By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
February 8, 2009
Read: Isaiah 40:21-31 and Mark 1:29-39
We hear again this week about healing and demons in Mark’s gospel. Here in Coatesville, we are still faced with the terroristic acts of an arsonist or arsonists. It is difficult to sleep well at night, wondering about each little sound that is heard in the darkness. We don’t know what motivates someone to do this to an entire community; what we do know is that this person or persons is sick. Makes us wonder about these words in Mark regarding possession.
How do we live in the face of this? Our reading from Isaiah gives us answers. “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.”
A former police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department tells how the Department would demonstrate to rookie officers the value of the bullet-proof vests they’d been issued. The vests were placed on mannequins and then officers would fire round after round into the vests. The rookies were asked to check to see if any of the rounds had penetrated the vests.
Invariably the vests would pass the test with flying colors. Vernon would turn to the rookie officers and ask, “So who wants to wear a vest and let us test how it works on you?
How many of you would put on those vests and allow marksmen to take a shot at you? I don’t blame you. You could cover my entire body with that armour – and I’d still hesitate to put it on and let them shoot at me.
Because it’s one thing to “say” ‘I have faith.’ It’s quite another to actually act on that faith.
There are many things in this world that can threaten our feeling of safety and security. The plans, goals and the things that we desire in life can too often be threatened by powers beyond our own strength.
We might lose our jobs, our financial security, our friendships, our loved ones, our sense of well-being because of health problems, or our feeling of peace and calm because of outside pressures and threats beyond our control – like the current situation here.
At times like these it’s easy to panic. It’s easy to take our eyes off God’s faithfulness and begin to look around for other forms of power and security.
But throughout Scripture God’s message has always been to his people: “Trust me.” “Put your faith in my promises.” “Rely on me.”
Isaiah says just this to God’s people, “Israel, why then do you complain that the Lord doesn’t know your troubles or care if you suffer injustice? Let me set the scene.
Judah was a very small kingdom surrounded by larger and more powerful nations. One of them was the powerful kingdom of Babylon. It had a fearsome army and a reputation of destroying any nation in their path… and Judah was smack dab in Babylon’s way as it extended its borders.
The people of Judah felt vulnerable, weak and threatened. It was difficult to ignore the dangers that surrounded them.
They saw that they needed every advantage against such a formidable enemy and so they sought to strengthen themselves by praying to the gods of neighbouring nations and making alliances with these pagan nations. Why would they do this?
This was Judah. They were people of God. Why on earth would they turn their back on God and seek out other sources of power?
Now, I think it’s easy to sympathize with these people. They lived in a very real world filled with very real dangers. They were afraid. They needed help from wherever they could get it. They were fully aware of how ruthless and destructive the Babylonians could be. They couldn’t ignore the dangers that surrounded them.
I don’t think it is any different for us. There are times when our happiness and inner peace are threatened. Like now with the arson situation. Or, perhaps you may feel as if there is nothing left in your marriage. Or perhaps there is no joy left in your work. Maybe you feel down hearted about the path your children are taking. It’s easy to become depressed about the havoc that sin causes in our lives. You are upset about what you have said and done. You are despondent about the same old temptation that you fall into again and again.
Whatever it is that is unsettling you, it’s good to remember that God has had plenty of experience with people who are fearful, discouraged and upset.
Think about the disciples of Jesus out on a lake in a wild storm. Even though Jesus was there in the boat sleeping peacefully, they were convinced that the wind and the waves would overwhelm them and they would all drown. They even believed that Jesus didn’t care what happened to them. They woke him saying, “Don’t you care that we are about to die?”
You know that’s the same question that God’s people asked in the Old Testament – “Lord, our enemies are surrounding us, don’t you care that we are about to be crushed by this Babylonian giant?”
And the answer that the prophet gives is one that is worth reading again and again when it seems that our troubles are more than we can bear.
‘O Israel, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles?
How can you say God refuses to hear your case?
Have you never heard or understood?
Don’t you know that the LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth?
He never grows faint or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to those who are tired and worn out; he offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will give up. But those who wait on the LORD will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:27-31 NLT).
One of my favorite pieces of scripture: ‘Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles’
A friend shares this story about eagles:
We are often privileged to see eagles soaring in front of our house –– usually in the distance, but occasionally up close. Yesterday we were sitting around the dinner table in front of our kitchen window when an eagle came soaring over our front yard –– in and among the trees. I was the first to see it. I pointed, and my family turned to look. We marveled together at the eagle’s majestic size and effortless grace. It was one of those “hold your breath” moments ––like having a large plane thunder over your roof –– except that the eagle flew silently.
Some years ago, we were visiting a trout hatchery in the California hills when an eagle suddenly swooped down to scoop up a trout from the water only a few feet from us. We had no idea what was happening, and it was like an explosion in our midst. A lead weight couldn’t have dropped so quickly out of the sky –– this was powered flight –– a dive-bombing eagle.
Later, we remembered hearing the eagle’s wings shattering the air –– but we heard them only for an instant. And we remembered the eagle striking the water and grabbing the fish –– that was the explosion. And then the eagle was once again high in the sky. The whole process took only a couple of seconds. The eagle’s power was awe-inspiring –– and just a bit frightening. But the power of eagles is nothing compared to God’s power –– and it is God who empowers those who wait upon him. That is the promise.
The people of Judah thought God had abandoned them or was too weak or far too removed to be bothered with their problems. And so Isaiah gives the people a reality check.
“What’s wrong with you guys?
Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? Hasn’t anyone told you that God can do anything? If he can create the universe, if he is able to not only make the stars but also knows how many there are and does a daily check on them even though there are millions upon millions of them. Because God’s power is so great and he loves and cares for his creation, it follows then that his love for you and his concern for you in the middle of all your problems is unquestionable. We need only look at the cross and we can see just how much God loves us – there he died for us, unworthy though we are, and there on the cross he gave us forgiveness for our sin and hope for the future.
One of the great movies of all time was the 1959 epic Ben Hur. One of the movie’s most riveting scenes is where Charlton Heston (Ben Hur) defeated his arch enemy in a chariot race. The scene required 5 weeks of filming, 15,000 extras, and 18 chariots.
To add to the spirit of authenticity Charlton Heston actually learned to drive the chariots he’d be using in the race. But after weeks of practice, Heston was worried about the shoot. He confided in the stunt coordinator: “I can drive the chariot, but I’m not sure I can win.”
The stunt man smiled and replied: “Chuck, you just make sure you stay in the chariot, and I’ll make sure you win the race.”
Heston had made the mistake of thinking that he actually had to win the race by his own power and skill. He had forgotten that the outcome had already been decided. It was in the script. He couldn’t lose!
And really that’s what God is trying to get us to see in Isaiah 40. With God on our side, we can’t lose. The script has already been written – written in the blood of Jesus, you might say, the blood that reminds us that we are God’s special and chosen people and that he will never give up on us. We might be scared out of our wits by events that threaten our safety. We might be disappointed in ourselves. We might grow weary, tired, disheartened and exhausted. We might even be tempted to give up.
But we have a God who never gets tired of caring for us and loving us. Even when we think that he isn’t close to us and in fact, find it hard to feel that closeness – his promise is as certain as ever.
Let’s hear it again.
Those who trust in the Lord for help
will find their strength renewed.
They will rise on wings like eagles;
they will run and not get weary;
they will walk and not grow weak.
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.