Isaiah 40:21-31

Nathan Hosler

Think back to an advertisement you saw recently. It is quite likely that it had something to do with speed. A faster phone. Faster internet. Faster car. One of the past three weekends I was away was at an interfaith conference on drone warfare.

One of my continuous critiques of our government’s reliance on drones and our acceptance of this is that it is a dislocation of our trust away from God and into our technological capability to establish “security” with little risk. That is, to kill the alleged “enemy” without getting into harm’s way—An apparently great solution for an unpleasant problem. Not only this, but it is quick. No traipsing across mountains or learning language or getting dusty. French philosopher of technology and violence, Paul Virilio, links speed with violence arguing violence is speed.

This chapter in Isaiah radically upsets our assumptions of not only where our trust lies [hint: it’s  typically  in our techno whirly gigs or impressive security apparatus] and our approach to the tapping into the source which can animate and energize our lives.

22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

It is always risky business trying to describe or analyze poetic language. The power of poetic language is, of course, the use of language which stretches our understanding and sight beyond the mundane. Despite this I think I may venture a comment or so. You may have noticed that parts of this passage you will hear three times. This is intentional. We often begin to hear differently when we hear often. [This is the idea behind the practice of lectio divina in which a Bible passage is read aloud several times with reflection between.] These first verses set out to portray God as highly exalted in all ways. Verse 22 speaks in terms of poetic cosmology—God sits above the circle of the earth. God is also shown to be above and beyond the inhabitants of the earth who are said to be “like grasshoppers.” God is also above those we often think to be powerful. God “brings princes to naught” and “rulers to nothing.”

So God is above all but also surpasses in both energy and understanding.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.

Unlike God people get tired. One thing that we all face is that we tire. We are neither infinite nor able to exert ourselves indefinitely. We may be able to run ourselves thin for a while but there is a limit.

Verse 31 “but 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.

Here is the key—if we can just figure out how to tap into God’s everlasting energy then we just may be able to get around our limitation! Right? If we can figure out how to do this quickly or perhaps turn this into a supplement then we can foil our wretched finitude—

While the New International Version of the Bible says, “those that hope in the Lord” the New Revised Standard Version brings out an interesting nuance in saying “those who wait on the Lord.”

Of the theological idea of hope, biblical scholar Walter Bruggemann writes, “The hope articulated in ancient Israel is not a vague optimism or a generic good idea about the future but a precise and concrete confidence in and expectation for the future that is rooted explicitly in YHWH’s promises to Israel” (Bruggemann, Reverberations of Faith,100). While he was not writing about this passage specifically this would certainly fit with the passage. The first verses, of course, were characterizing God and as such the “waiting” or “hoping” in God is based on the characteristics of God. Indeed this “walking and not growing weary” is based on God.

Waiting, however, brings in a somewhat different angle or take on this relationship to God.  There are all types of waiting. When I am on a long run there is waiting—very active—but still waiting. I can only go so fast. There is a race we have done that is to see how far you can get in 12 hours. No matter how fast you run time only goes one speed. We also wait impatiently for a train while running late or expectantly at the airport for someone to return from a long trip. We wait for the seeds in our garden to sprout. We say a mother is “expecting” during pregnancy.

There is a patience in waiting. We may embrace this or try to get around it by distracting ourselves. There is a trust that God will indeed act on our behalf but this is, at least in part, in the future.

 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.

It’s interesting how much many of us don’t experience this. While I was working on this sermon Wednesday evening I was seriously struggling to stay focused and even awake. I was feeling exhausted. I had been traveling for work 3 weekends in a row. The days I took off to make up for this time were filled with working on my dissertation or writing sermons like this.

As I struggled through I felt something of a failure at waiting or at least a failure of running and not growing weary (even while trying to write about it)….however upon deeper reflection I began to see points where I may have in fact been waiting on the LORD. For one I had taken time to sit, pray, and ponder scripture that morning. I had gone for a 45 minute run in the morning without listening to music. I had taken time to have lunch with the Capitol Area Anabaptist Network. I had cooked Cajun style fish for supper which Jenn and I ate together.   While certainly tired I had in fact waited.

Waiting is not necessarily the absence of something but may often be the presence of a practice that creates space for us to meet God. There is, of course, the risk that we simply add another task in the effort to wait. Or that we assume we find God in a particular technique. Rather than adding one more thing this is, rather, a call to intentially turn toward God. It is intentionality and a specifically making room to wait o the Lord.

In the next few months we intend to spend time in a visioning process. This will be a time of waiting, listening, and discerning.

It is of course easy to keep talking. It is at times easy to read a book or two—at least an article—to try to find out how we can experience God more deeply. How we can experience peace. Or maybe even understand the will of God for our lives. While this may be important—I am speaking of course—it may in fact be more critical that we learn to wait. To be silent. To get out of the way so that God can speak—or not speak and let us rest in the silence.

We are going to take a cue from our Quaker sisters and brothers and allow silence for a bit. We will take a full 5 minutes (which isn’t actually all that long) in silence. I would encourage you not to read anything or to write anything. Quiet your mind. At the end of the time I will rise and call us together. I will then invite you to share. There is no need for everyone or anyone to share. There will simply be space.

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