Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 40:28-31
Don't you know? Haven't you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God; he created all the world. He never grows tired or weary. No one understands his thoughts. He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. But 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.

 

Flying high

This year will mark the 90th anniversary of Charles Kingsford Smith’s crossing of the Pacific Ocean in his three-engined monoplane named the Southern Cross.  (This plane is now on display near the Brisbane airport). After leaving San Francisco in May 1928 and touching down in Hawaii, Fiji.  Charles and his crew of 3 were given a hero’s welcome at Brisbane and then Sydney’s Mascot Airport. 

They had crossed the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean with no radar, no radio navigation, just a few basic navigational instruments – a compass, a chart, a clock and just plain guesswork.  What made the situation even worse was that half of the trip was spent battling violent storms and inky blackness.  They had to dump precious fuel to fly in circles to climb above the storms and get their bearings.  A small error of navigation would mean missing those important islands in the Pacific and so run out of fuel and perish.

Were these men crazy or courageous?  I suppose we could debate that for quite some time and still come to no conclusion.  What can be agreed on is what was important for Kingsford Smith and his men – they were determined to reach their goal.  They needed more than courage they also needed faith. 
They needed to trust in their own abilities to fly the distance and their calculations how long it will take and how much fuel was needed;
they needed to trust the abilities of the others on the crew (like the navigator who plotted their way across thousands of kilometres of ocean),
they needed to have faith in the strength of their plane to last the distance,
and above all, trust that the weather wouldn’t bring them down in the middle of the ocean. 
I don’t know anything about the Christian faith of the men aboard the Southern Cross but if they trusted God, they must have done a lot of praying.

I’m not sure if there are many of us who would put themselves in a plane with an open cockpit and fly across the Pacific in similar circumstances. That would be way too scary and threatening. But you don’t have to be on a Southern Cross to find yourself in a storm that is beyond your control. The loss of a job, financial security, the sudden passing of a loved one, health problems, terrorism, natural disasters, can easily send us into a spin.

The word of God for us today comes from Isaiah. “He strengthens those who are weak and tired. Even those who are young grow weak; young people can fall exhausted. But 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”.

Let me repeat that sentence in the middle. “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed”.

Let me put those words from Isaiah into context. The prophet Isaiah was writing during a time, when people felt as if their strength was sapped and they had no hope. They were worried. The news wasn’t good. The dreadful Assyrians were breathing down their necks, and later it would be the Babylonians who would take them away to live in a foreign land. As they thought about all the stuff that was happening around them, they were weighed down and overwhelmed by the seriousness of their situation.

They started to say things like, “God doesn’t really care about me! How can he? Look at all the bad stuff that is happening around us. He’s not really in charge anymore!” (Isaiah 40:27).

You see what was happening here?  They had lost sight of the power and the love of God.  They saw all their problems and began to believe that God couldn’t help them or has abandoned them.  They forgot that the creator of everything, the everlasting Lord, whose love for his people means he will never grow tired of helping them.  They lost sight of the fact that in spite of the pain they are enduring, his love for them has not dwindled and he will provide a way that is brighter and happier. They were wrong to question his involvement in the events that are affecting their lives. 

And so God sent the prophet to remind them,
How can you forget so easily how great the Lord is?  He is mightier than all the nations.  He created the earth, the sky, the seas, the stars and all the people on the earth.  Is there anyone else who can do all this?  Is there any who is greater than this?  Then the prophet continues,
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.

The message is clear.  The Lord’s knowledge is far beyond ours; his understanding of our human condition in unquestionable.  He knows when we are weak and weary, worn down by stress and worry, exhausted by the events that surround us and so he gives this assurance, “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”.

Just a comment on the word that is translated as ‘trust’ in our text today.  The original text says, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength”.  This waiting implies complete dependence on God and a willingness to admit that there is no other help available to us other than the help that comes from the Lord.  We are helpless confident that when God acts he will strengthen and renew us. 

Much to my amazement the word used here for “wait” has a connection with twisting or plaiting strands together, as happens when making a cord or a rope.  Here we get a sense of the strength that comes from binding things together. So instead of getting all knotted up in our worries, waiting then becomes a time of being bound together with the Lord and strengthened by him. A rope of many strands is much stronger than a single cord by itself.  So also, we are able to withstand so much more when our lives are entwined with the strength of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

This renewed strength is described in such a wonderful way as only Isaiah can do it.  “They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak”.

Isaiah says that with the strength and power that only God can give, the boldness that comes from trusting the Lord, the confidence in the face of trouble that comes from faith in Christ, we will rise on wings like the mighty wings of an eagle and soar high above and beyond all that distresses us. 
The eagle has powerful eyesight that can see small things from a long distance – with God by our side we will see these things differently with new eyes – eyes that see God’s love and care even though we are stressed and anxious.   
The eagle has powerful talons to hold on to things – our God-given faith will enable us to hold onto the promises of God regardless of what comes our way. Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? … There is nothing in all creation that is able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31, 39). 

I know I’m not telling you anything new in this sermon.  You’ve heard sermons like this before and it’s easy to walk away feeling very cosy and comfortable in the love of God.  And that’s nice.  But before we get to that point, let’s face up to the fact, that too often we are more like the people to whom Isaiah was speaking – overcome with stresses and anxieties and problems, and headaches.  The cause of these things might be different, but they are just as real.  We suffer unnecessarily because, like the people of Isaiah’s time, we forget that God knows us better than we know ourselves.  He knows what is happening in our lives; what is happening in our minds; what stresses we are going through.  He says to us today as he did thousands of years ago, “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed”.  To the weary, he says, “we will walk and not grow weak”.

Before we can be blessed like this, we need to listen carefully to Isaiah’s questions to the stressed and anxious people of God.  He asks,
Don’t you know who God is?
Don’t you know what you’ve been told repeatedly about God and his love for you?
After all these sermons and Bible studies, don’t you know?  Haven’t you been listening that God never grows tired of hearing your prayers and never stops giving strength to the weary?

It’s like Isaiah is wanting us to say, “Okay! okay! I admit it! Being a stress bucket is all my fault because I haven’t let go and let God be the God he says he is and promises to be to me.  I’ve tried to carry the load all by myself and I can’t. I should have listened to God’s promises more closely and taken them more seriously. 
Okay, God I get the message and help me to trust in you for help and renewed strength.  I want to soar like an eagle – strong, high and free – coping with my stresses with your strength.”

Maybe we all need to repent, turn around, accept the fact our ways of dealing with life’s troubles are faulty and let God take a hold of us, reshape us and empower us to confront what is ahead. 
This may not be an easy path as we give up the pride we have in our own abilities to handle things ourselves, admit that we are not as capable as we think we are, own up to the fact that we need someone greater than ourselves to help us.
God is good at gathering up our frayed ends and binding them together with his own strength and reshaping and rebuilding us into his people with Christ at our centre and his love shaping our lives.

This text is one worth remembering and memorising.  Isaiah 40:31
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.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

4th February 2018

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