“Trust the Darkness”

Nov 20, 2022

The Scripture

Isaiah 42:16

I will lead the blind
    by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
    I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
    and I will not forsake them.

 

 

 

The Sermon

For months now we have been reading this passage from Isaiah 42:16 as a source of strength and courage, hope for our future as we discern God’s movement in the life of our church. For months we have been talking about blindness and God leading us down a road not knowing where the road is going. And so I thought it fitting to share with you here at First Pres Itasca along with our people of Elk Grove Pres why this passage it so significant to all of us at this point in time when both of our churches are in similar places. And why, particularly right now, we have to trust the darkness we are experiencing. Now it is time to look more closely at this passage and understand more about Isaiah’s prophetic words, words that brought hope to a broken people, words that reoriented them to God’s presence. Words spoken to a people who were blind. Hear now our scripture passage from Isaiah.

Isaiah 42:16:

I will lead the blind
    by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
    I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
    and I will not forsake them.

 

As we begin, I have an important question to ask you, do you think we, you and I, do you think there is a possibility that we could be blind? Could we be blind and not even know it? I see all of you looking at me, I see your eyes…and I think most of us would be quick to say, “I’m not blind, I am fully aware of everything going on around me.”

But reading this passage in Isaiah causes me to pause and wonder. It signals to all of us that those original people hearing Isaiah’s words over 2,600 years ago must have been blind in some way.  And it must have been a different kind of blindness that we normally think of, and even more significant, it seems to have been a blindness that they were not aware of, or at least they didn’t realize the effect it was having on their lives.

Why are they blind? Why does God refer to them as blind? There are some important things we need to know. These prophetic words were spoken to the Israelite community living in captivity, living in Babylon far from their home in Judah from Jerusalem the beloved city where years earlier they witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Now, away from their homeland, away from their culture and traditions…years have passed, 70 years have gone by and they have forgotten. They have forgotten the source of their sight, the God of the generations of those who have gone before. They have forgotten.

This is the history the people are holding in their hearts. They were defeated in war, saw their sacred temple destroyed, they were forced to leave everything behind and go to a foreign land and now after all this time has passed what are they to look forward to?  A whole generation has grown up in captivity! All that has transpired has left them in darkness. Understandable, isn’t it? I don’t think we can even begin to understand what all this has meant to their spirit, to their faith, to their hope of things getting back to where it used to be. When will they return to Jerusalem?  But then, oh yes, I have heard these similar words multiple times, if only we could return to the days when the pews were full, and our Christian Education doors were exploding, when the energy was high, and we had lots and lots of young people…if only we could return to the days when…you can put in your own words. If only we could go back!

I hear echoes of this same sentiment with these Israelites. They have become blind, they have lost hope, they have forgotten about those former years when God’s presence was so clearly visible, visible in their prosperity and success. They are the chosen people, but what has happened? Blindness comes in many forms you know, and it seems they have become blinded to God’s presence. Isaiah’s words are needed to call them back. I can’t help but think that they have mistaken God’s presence to be equated to prosperity and the good old times? Things have been tough for a long time now.

It’s interesting that Isaiah goes from talking about blindness to darkness. “I will turn the darkness before them into light.” What do you think, might there be a relationship between blindness and darkness?

Of course, a person who is truly blind lives in darkness but what if this is reversed. What if darkness leads to blindness? Darkness in this passage is associated to their life circumstances; the captivity they have endured, and the hardships the disasters they have faced. In the darkness of their lives, they have forgotten God. They have forgotten that God is still present, that God still controls their history and their future. They needed to trust that the darkness would not be forever, they needed to be reminded that even in the darkness God had not forgotten them. God says to them:

I will lead the blind
    by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
    I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
    the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
    and I will not forsake them.

We too, more than ever, need to hear these very words today. Remember earlier I asked you if there is a possibility that we are blind too? I can see many similarities in the Israelites journey of faith and our own journey. As we are struggling right now with the future of our churches, have we become blind to God’s very presence in the midst of our situations? Have we equated a thriving, packed church, filled with young adults and children to God’s presence or absence? Could God really be here where we are right now?  Could God be right here is our questioning, in our dismay, in our sadness in our fear? In our doubts? Have we let our darkness lead to blindness?

What is God calling us to do right now? We must learn to trust in the darkness, trust that in the darkness, God is still working, working in ways that we do not know. In the darkness we can finally learn that it is God who holds both our history and our future and we’re not in charge. Thanks be to God! The darkness slows us down, helps us to stay connected to one another and if we can let go, the darkness that leads to blindness, can instead lead us closer to God and God’s ever abiding presence.

Isaiah helps us by reminding us that God will guide us, it will be a road we do not know. We must let go of thinking we know that path that is before us.

Isaiah reminded the people in Babylon that the road before them was a road they had not been on before. They had to let go of thinking they could return to the past, to a way of life that they knew. We must do the same. We must let go of thinking the future we keep hoping for will be the same road we have been on before. This darkness we face is truly a blessing in disguise. Because this darkness sheds our own sense of self-reliance, independence  and our own sense of control. In the darkness, we must surrender totally to the living God who promises us that someday the darkness with be turned into light and the rough places will become smooth. Trust the darkness, but don’t let it make us blind to God. Amen