Isaiah 40:21-31 – Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c – Adonai builds up Jerusalem, gathers the outcasts of Israel, heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
1 Corinthians 9:16-23 – Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel. Though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all.
Mark 1:29-39 – He went away to a deserted/lonely/desert place.
Augustine: Our souls are restless until they rest in thee.
Those Who Wait Upon the Lord
Isaiah 40: After 39 chapters of ranting prophetic doom on Judah (and on other nations, to be inclusive), this book changes voice to the hopeful promise of a new creation and a new kingdom in chapters 40-55. There are really three Isaiahs: First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) prophesies Judah’s destruction and exile. Second Isaiah, written perhaps 200 years later during the exile, prophesies the return from Babylon. In chapter 56, we change to yet a third author, writing after the exile. Isaiah is a collection of pre-exilic, exilic, and post-exilic writings. In today’s reading, 40:21 is a continuation of the answer to the question in verse 18: “To what will you liken God?” God is not an idol that you can cast and guild or carve so that it won’t rot or tip over. The God we’re talking about sits above the earth. We’re like grasshoppers to this God, who created the universe and spread out the heavens like a curtain. Implicitly: If this God brought you into exile, then this God could certainly bring you out. This God will give you strength for the journey. Empowering the powerless, the young, and the old.
Those who wait on the Lord will have their strength renewed. They will soar with the eagles. Those who wait on the Lord are the יֵוְק (u·qui). They are “those expecting” that God will show up and do what God does: give life and create out of nothing. This is the new creation.
1 Corinthians 9 takes on a different theme. It is a common Pauline logic – I have the right to charge for the gospel, but I do not make use of that right. Like Christ, who was in the form of God, but didn’t exploit that status. I have the right to be free, but I give up that right to be a slave to all. I become all things to all people for the sake of the gospel so that I might share in its blessings.
In Mark 1, we return to a “waiting on the Lord” theme, but first Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. I wonder what she had. Some have suggested she had malaria. Whatever it was, word spread fast, and by sundown all the sick and possessed were brought to him. ἦν ὅλη ἡ πόλις: “The whole city” plopped down on their doorstep, and he healed their sick, casting out demons. All. Day. Long. How can you stop when the needy are at your door? When the last person left, Jesus and the disciples were wiped out.
How do you recharge from such an exhausting ministry? How do you refill your tank when it has been completely depleted and then some? How do you renew your strength?
We’re told that Jesus got up in the morning while it was still night. Know that feeling? (πρωi ἔννυχα, pro-ee enucha, morning/night.) He got up in the morning-night. What for? He went to a lonely place (ἔρημον τόπον,eremon topon – lonely, deserted, desolate, alone place) to pray. He went to wait on the Lord, who renews our strength, in order to mount up on wings like eagles.
Ministry leaders need to hear this message. Pastors, church staff, and key unpaid lay leaders. Burn out is the norm. If you’re pouring it out doing things that really matter, the compelling nature of the work can eat your lunch. Prayer and sabbath are about renewing our strength. We wait in the Lord for strength. We use this God-given strength, not for self-aggrandizement, but in service to others. We use it to bring good news and healing to the world.
Lent begins soon. Why not teach your people how to wait on the Lord? Here is a great resource to help you do it – Learning to Pray Again: Peace and Joy Through an Ancient Practice, available in paperback and on kindle.
Forty chapters to read daily for the forty days of Lent. Each chapter is a different way of waiting upon the Lord. This could be an opportunity to splash Lent and the three disciplines of Lent: Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
The preacher may wish to use this week to talk about prayer, not as a laundry list of things we want from God, but rather as a time of silent waiting upon God, the wellspring of life, who brings hope and strength. The good news is that God gives, even when we don’t ask. Our very lives are an unrequested gift. And even when in old age our strength wanes and our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed. God gives.
Where is your lonely place where you wait for God? Where do you go for refreshment for your soul? The life and ministry of the church grows out of a life of prayer. We cannot sustain our strength for ministry in this world without returning to the well for the water of life.
We have all known well-meaning activists who have set out to change the world, only to run out of steam mid-course. Perhaps you have been that person. Without a spiritual source, we lose altitude quickly. The rigors of public ministry – exposing evil to the light, serving in Jesus’ name, going the extra mile, loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits – are simply too difficult. We run out of gas. What fills your tank? How might the preacher seriously engage the congregation in pondering this question?
When we trust that God will refresh, renew, and restore, we are free to give ourselves away for the life of the world. We can give until we have nothing left because we know that lonely place where we can wait upon the Lord who renews strength. We know the more we give, the more we will receive, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing. And we long to be emptied, for the joy of being refilled. We need to be filled. As Mother Teresa said, “God cannot fill what is already full.”
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
– 1 Corinthians 9:23