Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
February 7, 2021 Worship Sermon - "To Run and Not Grow Weary"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20c: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
“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.”
Does anyone remember the last time we read these words on a Sunday morning?
It was three years ago, on the morning before the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
These words seemed so hopeful back then. People in churches throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania wanted to believe they were true. And when the Eagles went on to win against the Patriots that afternoon, it felt almost pre-ordained by God, like the Holy Spirit had arranged for us to get this reading on that day.
This year, unfortunately, it appears that the eagles mentioned in this reading from Isaiah have very little to do with our football team.
In spite of that, it’s worth noting that eagles are a very popular image in scripture. They are mentioned twenty times, whereas I don’t see anything in the Bible about Buchaneers.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time observing the bald eagles who nest at the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. What is amazing about eagles is not their strength. They’re not particularly muscular, like an ox. As a matter of fact, in spite of their huge wingspan, a typical bald eagle weighs about as much a chihuahua. Eagles are not brawny, but what eagles do have is this astounding ability to read the air currents. When they spread out their wings, they can catch the slightest breeze and let it carry them up into the sky where they can soar for hours on end. Truly, they never seem to grow weary, and I think it’s because they pay attention to the wind as they circle overhead.
When I was a young man, I rode my bike across the state of Illinois to Iowa and back. The first half of the trip was about a hundred and thirty miles. I was riding with the wind the whole time and it really did seem like I flew out there. I was barely tired when I got to the Mississippi River. The ride home, on the other hand, was into the wind the whole way, and that was a much different ride. It took twice as long, and I had to stop every five miles or so to regain my strength.
Perhaps that is the message for us in our reading from Isaiah. Like an eagle, pay attention to the wind, and by wind, I mean the Holy Spirit. Remember, in Hebrew, the word for wind and the word for Spirit are the same word: ruah. “Those who wait for the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles,” Isaiah writes. To wait for the Lord is to pay attention to the Holy Spirit, to work in consort with the Holy Spirit. When we do this, like an eagle paying attention to the wind, we will find it possible to do amazing things that we could never do if we were depending on our own strength.
In our Gospel reading this morning, we read about first day of ministry in Capernaum. This is part two of last week’s reading, where Jesus went into a synagogue and astounded those who were present with his teaching. And then Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue. And then, as we read in today’s Gospel, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, who was in bed with a fever. And then, before there was even time to finish dinner, the whole city of Capernaum gathered outside of Peter’s house. They brought everyone who was sick or demon possessed so that Jesus could heal them too. That’s just one day in the life of Jesus. I get tired just thinking about it. Where does Jesus get the energy?
I think the answer to that question is in the next verse: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus went to a deserted place and there he prayed.” Jesus prayed. He was waiting for the Lord. He was paying attention to the wind so that he could renew his strength and mount up with wings like an eagle.
It has not been my experience that every prayer that I pray gets answered. A lot of them don’t. But what prayer does enable me to do is coordinate my efforts with God’s efforts. Prayer enables me to discern the movement of the wind - the movement of the Spirit - so that the Spirit and I are working with each other, not against each other. When I am doing my best work, it’s because I am following the lead of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit who is empowering the work to be done. When I find myself working against the Holy Spirit, I get tired and frustrated and nothing good comes of it.
That’s not to say that doing God’s work is easy. The health care workers in our society who have dedicated themselves to doing the kind of healing work that Jesus did, they are some of the hardest workers I know. But when a person grounds his or her work in prayer, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit, there is a certain lightness about it. The burden seems lighter because we recognize that it is God’s work and not entirely dependent on us.
Jesus gives us a wonderful example of someone who renews his strength by waiting for the Lord. But our Gospel reading also tells us something about God. The God who empowered Jesus is a God who does not grow tired of healing people and liberating them. In one day, Jesus healed and liberated a whole town-full of people. And then he moved on to the next town because there were people there too who needed to experience the life-giving power of God. That healing and liberating God is the God we wait for, the God we worship in Jesus Christ.