Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 20c; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
“WAITING ON THE LORD”
Opening Prayer: Come Holy Spirit,…may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, our rock, and our redeemer. Amen.
Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace. Amen.
The past couple of Wednesday evenings, our mid-week worship services and our 6th-8th grade confirmation students have been learning about God’s people in exile – and their return to their land. Exile is never equated with a person or group of people feeling “comfortable.” In fact, exile brings feelings of uncomfortableness and disorientation. In class we imagined that this exile might even look something like “The Hunger Games.”
What once was known routine has suddenly been flipped upside down. What once seemed to be trusted traditions are no longer applicable in this new place. People well known and well loved move on or are taken from us for a number of reasons. Certainly in many places of the world today, we hear stories of refugees fleeing their homeland for their lives…Survivor Mode running them into the unknown. Running, hiding, searching for loved ones and basic necessities, not knowing who to trust – it is exhausting. And as such, it depletes energy for hope and creativity.
Now political super powers are nothing new. At the time of Isaiah’s 40th chapter, the people of God had been in exile for a long time. Only the most elderly would have had first hand memories of the “way it used to be.” And soon, time and the Exile would rob the people of the last memories. The exile – and forced movement of the people, was understood by them to be God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness. They clung to hope in God’s covenant love even in the midst of dire circumstances. But were they hanging on to a memory to the point that they could not hear the good news coming in the present time?
The people by now had exiled themselves by remaining in a state of permanent, woeful lament. They had taken their punishment so deep to heart, that they were having trouble hearing any words of hope. “Survival Mode” was holding imagination, creativity and trust as hostage. By drawing on stories of God’s creation power to remind the people that God can still do mighty things, Isaiah hoped to catch their attention that God was indeed, doing something new.
God was re-creating and resurrecting the people for the return home. We might imagine it would be joyous – going home! But as is so often the case, home was not the same. Home had been ravaged. Changed beyond recognition. The land had been devastated and not rebuilt. “Nehemiah 11:1-2 reports that there was no crush of people begging to live in the destroyed city of Jerusalem. It was without a temple or city walls; the comforts and protections that a city would normally have afforded in the ancient world were missing. In fact, the people had to cast lots to see who would live there! And, they ‘blessed all those who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.’ After fifty or more years in exile, most of those returning would have hardly known the place. Exile was hard, but returning was difficult, too.” ( – Christopher Hays, Working Preacher) Trusting in God, committed to a common purpose and willing to work hard together, they did it.
Human nature hasn’t changed down through the centuries. Our concepts and longing for home are as strong now as it was in Isaiah’s time. Longing for Our Savior’s to be the way “it used to be” pops up regularly in conversations particularly now in this time of Transition Teams and surveys.
Certainly the Interim period here at Our Savior’s is not to be compared to a 50 year exile under Babylonian rule, J but there are similarities in that, the familiar is now a memory and feelings of disorientation can be strong: Who will be the next pastor? Will he or she understand the historical beginning and will they appreciate the traditions of Our Savior’s? Will they want to make a lot of changes? Will there be enough money? Can we afford staff, continue the upkeep of a building that is not energy efficient and still carry out mission? Where is God leading us to do ministry outside the comfort of these walls? …How long do we have to wait?
Isaiah has a word for us as well. God’s majesty, superiority, and creative powers stand above all temporal earthly or heavenly powers. In this passage in Isaiah, the word is used to uplift and heal. The word is also invitation to share in God’s creative power with them and for them. The Lord “does not faint or grow weary,” and “he gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” ( – Isaiah 40:31)
Comforting verses for those in exile. Comforting verses for those disoriented with change. As you might imagine, the journey home for the Israelites would have been hardest for the elderly: yet, their wisdom and memories would serve a useful purpose beyond nostalgia. Their guidance and encouragement would prove necessary for building the future! It is to these that Isaiah says, “They shall renew, they shall rise, they shall run, they shall walk”…words meant to carry them – and us, along.
So, when you hear that passage, what does it mean to you to “wait on the Lord?” Do you imagine it to be like Simon Peter’s mother-in-law whom Jesus healed so completely that she jumped up immediately to serve everyone? Is it like the crowds of people who searched Jesus out begging to be healed from various diseases? Do you envision waiting on the Lord to be like Simon and his companions who were wondering where Jesus was to the point that Mark’s gospel tells us, they “hunted for him?” Or, might it also mean, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”
Sometimes exile and disorientation need to take place in order to move us to a place where we are ready to listen to what God is saying to us.
Whenever God comes near, there is invitation to re-orient ourselves to the Lord, to trust, to be in an on-going relationship with God through prayer and reading the Word, to praise God for God’s faithful, covenant love, to praise God for God’s majesty and the beauty of all God has created, to gather together to sing songs of thankfulness for all God has done, to share the good news that when God comes near, there is hope, and there is healing: for “the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” ( – Psalm 147:11)
In Our Savior’s current journey to new creation, are old memories building a foundation for the future?
Or, will “Survival Mode” hold us hostage to creativity, hope and mission?
“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” ( – Isaiah 40:31)
May God grant us the hope, courage, strength and willingness to wait on the Lord – together. Amen.
– Brenda Tibbetts, Associate in Ministry