Our Old Testament reading featured the prophet Isaiah today. The book named after him is usually divided into two sections, but I don't want to get into that so much as point out that what Bob read today comes from what's commonly called second Isaiah. And that is important because it corresponds to a time in Jewish history when they'd been taken captive by the Babylonians. This exile lasted over forty years and was understood as a punishment for the sins of the nation. It was a time of great sadness and a time when the people wondered where their God was; they felt abandoned. Much of Isaiah is about God's judgment of Israel and the nations around them. But today's prophecy deals with the coming opportunity for the Jewish people to return to their homeland. We know that the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians and Persian Emperor Cyrus decreed that the people held in exile could return home.
That is a familiar message for us, but the people were doubting the truth of it. Their identity was in Yahweh, and Yahweh's identity was confirmed in the nation of Israel. And if there was no nation of Israel, then where was God? How could they be God's chosen people and the abandoned people at the same time? But now the power that the creation is witness to will be used to reestablish the nation of Israel. The expectation is that the people can get things back to “normal”.
Now isn't that something we can relate to today? “Oh, I can't wait until things just get back to normal” is a statement we hear over and over again. But I've got news for you—things will never return to normal. As we look to the future of our lives, of our church, of our nation, I can assure you things will not return to the way they were. And that may sound like a bold prophetic statement I'm making, but truth be told, normal never lasts for more than a moment. Things were changing before the COVID pandemic hit, before the Black Lives Matter challenged our ways of seeing race, before the new administration took office. And if you are like me, you are growing weary of the challenges we are facing on all those fronts. We have people in our pews and on-line on every side of these issues. And you may feel that God has finally moved our nation in the right direction or you may feel that the nation is falling apart. And I am not a prophet to tell you where the nation or the church or our individuals lives are headed. But what I can do is encourage everyone to turn your eyes and ears to the one who does know where all this is headed. And like the exiles were, we may be wondering where God is in all of this. But our message is Isaiah's message--God has not abandoned us! God has sent us the gift of the Holy spirit to guide us and strengthen us for the journey. I can't stand up here and tell you what you ought to believe about President Biden or the vaccine or the place of technology in our church. But I can tell you that in our weariness, in our fear, in our doubts about even God, Isaiah spoke to all that. “God 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.” And I'm afraid marketing and feel-good posters have co-opted the power of these verses. This not about running a marathon or a business or playing a baseball game. This is about waiting on the Lord in every aspect to life; about trusting that God is able to work good out of the most terrible actions of human beings. I understand that the good is not always evident, but we also must admit that we measure God's actions against our own sense of what is right. I often tell God in confidence that I would do things differently. Because I get tired, I have doubts, I worry about the future of our country and church and environment and democracy and on and on. But I don't let my weariness or worry-ness have the final word. I try to be consistent in waiting on the Lord.
And I must make another point here; waiting on the Lord does not mean doing nothing. The promise of Isaiah to the Israelites was for those who were brave enough to leave the known world of Babylonia for the now unknown world of Israel. Many of those returning had no memory of their homeland. They'd heard stories from their parents and grandparents, stories of mixed reviews; some good, some bad. And of course they'd heard the words of judgment from the prophets. So what was the “new normal” going to look like? No one knew. But Isaiah was telling them that God would be with them. There would be plenty of trials and disappointments as they rebuilt the temple and resettled the land. But we hear this promise that God would give them the strength they needed to repopulate the land, “those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.”
Are we as the people of God able to claim this same promise? Of course we are. But to what purpose? Not to sit back and watch the world go by. We can make a difference in our little corner of the world. Waiting on the Lord does not mean doing nothing. It means following the example of Jesus. In today's gospel, he spent the day serving others, and then what did Jesus do? The next morning, “while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Waiting on the Lord means being with God, spending time in the word and in prayer. It means consecrating our time for the Lord. It means guarding our minds, watching and reading material that uplifts rather than tears down. And sharing words that build up rather than tear down. And it means concentrating on “what is” rather than “what if”, looking for solutions rather than complaining. Quite an impossible list, at least it seems so at times. That what today's passage is about. When things look impossible, we have a God who specializes in impossible situations.
What will the church look like moving into our new realities? How do we bring comfort and good news in the time of a pandemic? Can our leadership find ways to be a relevant part of the community in which we live? How do each of us fit in to God's call to share the gospel? How are we responsible citizens in our troubled times? Big questions and questions that can make us so weary. But Isaiah reminds us that God doesn't tire, “The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.” And so we can trust that our creator God will give us the strength we need to do what needs to be done.
And so each Sunday we gather here in the name of the Lord to worship but also to encourage each other. We share this morning a sacramental meal that reminds us of the power of God over even death. We share God's word and pray together. And I hope and pray that you are lifted up and know that the Lord holds you and raises you up and gives you strength. Amen.
Hymn: On Eagle's Wings