Lift Up Your Eyes and See
The other night during dinner we asked our kids what they miss most about church. They did not hesitate in their reply, church desserts and church potlucks with all our church friends. It is hard to believe that it has almost been 11 months since we last all gathered for worship together inside the Sanctuary, and since we have all had church desserts and potlucks.
While I am grateful to worship together in unique and different ways from home, I will admit to you all that every Sunday morning over these last 11 months has made me sad. We miss seeing our church family on Sunday morning. Sunday was the morning we not only worshiped together, but it is a day we lay eyes on each other and check in with each other. It is a day when our community of faith laughs and smiles as we greet one another, a day when our community of faith cries together and hugs each other as we pray for one another.
There have been so many things beyond Sundays that we all miss as we all navigate a pandemic. Through phone conversations and brief socially distant conversations in the grocery store I know that you all miss seeing and hugging your family. You miss being able to gather with your friends and share a meal together. You have had moments of despair and sadness because you can not visit family and friends or be visited by family and friends when someone is sick in the hospital. We have even had to process differently our grief for loved ones who have died. We have been unable to be with loved ones during their final days, and unable to gather and grieve with family and friends for a funeral. What has been most unique about these last 11 months is the collective nature of our grief, because we all have been missing and grieving so many of the same things.
As our nation mourns the deaths of over 455,000 people from covid-19, and as many of us grieve the deaths of loved ones and neighbors, either from Covid or other causes, today’s Old Testament reading connects with our feelings of grief, despair, and sadness for the things and the people we miss.
The reading from Isaiah is a text that is often read at funerals when it encounters people in the midst of grief and sadness. It was originally heard by a people who were in the midst of their own grief, hopeless, and longing for something or someone missing in their life. When the Israelites first hear Isaiah’s words they are 60 years into their exile from home. Generations have passed since God’s chosen were forced from their home and exiled to a foreign land. They have wept by the river Babylon for over 60 years longing to be back home. As they longed for home they knew that even if they went back it would not be the same because their temple, their place of worship, was destroyed and laid in ruin.
In those opening verses from our reading of Isaiah you can sense how lost in life and in their faith they are feeling when Isaiah writes, “Have you known? Have you not heard? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”…As they wept by the river of Babylon they felt like a hopeless wanderer.
Today’s reading of Isaiah offers them words of hope in midst of their grief and in the midst of feeling lost, disconnected, and missing the things and people they love dear.…“Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? God who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.”
What a powerful challenge for the ones who are sad and grieving, lift up your eyes and see. Lift up your eyes and remember the good news that God calls even the one who feel forgotten by name.
Have you now known? Have you not heard? Lift up your eyes and see…The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary: God’s understanding is unsearchable.
Lift up your eyes and see…God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.
Lift up your eyes and see… “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.”
One of the difficult parts of navigating this pandemic has been the disconnection of face to face conversations. Maybe I took for granted how much personal interaction we have with one another, and the ways it connect us. Then I came across something while watching TV with my kids that grabbed my attention. It was a National Geographic kids special on how to train dogs, and the tv show was explaining to kids that looking dogs in the eyes actually can be therapeutic when you feel lonely or anxious. They explained that when humans look each other in the eyes it releases a chemical in your body that makes you feel more connected to others, and similar thing happens when we look at the eyes of our pets. In fact I was so intrigued by this that I did my own research and was not surprised to learn that receiving recognition, even if its simple positive eye contact from others, will lead us to a healthier psyche. Recognition improves our well being.
Maybe that is why this text is so comforting in a moment of grief and despair. It is a text where God is proclaiming that God recognizes us in all situations, especially those moments when we are full of grief and sadness. God calls us by name so that no one is missing. This hopeful text is proclaiming to us that God is present with us always, we can find hope that we will always be recognized by God.
As I did more digging into the importance of recognition, I came across multiple studies connecting our posture to our feelings. In moments of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety we might be more likely to look down or even away from others.
Knowing this gives Isaiah’s challenge to lift up our eyes more meaning. By looking up we remember the hope and promise that God’s presence is with us always, even in those moments when we feel overwhelmed with grief and sadness. Lifting up our eyes is a reminder that God will always recognize our pain and sorrow, and God will always be present to renew us with strength.
Some of us might feel right now like the Israelites who are grieving the many people and things missing in their lives. Sometimes our grief can be so overwhelming that we feel like a hopeless wanderer. I am a believer that everyone grieves in different ways and at different pace. For some of us it might even seem overwhelming at the present moment that we feel like we are unable to lift up our eyes and see. Where ever you are on the spectrum of grief and sadness as you miss the cherished people and cherished things of your life, may you always find comfort and peace in these words, “The Lord is the everlasting God…God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”
This is the good news we hold tight to even in the those moments when we feel lost and a surrounded by sadness and grief. Words of comfort and strength that God’s presence is with us always. While we may grow weary, God’s sustaining presence will never abandon us. God’s sustaining presence will renew our strength, even enough strength to help us lift our eyes and see.
A few weeks ago I appreciated the words in our local newspaper from Jenny Fliush Glaze, who has written many meaningful articles in the newspaper about grief. In her article titled “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” she lifted up this powerful reminder for all of us as we process grief, “An important distinction to make is that people who are grieving are not lost. They certainly feel lost, but how can one be lost if we are still able to see them or speak with them?”
God created us to be in relationship with one another. It is in our relationships with one another we are able to be reminded of the good news that we belong to God. Through the gift of relationships we are seen and heard.
This quote makes me grateful for those moments in the life of the church when we lift up our eyes together and experience God’s comforting presence and know together that we are seen and heard.
Whether it is in worship or Sunday school, or in acts of service, acts of stewardship, and acts of forgiveness we are given many moments to lift up our eyes. Yes, even in worship and Sunday school that is socially distant, we are able to have common experiences when we can lift our eyes up together and see. Even if it feels like we are going through the motions we can find ourselves and our posture in a place of remembering God’s sustaining presence in our lives and everlasting love for us through Jesus Christ. Even if it feels like we are going through the motions we can find ourselves and our posture in a place where we can all recognize each other and walk alongside each other in our moments of grief and sadness. We will find ourselves and our posture in a place where we will share the Good News of God’s love for us through Christ with one another as we lift up our eyes and proclaim, “The Lord is the everlasting God…God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless…the Lord renews their strength and they shall mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” Alleluia Amen