Sermon for Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 8, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 40:21-31
Sermon Theme: “With Wings Like Eagles”
(Sources: Online Wikipedia, “On Eagle Wings”; Online biblehub.com; Emphasis online Commentaries; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last Sunday, we talked about Moses, the first of a long line of prophets who passed on God’s messages to the Israelites. When he was about to die, the people begged Moses to beg God to send another prophet to do the same thing.
Over the years, the prophets did not mince words; they told it “like it is!” And, as I said last Sunday, it was often admonition and warning, sometimes severe; but also there was guidance and comfort and boosting up. John the Baptist yelled at the people to repent. Samuel gave the Israelites a verbal beating for not consulting God, for turning their backs on God. Ezekiel paraded the sins of Judah before the people, warning of captivity and destruction; and later he also condemned Judah’s pagan neighbors, blasting them for their idolatry and the way they treated God’s people.
Malachi condemned God’s people, the Jews, for marrying pagans, for dishonest financial practices, and for withholding tithes from God’s house.
The prophet who speaks in our sermon text today is Isaiah. In the text, there is some mild chastising of God’s people because they were impatient and because they underestimated God’s enormous power. The last part of the text is extremely uplifting as it reassures the Israelites, as well as us, the power of God to support, to boost, and to renew us in one of the most powerfully uplifting passages in the Old Testament.
As leaders like Abraham and Moses well understood from working with so many, many people over the years, impatience can become epidemic, and widespread impatience can lead to dissatisfaction, and dissatisfaction, to desertion and apostasy.
According to a Hebrew fable or legend, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink.
The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?”
The old man replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.”
When he heard this, Abraham became enraged, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold, cold night.
When the old man had departed, God called to Abraham, as God and Abraham had a friend-to-friend close relationship. And God asked where the old man visitor was.
Abraham replied, “I threw him out because he did not worship you.”
God answered, “I have suffered that old man these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
The purposes of God often develop slowly because his grand designs are never hurried. The famous 19th Century preacher, Phillip Brooks, was well known for his poise and his quiet, polite manner. He had, however, such zeal for the Lord that he, at times, suffered moments of frustration and irritability, especially when his evangelism work did not move as smoothly and quickly as he wanted it to.
One day a friend saw Pastor Brooks feverishly pacing the floor like a caged lion. “What’s the trouble, Pastor Brooks?” he asked.
Brooks replied, “The trouble is that I’m in a hurry, but God isn’t!”
The Israelites became impatient with God almost from Day One, starting with their trek led by Moses through the wilderness, griping to Moses, “At least in Egypt we had a place to stay and food to eat! But not out here in this desert wilderness!” Wasn’t it impatience that caused them to build and worship the golden calf? And the impatience and wavering faith of the Israelites continued on into Isaiah’s time, as he was one of the prophets promised by God and foretold by Moses.
So our sermon text begins with Isaiah mildly scolding the people, fearing that they underestimate God and are impatient that the Lord hasn’t brought healing, release from captivity, and renewal to their lives faster. We human beings are always like that, aren’t we, — whether it’s getting irritated because the contractor isn’t getting our house built nearly as fast as we think he should, or we don’t think the doctor is doing enough for our loved one in the hospital. Not until the house is finished, or our loved one is released from the hospital do we praise the contractor or the doctor.
Often, that’s also our faithless way of relating to God.
In the second half of our text, Isaiah speaks tenderly and lovingly to the people exiled in Babylon. They have been enslaved for decades, but it is coming to an end. Isaiah then gives an uplifting message of encouragement, hope, and reassurance to his hurting people.
He tells them that their God cares for them, that there is no limit to God’s understanding love, and that He gives power and strength to those who trust Him. He tells them, “They 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.”
Further, Isaiah tells them that God forgives His people, that God wants to splash down blessings on them, soaking them with His love even when they don’t deserve it. This is reassurance for you and me, too.
In crises, He delivers us – we mount up with wings like eagles. In busy times, He delivers us – we run and do not grow weary. In routine times, He delivers us – we walk and do not faint or lose faith. Faith is what results in victory in our lives.
The last verse of our sermon text is one of the most inspiring and best loved passages in the Old Testament. It has inspired the writing of at least two different songs, and it’s probably one of the most over-explained verses in the Bible. There are pages and pages of online commentaries on verse 31, and a number of very different interpretations of the “eagle wings” metaphor. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend a couple hours relating all those commentaries to you. We’ve all seen eagles soaring in the sky or pictures of eagles in flight; that should suffice; we don’t need the commentaries.
The version of “On Eagles’ Wings” sung by Mark as our sermon hymn was composed by Michael Joncas in 1975-1976 for the wake and funeral of a friend. Rev. Joncas prefers that the word “eagles” in the title be spelled “E-a-g-l-e’s”, but people usually spell it “E-a-g-l-e-s’ “. Apostrophe s indicates that the wings belong to a single eagle which is a metaphor for God, but he said it also made sense to spell it “s apostrophe,” because you could think of the wings of many eagles needed to lift up the many people in the covenant with God. In our text, “eagles” is plural.
It was Isaiah, the author of our text, who gave the touching and accurate prophesies of the Messiah, Jesus, foretelling that He was to come and to die for our sins. Jesus did come and did die for us; He is our prophet, priest and king, the prophet above all prophets, and because of Him we are lifted up at the end of our life to shine like the sun in reflecting His eternal glory imputed to us by His resurrection. And as our divine mediator, He lifts us up above the burdens and worries of daily life, caring for us, comforting our sorrows, healing our hurts, giving us strength we normally don’t have, and thus enabling us to run and not be weary, and to walk and not faint. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.