Those Who Wait.

Isaiah 40:27-31

Sunday, February 4, 2018

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.

The writer of these words is not just a prophet, but a poet as well. These are soaring words that release the soul for flight. Just reading these words makes life feel lighter, the road wider, the day brighter, my legs stronger, my load bearable, my obstacles surmountable, my appetite satisfied, my bed softer, my shoes shinier, the snow whiter, the sky bluer and the water wetter.

I read these words and “ . . ., deep in my heart, I do believe We shall overcome someday, The truth shall make us free someday, We shall live in peace someday.”

If you drop a coin on the floor, then read these words over that coin. Don’t be surprised if the coin picks itself up.

Then reality reasserts its realness. Walking in the snow on Friday, I was not weary nor did I faint. But neither did I soar with the eagles.  We all know that there are times when the majesty of the poet does not match with mundane of the everyday. There are times when the clear vision of the prophet is lost in the fog of the routine. Not to mention when we go in the exact opposite direction and have our mundane routine shattered by troubling news or tragic events.  Then we feel weary, we feel faint and we don’t feel much like soaring even if we could.

At times like those, we read these words and maybe the coin just stays there on the floor. Maybe we start to wonder who wrote these words in the 40th chapter of Isaiah and what did he know about life in the real world. Did he ever answer the phone to receive news about a loved one killed in an automobile accident? Did he go to school everyday thinking of ways to hide the fact that his father could not stay sober? Did ever spend a night in ICU holding his momma’s hand? How many times has he stared into an empty pantry not knowing what his children would eat for supper?  Is he all inspirational words or does he know  something about the real world?

We sometimes hear that the Bible is a good book to read when we are in a difficult situation or feeling down. It can certainly be a source of comfort in troubled times, but it is not a vaccine that protects us from disappointments and hardships of life. It is not an emotional or spiritual narcotic that is meant to numb us to the very real pain that is a part of being human. If we truly doubt its connection to reality, we need only read some in Psalms and Lamentations, to see that the writers of scripture experience the full range of human emotions and heartache. Doubt, fear, grief, abandonment and host of other feelings parade freely through the pages of scripture right alongside hope, joy, peace and love.

But what does our writer this morning know about life in the real world? He would have grown up hearing stories about King Saul, King David, King Solomon and Israel’s United Kingdom. He would have been told about that Kingdom dividing into two separate countries after the death of Solomon. He would have known that the northern kingdom was called Israel and that it ceased to exist in 721 BCE when it was conquered by Assyria. He would have known that Jerusalem was the seat of power in Judah, the southern Kingdom and that the southern kingdom was still free and independent when the Babylonians and the Medes toppled it 612 BCE.

The stories he hears about events after that date will become more personal. His grandparents will now be telling him what they experienced and what happened in their lives when they were younger.  He will hear about the Babylonians invading his country. He will hear about thousands of Jews being taken captive and deported to Babylon. He will hear about being exiled from his own country. He will hear about the temple being destroyed and Jerusalem being destroyed. He will hear all of this, but he will already know it in his bones because he born during the exile. All he knows about his country he has heard from someone else. He has never been there. Born in captivity, he is a man without a country. His country no longer exists.

So now the question is no longer about whether or not the person who wrote our text for this morning knows anything about life in the real world, but how can someone born into and living in those circumstances have any hope or faith left in him? Yet, obviously he did. We see plainly and powerfully in the words he has written for us this morning.

Born in a strange land far from the home he had never seen, he has the audacity to write, “they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Whatever meaning we may find in these for own lives and for the life we share together, it is important for us to remember that they were written by one who had lost everything to a people who had lost everything. They are not the stuff of wishful thinking and naiveté, but are born out of the all too real trial and tragedy of human experience.

Marie had an experience like that. She was living in Texas, near the gulf coast. A hurricane came through and did what hurricanes do. When she was able to get back into her house, it was a mess. There was water and mud everywhere. Everywhere she looked she saw something that was ruined, lost, gone. She did not really have a choice. She had to clean up, repair, put her life back together. So she waded through the grief and the devastation beginning the long, slow task of making her house a place where she could once again live.

One morning, as she was preparing to start another day of cleaning, she opened a bucket of supplies that a church had sent to help folks whose homes had been damaged by the storm. It was full of everything she needed that morning to clean her house. But there were more than cleaning supplies in that bucket, there was also a card. As she read the note written in the card, she received encouragement and a reminder of God’s love. The bucket of cleaning supplies and the note told her what she already knew, “God really does work through the hands of (God’s) people.”

Can you imagine that? Here she is with her whole life soaking wet covered in mold, mildew and who knows what else. But never mind that because she is having a “mount up with wings like eagles” moment. She is having a “run and not be weary” moment, a “walk and not faint” moment. No doubt she knows how bad that bad can be. Yet, her circumstances are not bad enough to rob her of hope, of joy, nor of gratitude.

Could something like that really happen? It could and it did. What makes it an even better story is that you made it happen. You are the church that sent Marie that bucket. Yes, you did that. Her thank-you letter is the office unless Bronwyn has already put it on the bulletin board. Your actions led to someone having a “mount up with wings like eagles” moment. God really did use you to be God’s hands in this lady’s life.

She added a postscript to her letter. It reads, “I had to look your church up. You are 2188 miles away, but managed to reach us!” Reach her indeed. There is a whole lot of ground between Vermont and Texas. But there is not so much that it kept you from being hands and feet of Christ. There is not so much that it kept you from doing on earth as it is heaven. Often, the barriers of distance and time are breached when God is working through God’s people. Sometimes we are the ones God is working through and sometimes we the ones that receive the benefit of God working through others. In either case, if we listen carefully, we can hear God humming,

“. . . there ain’t no mountain high enough,                                                                                                                                  Ain’t no valley low enough,                                                                                                                                                             Ain’t no river wide enough,                                                                                                                                                                 To keep me from getting to you. . .”

When Jesus finished a story or an encounter like this one, he would sometimes say “The Kingdom of Heaven is near.” And, so it is. Your faithfulness has made it so. Let’s do it again. Amen