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The Unwearied Walk

Isaiah 40:21-31

5th Sunday after Epiphany, Cmomon Lectionary Year B

©2015 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

People have this tattooed on their bodies.
A house in Victoria BC has the Scripture reference inscribed
on its rather grandiose stone gateposts.
All sorts of inspirational artwork has been created,
usually involving the majestic , ever so photogenic bald eagle.
Songs have been composed,
covers of it sung by the likes of Placido Domingo and Josh Groban.

Isaiah 40:31
but those who wait upon the Lord,
they shall renew their strength;
they shall fly up on wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be tired;
they shall walk and never be weary.

These are words that have consoled,
that have inspired, encouraged and uplifted
countless souls, including mine,
over the two and a half thousand years since the prophet
we know as “Second Isaiah” first inscribed them.

They are the sort of words that,
once heard, once rolled over our tongue
in song or prayer,
settle themselves onto the heart,
embed themselves in the soul’s memory,
waiting for the moment when they are most needed:
when a loved one is sick, or dying,
when the winter is interminably long and hard on your seasonal depression,
when the biopsy is not good,
when the lay-off notice has your name on it,
when the knees and hips are fused with age and pain,
when partner or child spits only words that sting and bite,
when the local or global news is too terrible to contemplate:

They who wait upon the Lord,
they shall renew their strength;
they shall fly up on wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be tired;
they shall walk the unwearied walk.

Words conceived for just such moments of anguish,
lifting the soul from the mire of misery,
restoring hope and strength.

But the words are meant not merely to console some
private torment,
but rather to be sung in community, in times of trial and trouble.

But it’s frankly not that easy, is it?
What the posters, the artwork, and the tattoos don’t show
is that these words were first formed and knitted together
in the secret womb of Israel’s confinement,
Judah’s bondage, in Babylon.
A people who knew only weariness,
only the sapped strength of forced labour.
This is a generation grown old on shattered dreams;
their ancestors’ stories of Exodus from Egypt,
Joshua’s mighty victory in the Battle of Jericho,
the conquests, the might and splendour of David and Solomon,
all these hang ragged and bent like frost-bitten sunflowers,
emptied husks of broken promises of a God,
Yahweh, who has, it seems, abandoned them.

We have another song from this generation:
“By the rivers of Babylon,
there we wept when we remembered Zion,
we hung our harps on the willows,
when our captors demanded
of us the songs of joy.
How can we sing the songs of God
in a dry and weary land?” (Ps 137:1-4)

This is the song our prophet Isaiah would have heard
from his compatriots,
these poor banished children
of Eve, he echoes it himself in v. 27

“I’ve heard you singing, I’ve heard you complain,
“Our way is utterly hidden from God
who ignores our righteous complaint,
our treacherous predicament!”
“To you its seems God is nowhere,
God is silent,
God is absent.
Could it be, you wonder,
that God is cruel, indifferent,
or given the circumstances,
inept, incapable of restoring
the fortunes of Zion.
Could it be, even that God is dead?”

Do we not find ourselves whispering an “Amen”
to their complaint?
Seeing ISIS in the Middle East;
seeing Russian aggression in Ukraine;
seeing the rampage of fundamentalisms
of every religious and political stripe
sweeping across our global landscape with terror and hatred;
seeing civil rights clawed back by the agents of fear,
and, let me put this one line in, it’s captured my heart all week,
seeing the sorry state of our ‘oldline’ churches,
feeling more abandoned by God and humanity with every passing week;

With all these things,
we are hard pressed to see any clear evidence that
God, whom Isaiah calls
the Everlasting,
the Foundation of all that is,
the Stretcher of the canopies of heaven,
the Holy One,
is anywhere to be seen with
his or her vaunted power to redeem this shattered mess of a world.

Is there a word, or any reason for a word of hope, or promise?

Isaiah, we underestimate this second prophet of the name.
He lived in a world every bit as messed up as ours,
and yet he saw something the rest of us often don’t or can’t or won’t.

“Have you not seen? Have you not heard?
Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand?
Haven’t you seen this from the very beginning?
“No we haven’t, Isaiah, we don’t get it.
Tell us what we don’t get.”

So he paused, and he prayed,
and he saw, and he spoke, he preached,
he crafted a poetry of such spiritual brilliance…
that it has stood the test of time,
and all that time and terror and pain and heartache
have thrown at it.
It’s been tattooed, sung, painted, photographed,
it’s settled into the memories of our souls,
ready to be drawn out in the midst of our wearied misery….

“Have you not seen, have you not heard,
little grasshoppers that we are,
that all this…. the mess and the stars,
today’s troubles and infinity’s peace,
the earth and the heavens,
the powerful and the peon,
it’s all one, held in the hands,
in the Being, of the Creator.

How can I do this? (Mime)

And those who do see, who look,
who wait, who attend, who dare to trust it,
this God of the Heavens and of the Heart,
they shall renew their strength;
they shall fly up on wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be tired;
they shall walk the unwearied walk.

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