Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 4, 2024
Isaiah 40:21-31 Commentary
Psalm 103 promises that God will satisfy our desire for good things, using words that will sound familiar from the reading of Isaiah 40: “so that your youth is renewed like the eagles.” The parallels between these texts are instructive.
Psalm 103 does not begin with God’s promise of satisfaction but with forgiveness, healing, liberation and trust in God. It is important that the list of God’s benefits does not start with the satisfaction of our desires. Because, when you are a sinner, or sick or enslaved or humiliated, your desires are skewed. A sinner loves sinning. God is not in the business of satisfying that desire! A person who is sick wants only to be well which is, of course, reasonable but God wants more for us than that. The enslaved or those trapped in a pit cannot even see what it is to be free and how can you long for what you have not seen? The humiliated person wants to hit back, falsely believing “someone else’s suffering might mitigate my own — or at least level the playing field.” It is only by way of forgiveness, healing, liberation and honor that God can train our desires toward good things.
In the opening verses of this section of Isaiah, the reader is similarly challenged to recognize our inability to recognize the eternal goodness of God. The eternal majesty of God is laid out in creation so that the reader is enjoined, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?” The confrontation continues. “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” And, “Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’?” On the surface, he seems to be restating their question as if to say, “Why are you ignoring us, God?” The people of God — then and now — are really asking, “God why aren’t you doing things my way? Why aren’t you acting according to my preference? My timeline?” Truly, some texts are timeless!
Whether responding to the people of Israel in Isaiah’s day or the people of God today, it is the character of God that sets us straight. We are impatient for God to do things our way. And Isaiah responds: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God.” Or, in the Psalmist’s language, “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.” Or God’s answer to Job, “Were you there when I formed the earth?” Or, as commentaries I read this week wrote, “Our sense of timing demands immediate satisfaction. God has come prepared for the long haul.” And “Yahweh is a God of the long view.”
Again from Isaiah, “He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” Just because you are impatient, doesn’t mean God has stopped working. And just because you don’t understand God’s ways, doesn’t mean God doesn’t have them. With a sharp point, one commentator wrote, “It is an idolatry of the mind that demands that God and his word make sense to us.”
That God’s plan is from everlasting to everlasting is true. But for those of us stuck in a finite increment of 80-odd years — give or take a decade — how does that help us? Thankfully, Isaiah didn’t stop his answer there. Like, “God is God and you are not. Now sit down and behave.” No indeed, with compassion, Isaiah turned toward his impatient, weary and frustrated hear ers and promises, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” Or, in the words of the Psalmist, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;” The Psalmist continues, “For he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust”, which sounds an awful lot like Isaiah’s assessment that, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;”
Far from our being invisible, God sees us as we are — frailty, weakness and all. And Isaiah then lands, or rather, takes off with this image: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
The thing to note about eagles is how they fly — not by constant flutters and flaps. Rather, they unfurl their wings and catch a breeze. But you know, excepting for a gale force wind, if an eagle perches on a tree branch with her wings locked tight at her sides, ain’t no wind gonna lift her. But if she just unfurls her wings a little bit, she may find a wind to catch her. She may glide on the winds, swooping and playing — rejoicing in the work of the wind shoring her up, sustaining her. The eagle was made for this interplay of self and wind.
The Hebrew word for wind is Ru’ah. It is onomatopoetic. For in it, you hear the wind. You also hear breath. Ru’ah means wind and it mean breath and it also means Spirit.
The thing to note about human beings is how we fly — not by constant flutters and flaps. Rather, we unfurl our wings and catch the Spirit. We may glide on — not in our own strength but in the work of the Spirit shoring us up, sustaining us. We may swoop and play and rejoice in the work of the Spirit. We have been made for this interplay of self and Spirit.
So the invitation to us — weary, tired, impatient, frustrated though we may be in the slow (literally eternal) ways of God — is to shake loose our wings or to swoop them open wide. To find that the Spirit is still at work, catching us up in a movement greater than our own strength. To allow the Spirit to retrain our desires so that we receive even the gentlest breeze of the Spirit as a gift. And, in this way, God’s benefits come to us, not only as an anchor but, paradoxically, as Spirit breath to bear us up, winds to carry us through uncertain and buffeting times, soaring above the storms.
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