Sermon February 8, 2015
Mark 1:29-39, Isaiah 40:21-31
“Things to Remember When Flying”
I have always loved the final verses from the Isaiah reading this morning:
“those who wait for God 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.” (Isaiah 40:31)
I learned to sing them as a teenager and have found great comfort in them through the years. It’s all a bit ironic given that I hate to wait. I get very impatient. I like things to happen quickly so I’m not sure why I’m drawn to this passage that tells us that if we wait we will find strength and wings and run without tiring. It’s such a lovely image of flying like eagles, but there is a catch. We have to wait. It doesn’t just happen.
I wonder if the passage would use different language if written for our hurry up, go faster, and never stop culture. This text was written for the Babylonians who had been in exile for far too long. They couldn’t remember God and the only option they could imagine was to give up. After nearly sixty years in exile, it was hard to imagine another future. Now they learn that those who wait for God will renew their strength and fly like eagles. What a relief to hear that all the years of misery would give way to freedom!
The writer of this passage reminds them that the God who breathed life into them will care for them and set them free. The people have forgotten and need to be reminded that they are not alone on this journey. Because they can’t remember God, they are questioning God’s presence and they wonder if God has any power at all. They question the existence of God. So Isaiah recounts for them God’s power and goodness. If they can remember God’s goodness, they will be able to lean back and experience the powerful embrace of God.
This is a story about the importance of memory. We need to stay grounded in God. We need to remember that God is with us and will not leave us. We need to know that God is worth waiting for and hope is the last word. When we hear the news reports and see the headlines, it is hard to hope. We must stay grounded in something. Staying grounded in the story of God who has been with us from the beginning and walks with us as we take the next step is an important spiritual practice.
There is an old joke about a sea captain who was at the top of his profession. He had earned a reputation as one who could make excellent decisions in times of crisis. People did notice, though, that just before it was time to give his orders to the crew, he would go down to his stateroom, open his safe, and pull out a slip of paper and read it. Then he would stride on deck and make the right call. Naturally, curiosity was high. It was no surprise, that, when he died, one of the first things the crew did after his funeral service, was to gather in his stateroom and watch while the first mate opened the safe and pulled out the well worn slip of paper. He read it aloud:
Port left, Starboard right.
In difficult times, the captain knew to remind himself of the basics.
Isaiah calls the people to remember that they can trust God. He tells them that God has been here since the beginning, God continues to care for creation and people, and God does not grow weary. We live in a world where the refrain is often, “I’m tired”. When we are tired, our judgment is poor and we make bad decisions. From time to time, we need to be reminded of the basics and be grounded in something. If we lose our memory, we are going to make terrible mistakes. You recall Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Last night I watched the movie The Good Lie. It is the story of Sudanese refugees after their village is destroyed. It begins with brothers Theo and Mamere playing a game. They draw a square in the sand and put their hands on top of one another as they name their grandfathers spanning back generations. Within minutes, their village has been obliterated and their parents are murdered. With their siblings, they set out on foot, ultimately walking 1000 miles to Kenya. One night when it seems there is no hope, they draw a square in the sand and begin to name their grandfathers. They know they must remember who they are and all who came before them.
In Mark, we meet more demons and we hear the story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. He took her by the hand and made her well. She got up and began to serve her guests. I have often heard criticism of this passage as if the woman was healed so that she could serve all the men. The commentary this week said that in fact the woman is the first one who really gets what it means to follow Jesus. She understands that Jesus came to serve and she is the first true disciple in that sense. The other disciples were much later in figuring out that following Jesus meant serving the people they encountered. It’s interesting that the woman isn’t just freed from her affliction; she is freed for a purpose. She understands her purpose and she fulfills it right away.
We hear so many stories of Jesus freeing people: from demons, from disease, from blindness, from hearing loss, from judgment. We rarely hear what happens after the people are free. Last week, I wondered what happened to the man after Jesus released the demon in him. This week, we see what happens to the woman Jesus frees. She begins to live out her purpose.
I know about praying to be free from something. I know the longing to be released from that, which binds us. Our next step is to discover what we are being free for – what is awaiting us when we are released from whatever burden we carry? We passed a deficit budget two weeks ago. When we are free from that deficit, we will be free to live God’s call in powerful ways. In my life, I have found myself liberated from a difficult situation only to land in a place of freedom to be fully who I am. Remembering and telling the story of God can sustain us as we wait for freedom to come. Remembering can be a powerful spiritual practice.
The Super Bowl is becoming famous for its commercials each year. Last year, Duracell did a commercial featuring Derrick Coleman of the Seattle Seahawks. At a young age, Derrick lost his hearing. The commercial told the story of Derrick being bullied, picked last for teams, harassed by coaches, even not being drafted by the NFL. At the end Coleman says, “Everybody told me to quit. They told me it was over. But I’d been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen.” The last scene is of Coleman entering the Super Bowl arena and saying, “And now I’m here, with a lot of fans cheering me on, and I can hear them all.” Derrick found the freedom to play football.
Nine-year-old twins Riley and Erin Kovalcik were born with a genetic condition that left them partially deaf. They saw the TV commercial featuring Derrick Coleman and Riley wrote him a letter saying, "Dear my inspiration Derrick Coleman, I know how you feel. I also have hearing aids. Just try your best. I have faith in you."
Rather than give up when others told him to quit, Derrick remembered his purpose and continued. Telling his story inspired two young girls to continue.
I want to return to the movie The Good Lie. One morning Mamere and his siblings are sleeping in elephant grass. He wakes to a sound and stands to see the army rifles ready to shoot. They spot him. His brother Theo tells him to get down and stay down. Theo stands and allows himself to be taken away. Mamere and the other children finally make their way to a refugee camp in Kenya where they live 13 years before coming to the United States. After arriving, they hear that Theo may be alive. They assumed that he had been murdered. Mamere goes back to Kenya to bring Theo to the U.S. but he cannot get clearance. Instead, he sends Theo and tells him to take on his identity as Mamere while Mamere stays behind. He believes that he owes his freedom to Theo and now his purpose is to open set his brother free.
You may not relate to Sudanese Refugees or NFL players, but you need to know that the story of God’s loving goodness is for you. It is an ancient story that spans many generations. It is the story of ordinary people who are seeking freedom to live their purpose. It is a story that is unfolding before our eyes. It is a story of God who enables us to fly.
**Thanks to David Lose for the reminder that we are not only freed from, but we are freed for a purpose. David Lose also called my attention to the Derrick Coleman commercial.