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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

“We Can Depend on God No Matter What”

Isaiah 40:21-31

 Introduction to the text:

 

The people of Israel have been in exile and are nearing the end of the 70 years God had said they would be in Babylon. Life in Babylon was not like that in Egypt. In Babylon the people were free to live as they chose. On their minds was the return to Jerusalem and the greatness of the past they had heard about. Isaiah writes to remind them of who God is and to give the people hope for the soon to come future.

 

21 Have you not known? Have you not heard?    Has it not been told you from the beginning?    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,    and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,who stretches out the heavens like a curtain    and spreads them like a tent to live in,23 who brings princes to naught    and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,    scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,when he blows upon them, and they wither,    and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

25 To whom, then, will you compare me,    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.26 Lift up your eyes on high and see:    Who created these?He who brings out their host and numbers them,    calling them all by name;because he is great in strength,    mighty in power,    not one is missing.

 

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,    and assert, O Israel,“My way is hidden from the Lord,    and my right is disregarded by my God”?28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?The Lord is the everlasting God,    the Creator of the ends of the earth.He does not faint or grow weary;    his understanding is unsearchable.29 He gives power to the faint    and strengthens the powerless.30 Even youths will faint and be weary,    and the young will fall exhausted,31 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 phrase that first jumps out of this text is “mount up with wings like eagles.” You have probably heard these words at some point. You may know the song “On Eagles Wings.” As you hear them you might also think of eagles that soar in the sky. The phrase and its surrounding words in verses 30 and 31 are meant to provide hope and encouragement.

 

Eric Liddell, the famous sprinter who ran for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics, was one of the fastest in the world at that time. He was expected to win his favorite event, the 100 meters. The heats, though, were scheduled on a Sunday so he decided not to run. Instead, he was in church, preaching a sermon on Isaiah 40:21-31 (today’s text).

 

Many thought he chose that text because the last section could be interpreted as being about running. Not for Liddell, though. For him, the entire passage described what life was intended to be. The importance of knowing that God is above all else and that God’s creative power is immeasurable, described the nature of human life. God is over all and in all.

 

Liddell did run in the Olympics. He entered the 400-meter race because it was run on a weekday. He won. After the Olympics, in 1925, Eric returned to China, his birthplace, to serve as a missionary teacher.

 

The words of Isaiah 40:30-31 strike people differently depending on the season of life they are in. Some resonate with the feelings of weariness, exhaustion, and feeling faint. They feel overworked and/or overwhelmed. Hearing these words of hope provides encouragement.

 

Others hold on to these words as a description of the strength and endurance God provides to keep going forward. Some, who are in a good place in life, embrace the words of verses 30 and 31 as affirmation of the freedom to run with God. Still others find comfort in knowing God will continue to lift them up. For all, these words are the promise that God is present in all things and in all places.

 

Isaiah writes here to inspire the people in exile who are waiting to return to Jerusalem. That need for inspiration resonates with me. I have had a very busy week that has left me feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted. There seems to be too much to do and not enough time to do it. I imagine you have had weeks like this. Sitting and reflecting on Isaiah’s words provides me with encouragement and a reminder that God is lifting me up especially when I am feeling stuck to the ground.

 

The Israelites who heard Isaiah’s words were settled yet stuck where they were. Although life in Babylon was comfortable, they were under the control of foreign rulers and were longing for Jerusalem. The place they felt settled, secure, and could call home. Home was the place where one experiences physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing that they didn’t realize is so important until they didn’t have it. So, the people were celebrating at the news that they would soon go home.

 

Home for us is the same. It is the place where we feel settled and secure. The place we experience the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing that we crave. Isaiah reminds us, however, that our true home is with God. The strength and comfort God provides meets our need for a place to call home.

 

In Basking Ridge, near my home, is a place called the Raptor Trust. When you visit, you see various hunting birds such as hawks, owls, and eagles in cages. It is interesting to learn about these birds and see them up close. But, as I wandered around, I couldn’t help but think that these raptors ought to be soaring in the sky rather than sitting in cages. I imagined these birds joining those that sat in branches and flew over our house from time to time.

 

Teri McDowell Ott talks about her experience of discovering the website explore.org, the world’s largest virtual zoo (no cages!). She particularly describes the view from a webcam perched above an eagle’s nest. The camera proves 24-hour livestreaming of the mother, father, and initially, three eggs. At one point the eggs begin to hatch. The view of the wiggling and clawing eaglets trying to get out became an internet sensation with over 90 million views.

 

The first flight of the eaglets was at the three-month mark. They fluttered around the nest, taking hop flights from one side to the other. Their parents started leaving food on nearby branches to encourage the young birds to fly farther, learning to trust their wings. As the food was placed on branches farther from the nest, the eaglets flew a greater distance before returning to the nest, their weak hunting skills supplemented by that food. Their wings were exhausted.

 

Then something clicks, their instinct perhaps. The young birds remember what their parents have been teaching them. Each realizes who they are, who their parents are, and for what they were created. One bird spreads her wings to find the wind ready and waiting. The thermal current catches her wings and carries her higher and higher. She is soaring!

 

Charles Spurgeon, the well-known theologian, writes these words:

 

“Mounting up with wings as eagles must always be more or less temporary! We are not eagles and cannot always be on the wing. The Lord renews our strength like eagles, this shows we are not always up to the eagle mark. Well, though it is a grand thing to be able to fly, it is a better thing to be able to run…It is good to be able to run, but even that is not the best pace to move at…walking is practical and is meant for every day.”

 

He goes on:

 

“To walk without fainting is a high experimental attainment, and is none the less valuable because, at first sight, there seems to be nothing striking about it. Yet, walking is the emblem of peace. Running and mounting up with wings as eagles are the emblem of joy.”

 

Walking is what brings us peace. We see God’s creation – trees, flowers, birds, animals, and people – up close. We observe which are free, living as they were created to be, and wonder what freedom would look like for those that are not.

 

Running, and mounting up with wings as eagles is freedom. The joy of soaring leads us to embrace the God who is our true home.

 

Amen.

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