Sermon: Finding Strength
Scripture: Isaiah 40: 28 – 31
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Have you ever asked someone how their day was going and they gave you a reply like, “Oh, hanging in,” “Still here.” They sound down and they look down. Sometimes the daily grind does get us down, and we wonder where we’re going to get enough strength to carry on. Where do we find the strength to cope with times of distress and discouragement when it wears us down? Even the young get weary, and for all of us, our steps can grow faint, just as our scripture lesson says.
Well, there is a way to cope. God meets us. In the everyday. God promises us hope.
Imagine being taken from your homeland and being forced to work and live as a slave in the city of a people who have made war upon your country. Imagine that you have no say at all in your daily routine. Whether you are tired, sick or heartbroken, you have to carry on, or die. That’s what it’s like for many refugees and immigrants living in foreign countries, some of them hostile. And that’s what it was like for Jewish exiles in the sixth century BC which the prophet Isaiah foretold in our scripture passage today, Isaiah prophesying centuries before the event happened. But in 596 A.D., Jewish exiles were taken from their familiar home in Israel and made to live in Babylon. These Jewish exiles lost everything – their possessions, their families, their land and their nation.
It is interesting that we can read the stories of folks who lived thousands of years ago and find that their joys, problems, doubts and faith are similar to ours. We live in a free country where we can live and work without suppression or hostility, yet we can feel a great kinship with people who resonate with the words of Isaiah and find hope in them. The Jewish people in exile were eager to return to their homeland of Israel. It was their heartfelt desire and dream. One day, somehow, they would return to their familiar land. Even those who had been born in exile and who had known nothing else yearned for this day of freedom and restoration. The promise that they would be lifted up like soaring eagles speaks to this heartfelt desire.
Eagles soar on the wind. They use the updrafts to raise themselves higher and higher. How can the eagle soar so high and so effortlessly for so long? Because she waits to see where the wind is blowing and she goes with it. That’s exactly how you and I are to make our decisions and make our plans – waiting to see where the wind of God is blowing in this particular situation and then going with it. The Hebrew word used for “Spirit” in the Old Testament is also the word for “wind.” It is “Ruah,” the breath of God. And the same is true for the Greek word “pneuma” in the New Testament. The breath of God. We fly longer, we fly further, when we wait to catch the wind of the Spirit of God.
But the hard part in all of this is that dreaded word “wait.” Especially if we are “make it happen” action-oriented, strong-willed types. If God doesn’t seem to be giving us clear guidance, or things don’t seem to be moving, we just take off, we furiously flap our wings, determined to get things moving somehow. We’ve got to do something, right? Anything! But God said that if you want God’s way, you have to be like the eagle if you want to soar -you have to wait until you sense where the current of God is going.
The best way to sense this is to turn to prayer. Not the “shopping list” prayer where we give God our want list. Not even the “I think it would be best” type prayer where we give God advice about what would be best for us. The prayer that is needed fits with the eagle’s approach. Watch and wait. Listen to God. Quiet our minds and hold ourselves open to God’s presence. Rest ourselves in God’s Spirit. Let that Spirit carry us. Prayer opens the way for God’s grace to flow into our lives.
All around the world people pray to God in their various ways. In north India, the Khonds in the foothills of the Himalaya mountains say this: “O Lord, we don’t know what is good for us. You know what it is. We pray for that. Amen.” The ancient Greek Plato asked: “Grant us the good, whether we pray for it or not, but keep evil from us even though we pray for things not good for us.” We can also say: “We don’t know what you have planned for us, but we ask that you show us the good things you have planned for us.” As the prophet Jeremiah said: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” Jeremiah 29: 11.
God’s promises meet us in the commonplace, in everyday life. Jesus spoke about seeds and birds and bread and flowers and building houses – his stories were all about daily life where his listeners lived. Jesus wove common-life elements into his preaching, teaching that God is interested in each of us, in our daily life, that God meets us where we are, that God cares if we are struggling and feeling desperate, that God made this everyday world for us, and nothing is beneath God’s attention.
So, can you hand it over? Can you hand over to God and Jesus your concerns and worries and trials and puzzling circumstances and predicaments and ask God to lift you up above it, ask God to give you patience and trust while you wait, and ask God to let you soar on His Wind and rest your wings and soul in his care? Can you ask God to take care of it? Can you listen, and watch, and wait for the wind of the Spirit, the Ruah? May we all be carried to a future that is filled with God’s rest, God’s leading, God’s plans and God’s fulfilment. Amen.