Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: Isaiah 40:31
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.


Waiting on the Lord

The other day I needed some postage stamps.  As I walked past the Post Office, I noticed the line of people went out the door.  I said to myself with an impatient grunt, “I’m not going to wait in a queue like that” and walked on. 

I dislike supermarkets and what I dislike even more is waiting in the line at the checkouts.  What makes my waiting even more frustrating is this – there always seems to be someone ahead of me who has a credit card that won’t work or knows the checkout person and so wants to talk forever.  It’s times like this that I start to think, “Life is too short to be waiting in a checkout line that isn’t moving” or I say to the person behind me, “This line is moving so slowly that a person could die of old age waiting to pay for a couple of batteries”.

As far back as I can remember I’ve been a person who can’t wait patiently. 
Now today we hear from the Bible about waiting for the Lord. 
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.
I hate waiting so why should I have to wait for the Lord?
Is there some suggestion that God’s watch is slow so we must wait for him like someone who is late to keep an appointment? 

Is waiting for God like waiting for a train. There’s nothing we can do to hurry up its arrival; we just have to sit and wait.  And so to put that in religious terms – does waiting for the Lord mean sitting on pious posteriors and twiddling our religious thumbs, expecting God to get us out of a mess?  We wait for God to put things right. 

I don’t believe that’s what is meant by waiting for God. Some of the translations of the Old Testament Hebrew text here use hope or trust but to use hope or trust is already an interpretation because the Hebrew text really says wait. 

There are two aspects to this waiting that is talked about here.

First there is the aspect of “Be patient – God hasn’t forgotten you and he will come to your aid”.

The prophet Isaiah was talking to the people of God during a time, when they felt like their strength was sapped and they had no hope.  The neighbouring countries were really dreadful and threatened the safety of their families.
They were afraid. 
They were fully aware of the ruthlessness and notorious reputation of their neighbours. 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 us!  How can he? Look at all this bad and difficult stuff that is happening all around us.  He’s not really in charge of things at all!” (Isaiah 40:27).

You see what’s happening here?  They began to see their problems as being bigger than God himself.  They forgot that the creator of everything, the everlasting Lord will never grows tired of helping those whom he loves.  They were so afraid that they forgot that God was able to help them with their fears.

You see while they were stressing and worrying a subtle exchange was taking place.  They exchanged their faith in God for a kind of do-it-yourself kind of attitude. 

We do the exact same thing!  This DIY kind of Christianity excludes God from certain areas of our lives. We may not say it but we act this way.
“I know God is there but I can handle this myself”.
“Let’s see, my work, hmm, no that’s not God’s problem.
Finances, no. I can fix that.
Relationship problem, no.  The other person messed it up so he/she can fix it.”

Without even giving it too much thought, we exclude God from different aspects of our lives.  We can fix it we say, and yes, maybe it works okay for a while. But then we begin to feel the weight.  Our blood pressure rises.  We toss and turn. We get sick.  We become depressed.  The joy goes out of our lives.  We despair.  We slowly realise that the DIY approach isn’t all that successful after all. 

God didn’t make us to stand alone against everything that threatens our safety and happiness.  God made us to be in a relationship with him.  God made us to rely on him.  He is our God and he wants to help us but we can be so focussed on ourselves that we forget that we have the power of the Almighty at our disposal.

This is where Isaiah comes in and we have this wonderful passage that was read earlier.  He asks (I’ll paraphrase a bit),
“How can you be so dumb? 
Don’t you know who stretched out the heavens, made the earth and filled it with people? 
Don’t you know that it is God who created the stars? 
Every night God marches out like a general ahead of his starry army.  There are millions of them, and yet he knows the name of every one of them and knows when one of them is missing. 
If God knows each individual star, it follows that he knows each one of you personally and calls you by name. 
He knows when you are in trouble.  No one can ever accuse God of turning a deaf ear to your needs. 
The Creator, Stabiliser, and Maker of the Universe is also your Saviour and Redeemer.  He might rule the universe but he also loves each person he has created on this tiny planet”. 

“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength” are those who trust his love and it is the almighty love of God that enables them to endure all things. 

Paul in the New Testament says something to this affect, For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need” (Phil 4:13).  He is saying that whatever comes his way, he knows that he is always in the arms of Christ and that his love will always surround him and care for him.  So whether good or bad comes his way, he is content because Christ will give him the power to endure whatever comes.  Even if death should come, he is okay with that.  Christ’s love will take care of him.  In time of trouble Paul took these words seriously, Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength”.

So that’s the first aspect of this waiting or the Lord – “Be patient because it’s clear God loves will never give up on you”.

There is a second aspect to this waiting for the Lord.  It’s one that doesn’t sit comfortably with me and maybe with a few others as well.  Waiting means stopping – like being in a queue and even though I’m all knotted up about being in the line, I’ve stopped. 

I had to check out if that’s what is meant here in this Isaiah passage so I got out my Hebrew Dictionary and much to my amazement the word used here for “wait” has a Semitic connection with twisting or plaiting strands together, as in 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 even further, waiting then becomes a time of being strengthened by God.

“Waiting for the Lord” then, implies stop pretending we are in charge and rushing around.  Let God gather up our frayed ends, bind together our strengths, collect our God-given resources, calm our fears, or as we might say these days, let God enable us “to get our act together.” 

It means let go and letting God take a hold of us, reshape us and empower us to confront what is ahead. 
Through the promises of his Word,
through the power of the Holy Spirit remoulding our lives,
through the people who calm us as they remind us of God’s love for us,
through the Sacraments,
God gathers the frayed strands of our being, gets us refocused us again on the strength that we have in Christ, and enables us to be and do according to his plan for us. He inspires us to get ready for whatever challenges are thrown at us.

In this sense, waiting is the confident hope that God will restore our lives to the fullest and most complete degree possible.  He has already given us the gifts and tools and powers that we need to face the task but somehow we have lost touch with what God has done for us. 

Stop, wait, be still, let God re-establish in you what he has begun.  If anyone can do it, he can enable us to “get our act together”.

By the way, this may not always be a comfortable process. Our lives may need quite a bit of reshaping and radical changing to get our priorities and our discordant lives right.

But it’s worth it.
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.

Those who wait for the Lord will be inspired to rise to new heights as eagles are lifted by the wind under their massive wings.
Those who wait for the Lord will be inspired to seek out new and challenging ways that will stretch them to try something they have never done before; they will run and not be exhausted.
Those who wait for the Lord will be inspired to walk every day through the familiar, the mundane, the trying and troublesome, the boring and the difficult, through sickness and grief and not grow weary because with God on their side, they are always winners.   

Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
8th February 2015

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