by Rev. Joan Kessler
Isaiah 40:25, 28-31
Today we hear some very pastoral words… words of comfort and consolation being delivered to a community experiencing much suffering and hardship. The Israelites have been plundered by foreign adversaries and taken into exile, away from their home, their beloved Temple, everything that gave them identity and purpose. And they are wondering if God has abandoned them, forgotten about them. Given the circumstances, they had every reason to be concerned and to raise doubts. But Isaiah brings them a message of hope and perseverance… he proclaims the greatness of the Divine Presence… a greatness that outnumbers the stars in the sky, is flung beyond the cosmos…yet is so very present and grounded in the majesty of an Eagle. His words present new ideas and imagery for the Divine, to remind them of their relationship to one another, and to the source of their beings.
Eagles are majestic creatures. They can fly higher than any other bird. Their vision is up to eight times sharper than that of a human. Their massive wing-span enables them to soar and hunt vast areas with a minimum effort. From a spiritual perspective, an eagle is symbol of freedom. It brings messages of renewed life because it is associated with the east winds – the direction of spring, the rising sun, and rebirth. An eagle symbolizes not only a new beginning but also serves as a reminder of the importance of resilience and perseverance in the midst of difficulty. If any image would have resonated with the Israelites at this time in their history, it would have been the eagle as a bringer of hope, to keep going and to persevere these current hardships. Because the day will come when this time will be past and they will return to Judah to begin the daunting task of restoration and rebuilding. The memories held of their past would be largely forgotten with elders having passed on over the several decades they spent in captivity. How do they hope for something they have never known? Returning will present its challenges not unlike living in exile. Isaiah’s message is intended to lift them up and give them encouragement in their waiting for this time to pass.
To whom can we compare God, is the question Isaiah asks. The Nature of God is no longer a once and for all understanding. As we come through post-modernity, we can reason, we think for ourselves, we have our life histories and experiences to draw upon. Yet the Nature of God is limitless, as Isaiah so boldly proclaims to a group that is feeling very estranged from any form of divine presence. No one and no thing can be a measure of comparison to what we attempt to formulate as a notion of God. This passage served as a reminder to me this week of how little I have figured out. No one statement, teaching, interpretation of scripture or experience of spirituality is a once and for all expression. This is where, for me, mission becomes the focal point and enters the conversation.
I share with you the story of a mid-sized congregation who decided to undertake a considerable capital project of replacing its aging water lines. Money was donated, money was fundraised, money was borrowed to cover the $25K estimate. A plumbing company undertook the work in consultation with the local utility provider. The parking lot was dug up, the lines replaced… the project was seemingly completed. But a few days later, the plumbing company returned with the heavy equipment. The line had not been buried to a proper depth and everything needed to be dug up again and reinstalled. A few weeks later, the invoice for the work appears at the church. Instead of being in and around the $25K estimate, the bill soared to a staggering $38K. There was anger, disappointment, dismay over how this congregation would pay its bill. Council felt it should not have to pay for something that was not in its control. Others proposed the idea of suing the parties involved in the error. The Council chair at the time felt a workable solution had to be found and went to the chair of the trustees and proposed the idea of approaching the plumbing company to see if a suitable resolution could be found. It was worth a try, he said. So the Council chair mustered up some courage and called the owner of the plumbing company. The conversation revolved around the disappointment both parties experienced as a result of the overcharge. The plumber knew that the utility provider would not be held accountable based on past experience. The council chair suggested a renegotiation on the invoice amount, and after some back and forth, an amount was agreed upon. I just want you to know, said the plumber, that I will have made nothing off of this job and will only be able to cover my costs and pay my employees. The council chair replied, the amount the congregation will pay over and above is money that will have to be replaced somehow and will mean forgoing other commitments made in the foreseeable future. They were even.
Renewal takes work. It takes an eye to the future and sometimes, it involves risk. Because, as the saying goes, if nothing changes, nothing changes. This story of the water line reminds me of the Nature of God. It doesn’t remind me that God is passive and aloof and disinterested. It reminds me that the Holy is a very present and active force in real life, lived on the gro. That creation is ordered and all things work together for Good and new solutions can be found and realized. This is our hope. Circumstances arise, best made plans go awry…disappointment ensues. This construction story doesn’t have a hugely happy ending… but it has an ending that could be lived with and both parties could move forward. Our understanding of the Divine is ever-changing and being shaped by our less than divine circumstances. Whether we sing of an Amazing Grace, or Called By Earth and Sky, or She Flies… all express something of an understanding and experience of the nature of God… and this is never a once and for all state of being. The Nature of God is ever changing for each one of us. It moves based on whatever we are experiencing in life at the moment. We are all sharing the experiencing of COVID…some are experiencing it very differently from others but I think we can all agree that this is a hard place some days to be in. It’s like the Groundhog Day effect where every day is the same as the one before. But we keep looking for the thread of hope that is present and we just give it a tug and see where it takes us. Our news stories presently revolve around the vaccine, how the administration of doses is being rolled out, vaccine left out on the counter to spoil, who is next in the needle line, who has butt into the line. Isaiah calls us to don’t lose sight of the bigger picture and provides us with a dose of hope. And we wait. Not to be patient or passive, but to take advantage of the opportunity that some of us have been given, to slow down and to pause for the purpose of remembering, renewing, strengthening, rebuilding. May we find our flight on the wings of eagles, may we run and not be weary, may we walk and not faint.
Amen and Amen.
A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power, but its persistence.