Wings for the Weary
What a week it’s been! Six little Bondows were lined up in a row, laid up on the couch, taking their turns with the porcelain puking stations at each end of our house. How miserable. You don’t want to move, but someone has to take the buckets from the kids and flush ‘em down. Through the night, my boy was crying out and moaning. He even asked me, “What kind of sickness is this?” I said, “It’s a stomach virus.” He said, “I know, but is it this the dying kind of stomach virus?” He thought his life was over. And that’s when we prayed. =)
I’m betting we’re not only ones “with the spits” this week. But don’t feel sorry for us. This was the perfect week to be sick. I was preaching and had the story of Peter’s sick mother-in-law on my mind. How real it was to envision her weeping, groaning and shaking with a terrible fever - to feel her pain - and yet to imagine the Lord Jesus coming because he cared and with the snap of a finger, it was all gone. No dehydration, no headache, no 48-hour intestinal recovery period. She could move instantly, energetically, and do all the serving things she wanted to do for those in her home. Jesus was amazing!
But here’s the thing. Jesus doesn’t always just snap his fingers and take the pain away. Sure, the whole city came to him, we’re told, like a never-ending carousel of cares, they came to him. Various diseases, demon possession, I wonder if anybody tried digging up someone’s bones to see what Jesus could do… And Jesus could do it all. But the next day, with everyone still in line - more pains, more “fix these please”, more stanzas to Jesus, baby, forgot to mention one little thing...a ring”, more rub the lamp and give genie-Jesus my top three for 2018 - more, more, and always more needs in such a fallen world - “Jesus, everyone is looking for you...”
But Jesus walked away. “Let us go somewhere else...so I can preach there also.”
What does it tell you? There must be something better, something bigger, for us to have in Jesus. Some way to bless us as he walks away from our long line of needs, with our weary ones head’s on our hands, with our student debt, with our stinging pain, throbbing headaches, struggles with substances, depression and anxiety. Jesus doesn’t just heal by taking all our pains away. He also heals by giving us strength to endure it, fresh wings for the weary…to keep faith flying in the midst of suffering, not just apart from it.
Last November, area pastors had a conference that focused on child molesters and how to protect the children in our churches and teach parents. If I was physically sick last week, this conference was just as emotionally hard. Child molesters may target anyone, but easy targets are weak children. What’s a weak child? A child that feels alone, unwanted, unloved. A child not well cared for by their caretakers, a child bullied by friends or often yelled at in anger by their parents, where it’s easy to come along and say, “Poor thing. Want a lollipop? I’ll be your friend and someone you can trust.” And then they introduce their perverted version of love.
When the devil prowls around like a roaring and molesting lion, it’s an image you can’t easily get out of your head. But notice the contect there in 1 Peter 5 from our Second Reading. It’s suffering. The devil’s big idea is that he can make you easy prey by creating a distance between you and God. He imagines that suffering is his key to feast on you. If he can just get you to complain...“my way is hidden from the LORD.” If he can just help create that gap between you and God, all the easier to eat up someone saying, “God doesn’t love me like he could. God’s been like a bully to me lately. God isn’t a very caring Father.”
To grow weary of God is worse than a virus. You can’t see it like a rash on the skin or touch it like fever on a forehead. It’s a darker place and sicker spot when someone says here in Isaiah 40, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”. This despair in God’s loving care for you is a sinful, bad disease, worse than death.
You may not use such words, but that doesn’t mean we don’t use the same highway or drive in the same direction. We think, “What’s the deal? Why is there something so obvious about my face that bullies can make fun of? Why did I have to break my arm sledding over Christmas break and I make my living as a carpenter? Why was I the one fired and I’ve got the biggest student loan? Am I the only one who can’t get hired to do a job I actually enjoy? What happened to all my friends from school? How can I work so hard all day long with nothing to show for it? Everyone else is finding their place in life, happy and moving forward, and I’m the only one wondering what to do next?” Our angry, frustrated or worried attitude puts these complaints in our mouths as we take a position that stands against God and his care in our lives.
Not one of those are easy or painless. They are difficult and hard. But that’s not all. They are all God’s. The real battle is not a pain-free life, but a God-filled one. God fights to make you strong against the molester and confident of his love for you.
He starts with your name. Why do you complain, O Jacob? Who’s he talking to? Is your name Jacob? But this is that name for God’s people. Jacob was their chosen ancestor. God chose him even though he was the younger twin brother of Esau. But God chose Jacob and that name reminds all of us we were graciously chosen by God too. Then he calls us Israel, Jacob’s changed name. Do you remember when Jacob wrestled with God? God let Jacob pin him down to his promises and changed his name to Israel. The point is when we think of our relation to God, don’t think he’s some cruel caretaker dangling carrots of love in front of us but never really letting us enjoy his love. He’s not a mean, overbearing father. He’s the God who lets us and wants us to pin him with his promises. He wants the weak to pin him to be our strength!
Enough about you, what now about God?
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
Listen to these words and hold them tight that God would guard you from Satan’s stranger danger. Isaiah knows that to help the weak is not to give you all the information about your future and exactly how God will work things out for good. The key is to know him. When you are hurting, confess the creed! The LORD is the everlasting God - not like something else feeds him or sustains him. He depends on nothing; in fact, everything depends on him. He’s not swayed by the situation, he gives them particular shape and molds them to his purpose. Life bows to him and not the other way around. God is not bound by earthly elements or natural forces - he created them and can do as he pleases!
He will not grow tired or weary - has there ever been a time when God’s strength gave out? “I wish I could do something, Moses, now that you’re stuck at the Red Sea, but after all those miraculous plagues against Pharaoh, I’m too tired right now.” God doesn’t have a strong day of holding you up, but then need a day to recovery. He’s not energetic and watchful over you for 12 hours, but suddenly he can’t keep his eyes open for the third shift too.
And his understanding no one can fathom. We like to use our reason and understanding to analyze cause and effect, to predict outcomes and foresee the future with some sort of certainty, because for us the more we know the stronger we are. And it drives you nuts when you calculate that you’re hitting a dead end, and some suffering is bringing a limitation on the possibilities and outcomes you desired.
But an everlasting, never-weary God changes all of that. Isaiah says “you can’t understand God” as a comfort here, because it’s like saying you can have a rule book, but God doesn’t have to play by the rules. God can send a drought upon a marsh, he can send bread from heaven and water from the rock in the desert. So if “life hands you lemons” do you really know what a lemon is? He’s never out of options or scratching his head, “What am I going to do now?” You may never know how he’ll work that good in your life. But that’s OK - let him surprise you.
Want the ultimate example? Watch Jesus walk away from your carousel of cares in Galilee and go to another town to preach -for this he has come - do you really think it’s best that he stay to sit on your couch and wait for the next fever to come along? How about this surprising answer to your pain - he leaves and doesn’t come back. He goes and goes until the world couldn’t stand his ways anymore. He went away and suffered a pain you never have. Your suffering has been carefully measured and weighed by God so as not to be more than you could bear. His suffering spared no measure or amount of God’s wrath. The weight of the world has never been on your shoulders, but it was all on his. He experienced alone what it is to be abandoned in the blindspot of God’s love. Did you see strength of God’s mighty arm as his arm did nothing at all but bleed?
In the end Isaiah says there’s a truism that never fails and please don’t make him out to be a liar. He says, God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. He does this every time, for the weary of body or the weary of soul. His words bring strength to sustain you through anything. God be praised that you have not had to live under the word of his wrath or tasted the fury of his anger. You do not suffer one second under his sentence of condemnation. We live each troubled and anguished breath in the care of the God who died for you.
Today, we are not finished until we fly. I know it sounds absurd, like some childish wish to be a bird. Who can fly? We can’t fly?! Even young people with all their energy stumble and fall, and the best athletes at the Olympics reach a breaking point to their physical limits. But today we defy gravity and breaks all limitations and weaknesses in this Jesus who gives us something better.
Yes, sickness is sickness, disease is disease, and death is death, and terrible is terrible, but from Isaiah we learn to run to our creed, to confess that saving name of Jesus that puts new wings on my shoulders and fresh strength in my spirit.
God give you a trust and faith in Jesus that flies like an eagle, that runs and doesn’t grow weary, that walks and never faints. Amen.