What does it feel like when someone treats you badly
When someone ridicules you
Or puts you down
It makes us feel badly; it stirs up great anger; it really affects us
When I was in middle school, I had this really smart friend
He knew how to get under my skin and push my buttons
He was this white guy from a very educated and well-off background
I was one of the only minority kids in my grade
He pointed out the differences between me and him
Whenever I got mad at his remarks, he would say that I was uncivilized
You know how I responded to that comment?
I started pummeling him with my fists
I proved his statements true!
What others say to us really sticks
We will remember what people said to us or did to us
This world can indeed be a cruel place
Our words can have such a tremendous impact on others
Why do these things affect us so much?
Because we listen to these voices and messages and believe that it’s true
When we get really angry, isn’t it because at a deep level, we wonder if what they’re saying about us is actually true?
So we react to them
We want them to take back what they said and say that no, actually, I’m okay
We focus on their action: what they did, what they said
Here’s the thing, though: can we really change people?
Maybe I can beat someone into submission, but can I really change what’s in their heart?
Maybe it’ll make me feel better for a bit, but will it change how I feel about myself?
We can’t control how other people act or feel toward us
But we can learn how to respond when others are against us
“I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (v.6)
This verse reminds me of the people who marched for civil rights
They acted out their philosophy of nonviolence, even when people were brutal and violent toward them
What made them able to withstand that abuse and carry on with courage?
This was also the path that Jesus took on his way to the cross
He went into Jerusalem knowing that this is what the outcome would be
This is utter foolishness, isn’t it?
Who would willingly take punishment and insults like that?
How is the prophet Isaiah, the author of today’s passage, able to take the insults and abuse and still stand strong?
I think it’s because of what was deep in his heart
Let’s use a tree as a metaphor
A tree starts with just a seed that is underground
The seed is under the ground and you can’t see what happens beneath the surface
But there is life underground, and the seed starts to sprout
It starts developing roots in the soil
After that initial activity, then you see a stem coming up out of the ground
Meanwhile, the activity below the surface continues and expands
The roots start getting longer, deeper, stronger
It begins to absorb even more moisture and nutrients in the soil
The ever-deepening roots feed the stem above the ground
The stem then creates branches, the branches create leaves
As the roots under the ground get stronger, so does the tree above the ground
Then, when a hurricane or really strong storm hits, the tree is able to withstand that storm
But trees that do not yet have strong roots will be swept away by the storm
What is deep in your heart? Do you have strong roots?
In other words, do you have a firm and solid sense of who you are?
If you don’t have a solid sense of who you are, then what others say will affect you because you will believe that maybe what they say about you is true
You will be like a tree without strong roots that gets swept up in the winds
I think one of the biggest problems for young people today is that people don’t have a solid sense of who they are
And this is because you’ve had no space of your own to figure that out
From a young age, you’ve been told what to do, how to do it, and what to aspire to
You haven’t had the space to figure this out for yourselves
And so when someone says something about you, no wonder it’s difficult to take: we don’t know what else to believe or think about ourselves!
But what can we learn today?
“Morning by morning he wakens my ear to listen…”
“The Lord God has opened my ear…”
“Ear” and “listen”
Isaiah heard and listened to God
And not only occasionally, but “morning by morning” – in other words, regularly
Remember what I said about encountering God?
God only meets us at our most real, innermost self
The self where all of our fears and insecurities are, the self where all of our ugliness resides
That is where God meets us and speaks to us
When God meets us there, we actually begin to learn more about ourselves too and who we are
God continually reveals to us who we are
Listening to God in our deepest, most real selves is like the tree building deeper and deeper roots
If we can continually meet God deep in our hearts, “morning by morning”, and hear His word to us:
You are loved
You are forgiven
You are okay
You are precious
We will have deep roots
We will know who we are and feel affirmed by God about who we are
If we can be deeply rooted in God’s word, then what will it matter what others say to us or about us?
“The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.” (v.7)
What words of faith and hope!
“He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?”
Can these be our words?
Can we stand firmly and strong like the prophet Isaiah?
I believe we can!
We might not be strong or courageous like that now, but if we continue to meet God in our deepest, innermost selves, morning by morning, day by day, week by week, then I believe that we too will become strong and courageous like Isaiah, like Martin Luther King Jr., like St. Paul, and like Jesus
My hope and prayer for you is that you can be a generation with deep roots
A generation that knows who you are
A generation that takes the journey of becoming with CONFIDENCE
A generation that is not insecure
A generation that therefore can focus outwardly on the needs of others and those who are weak or marginalized in society
A generation that can love like Jesus did
I believe that God will indeed make you a generation with deep roots and courage
Everyday, may you turn to God and open your heart to Him
Be honest and vulnerable about who you are, what you’re going through, what you’re feeling, and there you will meet God and hear God’s voice
God will build deep and lasting roots in you
God will be the source of your confidence in your journey of becoming