Grasshoppers and Locusts

Grasshoppers and Locust
Isaiah 40:21-31
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
February 7, 2021

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. 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’? Have you not known? Have you not heard? 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. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but 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.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

The people of Israel that Isaiah is addressing in this fortieth chapter have been beaten down and exiled from their homes. Home is in the past and in their memories. Slavery is their present situation and where their future seems to be leading. It seems to them that their God has lost to the Babylonian gods. Hope is smashed. They are worn out and exhausted and cannot envision anything else. 

It is to this situation that we are given this image of the all powerful creator God looking down on us mere grasshoppers from the heavens. And it is here that there is a danger that we might read this vision of Isaiah as destructive and wrathful and vindictive. We might be accustomed to hearing about this angry god and see the image of creator versus bug as inherently unsafe. But I wonder if we might be thinking God is too much like us. What if instead we read this passage in wonder. God the creator of the universe is sitting around watching and enjoying their creation in all its intricacies. Nothing can stop our creator God from watching over the grasshopper and all of creation. No empire of state can block what God is doing. God looks down on their beloved creation and sees its power and its fragility.

So I looked up the grasshopper this week to see what all the fuss is about. And perhaps if this second reading of the wonder of the creator is the way to read this passage we can see ourselves in the grasshopper. The grasshopper is full of beauty and intricacy. Grasshoppers have five eyes, ears on their bellies, beautiful wings that startle and ward off predators, and can communicate complex information simply by rubbing their back legs together to make songs. Surely God designed such creatures with care and intent, much like how God designed and created us for purpose and beauty and love. We are capable of so much. 

I remember long summers growing up in the South. After running around all day with the other neighborhood kids or potentially getting into some kind of trouble, my family would gather around the table on the back porch and eat our dinner. In the fading daylight, even as it stretched on and on, the one sound that always reminded me of home and brought me peace was the singing grasshoppers. The gentle lullaby that started every night around dusk and led us into our dreams. I remember being awed that these little creatures could make such beautiful music, just with their legs! What a gift to share their creativity and sounds with the world. Everything seemed to be right in those moments.

At the same time, when pushed out of balance with creation grasshoppers have the capacity for mass destruction. Under certain conditions such as overcrowding past what an environment can sustain, grasshoppers change in color, body size, and temperament and become locusts. As locusts, they rapidly reproduce and can wipe out huge amounts of grain harvests in entire regions leading to massive famines and food insecurity. Much like humans once we become out of balance with the wonderful world God has created, we can start to over consume and destroy entire regions such as rain forests.

And perhaps that is why in our text for today, Isaiah shifts from talking about grasshoppers to talking about princes and rulers. The Babylonians, the ones who have captured and enslaved Israel, are notorious for their overreaching and devouring of all life. It was all about conquest and greed, taking more and more at the expense of any and all. And I cannot help but wonder what comparisons our world has to this greed and hunger today. In a world on the brink of ecological collapse and a hunger that can never be satisfied, what would Isaiah say to us today? In a time where it feels so hopeless to imagine anything better for our world, how would Isaiah spur us on to envisioning a safer and healthier world? In systems filled with racial inequity and a growing wealth gap, what would Isaiah say to move us past these systems that only benefit a select few?

If it is true that the prophet Isaiah is using the grasshopper as a comparison to comment on humanity’s capacity for beauty and also destruction, then perhaps, the comparison is not about us being squished like bugs but rather to help us remember that we are just one part of a created world? Perhaps it is Isaiah’s intent to help us know and find balance with our world, to help us behave as grasshoppers instead of locusts?

So beloved community, the question I am inviting you to ponder today is where are we grasshoppers and where are we locusts? In what ways do we need to repent from greed and consumption especially when it comes at the expense of others? In what ways are we to deepen the beauty and creativity and song of the grasshopper that we are living into today? For no one is ever fully grasshopper or locust, no one is ever fully sinner or saint, no one is ever fully good or evil. We are human beings, complicated and able to choose what path we will take, life or destruction. Isaiah is giving us a vision of a world where we can live in harmony and peace, where all of our needs are cared for in a community of care, and then challenges us to ask are we moving toward that vision or away from that vision. The choice is continually before us: do we go seek Christ’s way or do we choose the systems and empires that we know? Beloved, the choice is ours, grasshopper or locust?

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