to his nature and to the wonderful way in which he was made. He could shed his horns. He had forgotten that, and reviving that memory gave him back his future and his life—even before he actually shed the antlers.

The prophet in Isaiah 55 is doing the same thing for the exiles...he is reviving their memory. They are in a wilderness, they can see no way out and are about to give up and die. But along comes the prophet with some reminders for them. Reminders about who they were and what kind of God they served. This chapter is packed with allusions to other portions of Old Testament Scripture—reminders of God's covenant with David, reminders of the wisdom in Proverbs that are their heritage, subtle reminders of the Exodus from Egypt that formed Israel as a nation, memories from the Psalms and from other prophets that have gone before.

Remember! Remember! Remember! says the prophet. Remember that God's ways are not like your ways. Remember that God's Word is effective wherever it goes. Remember God's salvation in other hopeless circumstances—Israel served as slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Remember? God still delivered. You do have a future of joy and singing and returning to your land—don’t give up, seek the Lord—now, while you still can. God forgives. Don't give yourself over to despair. You have a future, you were created for a purpose, your life still has meaning.

Both for Thidwick and for Judah in exile, salvation comes through remembering—remembering that life is bigger than the current moment, broader than the current circumstances, that not all truths about life are evident every moment of every day. Truth is often deeper than what we see on the surface. Sometimes we have to search for the truth that applies to our current reality. It's there, but we may have forgotten.

This is Lent. The forty days before Easter are a time to remember the experience of the wilderness, the feeling of exile. It is a time to remember that, even if the outward circumstances of our lives are all peaches and cream, we are still in exile from our true home with God. Maybe you are feeling the pain of exile in your life. Maybe you are far from home and family. Or maybe your home and family are here but in emotional exile. Maybe you have been exiled from work or friendship and are forced to live in the land of poverty. Maybe you are exiled from health or happiness and it seems like there is no future for you except the same drab, painful existence of exile.

Listen to the voice of the prophet. Remember who you are. Remember you were created in the image of God. Remember that life is not always what it seems. God's ways are not our ways and God's Word never fails to accomplish its purpose. God's word to those in exile is the promise of homecoming, the promise of restoration, the Easter promise of resurrection. God's word can transform the world to which it is given and every life into which it is brought. The exile you are in is not the final word; it is not the ultimate truth.

Thidwick became an important story for me for the same reason that Isaiah’s words resonate.  It reminds me that I am more than my current circumstances.  There are other forces at work that will enable me to throw off the yoke of oppression, forces God planted within me by virtue of being created human.  I might have to bear a burden for a time, but I was created to be free.  The cross is not the end of the story.

Remembering is not just about the past.  When we remember that we were created in the image of God, we are proclaiming our belief that the image in us that has been tarnished by sin can be restored to new splendor. When we look back on the miracles of God both in Scripture and in our lives, we are also calling on God to show God’s transformative power once again, proclaiming our trust in the faithfulness of God. What has been is a key to what will be again.

As divorce plunged me into a three-year search for meaning and identity in my life, I looked in the mirror and no one looked back at me.  I had no idea who I was independent of my role as a wife.  The answer finally came on the day that I took back my maiden name.  Anne Robertson.  Oh yeah!  That’s who I am.  It’s who I always have been.  I came out of the courthouse a new woman, even though I had taken my husband’s name willingly and was changing it back only with great reluctance.  The power of the memory of my name about knocked my socks off.

All of a sudden I discovered again the Anne of my childhood--the Anne that had been forgotten and pushed aside. And it was through remembering who I was, what I stood for, who I loved that I discovered who I am now. It was through remembering that God brought me out of exile and back to my homeland . As I remembered who I was and who I was created to be, I was able at last to toss off the antlers that had become a useless burden and swim to the other side of the lake.

Are there burdens that are keeping you from making the trip home? Are you carrying things simply because you forgot you didn't have to? Have you forgotten that there is already a place for them at the foot of the Cross? Hear the words of the prophet: "Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near." The exile is almost ended, Easter is coming. Remember. Remember. Remember. Amen.

Sermon © 2007, Anne Robertson

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