Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
February 5, 2012
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine
There’s got to be a little rain sometime.
I’m not a big country and western fan, but sometimes country and western songs express quite profound truths in very simple words. Maybe it isn’t what the lyricist intended—see my handout from a couple of weeks ago on how texts have an excess of meaning—but I can hear God singing that song to us. Our culture tries to sell us on an image of life as a rose garden. Just buy these diamonds, use this make up, take this dietary supplement, wear these clothes, drive this car and your life will be all roses and no thorns. Our Declaration of Independence says that all of us have as an “inalienable” right the pursuit of happiness, claiming happiness as one of the goals of life and at least implying that we can indeed attain pure happiness in this life, otherwise why would we bother to pursue it? Yet we all know, don’t we, that life doesn’t consist only of happiness. We all know, don’t we, that however much they may claim that they can do it all those products we see advertized all the time won’t bring us into a land of uninterrupted bliss. Life just isn’t like that.
Quite the contrary. We are all mortal, so we live with the knowledge and also the fear of death. We are all physical creatures, so we suffer illness and injury. Loved ones become ill and die. Relationships fall apart and love ends. Financial hardships descend upon us. The demands of life exhaust us. The cares of life overwhelm us. We often feel alone, abandoned almost, in an uncaring world spinning through an uncaring universe. It can all be awfully discouraging and draining.
It doesn’t get any better when we hear and heed Jesus’ call to the first disciples and to us: Follow me. The preachers of the false “prosperity gospel” to the contrary notwithstanding, Jesus calls us to follow him not into a life of ease, into a life free of pain. No, Jesus calls us to follow him into the hurting places of the world, the places of pain, the places of suffering. He calls us into a life of giving, of service to others, a life of compassion and forgiveness. In other words, he calls us to the kind of life he lived, and look where that got him—a wretched death on a brutal cross. Life, including the life of Christian discipleship, is truly no pure rose garden.
So is there no source of hope? Is there no source relief? Is there no way to keep going? The great good news is that yes, there is a source of hope. There is a source of relief. There is a way to keep going. Our reading from Isaiah this morning tells us what that source, what that way is.
The setting of that reading is the Babylonian exile of the Jewish people in the sixth century BCE. Their nation had been defeated and destroyed. They had been hauled off as prisoners of war into a miserable exile in a foreign place. They were feeling all the loss, all the despair, that people have felt and continue to feel in so many places in life. In our passage the prophet asked the people of the exile “Why do you say my way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” The prophet wouldn’t be asking that question if he hadn’t heard the people complaining in that way. The people believe that God has abandoned them, and they are feeling nothing but despair. Our problems may not be exactly the same as theirs, but we too can easily fall into despair, can lose hope, can feel overwhelmed by problems we can see no way to solve.
Isaiah had an answer for his people living in exile in Babylon so long ago, and he has an answer for us today. His answer is—God. He says that God “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” Then he says: “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted, 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.” Isaiah 40:30-31 Those who wait for God, he says, will get what they need to carry on. They will find strength. They will find hope.
OK, but maybe you’re wondering about this text something that I have wondered about it. Just how are we supposed to connect with that hope, that strength? All Isaiah says here is “those who wait for the Lord” will have these blessings. Really? All we have to do is sit around and wait for God to break into our lives and give us these things? That’s kind of what it sound like, doesn’t it. Well, I don’t think that’s what “those who wait for the Lord” means.
Take a look at our reading from Mark. There Jesus has been traveling, teaching, healing, and exercising power over unclean spirits . He’s been surrounded by crowds of people seeking healing from him. He’s probably feeling like one of Isaiah’s youths who faint and become weary. So, Mark tells us, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus needed to connect with his source of strength, with God, but he didn’t just sit around and wait. He did something. He went apart and prayed.
So let me suggest a meaning for Isaiah’s “wait for the Lord” rather different from just sitting and waiting for God to act. Isaiah’s “wait for the Lord” means, I think, stay in relationship with God. Tend your relationship with God. Spend time with God. Pray. Meditate. Be intentional about connecting with God, for God is the source of your strength and your hope. That’s what Jesus did, and he calls us to follow him in his practice of prayer as well as in his service to others. And he shows us that when we tend our relationship with God the way he did we too can find strength, we too can find courage, we too can find hope.
This afternoon I will travel to our Conference’s church camp Pilgrim Firs for the annual Conference clergy retreat. Frankly, that trip has been presenting to me more as obligation than as opportunity. But Isaiah and Jesus tell me to use those few days apart as a time to wait on the Lord. There will be presentations by visiting speakers. They may be good, or they may not. We’ll see. More importantly there will be time for worship, time for quiet, time to walk around Lake Flora and breathe in the freshness of the trees and the water. There will be time for prayer. Like, I suspect, some of you, I’m not always very good about waiting for the Lord, about tending my relationship with God. If I will just let it, these few days away can be an opportunity for me to do that and to reap the benefits that can come from it.
Those are benefits that God offers me, and they are benefits that God offers you. So I invite you over these next three days to find some time to do what I hope I will be doing. To find some time to wait for the Lord. Some time for quite, for meditation, for prayer. Wait for the Lord, and renew your strength. Jesus showed us how. Now it’s up to us to follow him in this as much as we seek to follow him in the work of the kingdom. Wait for the Lord, and renew your strength. Amen.