SERMON FOR The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany
Jason Glaskey, DCE | February 4, 2018 | Sunday Morning | 8:00 am
(This sermon was originally written and preached by Rev. Greg Mech in 2012.)
but 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. –Isaiah 40:31
People in the ancient Near East often used birds to make a point. In Ex.19 Yahweh tells Moses: “You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings.” Outside of the OT, and during Isaiah’s time, the Assyrian King Sennacherib says he shut up Hezekiah “in the midst of Jerusalem, like a bird in a cage.” So … today … birds will also be used to make a point, actually several.
Isaiah is addressing those who knew of the Exodus Eagle’s steadfast love demonstrated when he delivered their fathers from bondage in Egypt. Isaiah is also addressing those who would know of the bird-cage of captivity – bound not by Sennacherib and the Assyrians … but rather by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians.
The bird images don’t stop in the Old Testament, of course, and not all the images are flattering. For example a vulture is attracted to what is dead … a peacock is consumed with self … a chicken grubs for worms in the low life … a crow, crows and makes noise … and who can think of a magpie without thinking, “thieving magpie?”
We can be dirty birds as well …
What is Yahweh to do? He sends his servant …
The servant would go through thorn and thirst and nail and spear and spit and darkness … at a hill called Golgotha … where his blood sprinkles many nations.
Isaiah says, WAIT … for eagles soar only as they position themselves high on a rock and wait … and when the wind comes they are borne aloft. The power is in the wind … beneath their wings.
“For the wind blows wherever it pleases,” Jesus once told Nicodemus. He was really talking about the Holy Spirit, who is compared to wind throughout the Scriptures, and especially on the day of Pentecost. And it pleases the Spirit to be active and powerful where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments administered in accordance with the divine Word. That is, where Jesus is forgiving sins … there the wind blows so we may soar … If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed!
And the result? We are free to soar on wings … like eagles. Eagles have the most powerful eyesight of any bird. Yahweh tells Job: “The eagle … seeks out his food, his eyes detect it from afar.” From high in the sky the eagle can to see a rabbit from two miles away. The NT Hebrew writer speaks of another eagle … ol’ eagle eye Moses: “He persevered because he saw him who is invisible.”
Eagles are the most committed of all birds. Moses says in Deut. that the eagle hovers over its young. In fact, the eagle will never forsake its young, doing whatever it takes to teach them to fly. When we are depending on the forgiveness of Christ and the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit, we too can stick with our commitments. That’s why that old eagle St. Paul can speak of radical commitment even from the damp, dark, deadly Mamartine Prison in Rome: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Eagles stay fresh, alive, energized. Psalm 103 says: “So that your youth is renewed like the eagles.” Every day the eagle preens himself, breathing upon his feathers because over the night they become matted and stuck to each other. Every day the eagle secretes a liquid from a gland in his mouth that waterproofs his wings so he can fly through the storms. Steam cleaned and waterproofed! Eagle Paul put it in these words: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
No wonder the proverb writer declares: “Three things are too amazing for me: four that I do not understand: (the first of the four is…) the way of an eagle in the sky.” Amazing … isn’t it? No longer a vulture, or a peacock, or a chicken, or a magpie, or a parrot, or a crow. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has gone the new has come.” All this is not by might, not by power, but by Yahweh’s Spirit that blows even now loving and freeing and lifting in the name of Jesus. And so with the hymn-writer and author Martin Franzman we also say:
“O Spirit who did once restore
Your Church that it might yet recall
the Bringer of Good News to all,
Breathe on your cloven Church once more;
that in these gray and latter days,
there may be those whose life is praise,
Each life a high doxology,
to Father, Son, and unto Thee.”