But 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

(Preached on Sunday, February 4, 2018)

Picture a woman named Marcie who has been praying.  She’s been praying for health and healing, for other people and for herself.  She knows other Christians who testify to God’s healing in their own lives.  And the Bible describes Jesus as a healer.  Mark’s gospel tells us “they brought sick and evil-afflicted people to him, … He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits.”

But Marcie’s prayers have not been answered.  As a child, she prayed with childlike faith.  She believed God could do anything.  Her church said so, and the Bible seemed to as well.  She prayed for her grandparents and for hungry and hurting children around the world.  Marcie married Michael and she continued praying, but she prays less now than as a child.  She still believe in God and goes to church, and she tries to live a life of love.

In six years, Marcie has suffered four miscarriages.  After the first, she diligently consulted doctors, ate the right food, and discarded anything in her home that might undermine future pregnancies.  But her fastidiousness has gone unrewarded.  Each miscarriage brings intense emotional and spiritual pain.  Marcie prayed nightly during her last two pregnancies.  “God, keep my baby and me safe,” she pled.  “Please give us a healthy child.”

We have all known someone like Marcie.  In fact, I wager we have all been where Marcie is at some point in our lives.  It was maybe not the exact same situation, but similar moments that bring us so close to despair and depression.  Some people are lonely and others are suffering with chronic illness.  Sons and daughters have grown distant, marriages have grown cold, jobs have disappeared because the plant has closed down, or the landlord has just given you the eviction notice.  Sometimes we’re so sad or tired or discouraged that we can’t imagine taking one more step.

It’s in places like this that we yearn to hear Good News from somebody that’s been there, too.  Frequently, the Good News is God’s loving response to a person’s bad news.  But what can we say when we encounter such a person?  What Good News can we offer that will help?

The prophet Isaiah faced such a difficult situation.  He was called to proclaim hope in the midst of despair, to tell the exiled children of Israel in Babylon that God is on the way to deliver them just when they have begun to seriously doubt that God even remembers them or cares for them.  His words with which we opened our worship this morning, printed in the Call to Worship, are part of his sermon to them.  In this great sermon he argues that the one who created the vast universe and all that is in it has the power to restore the Hebrews as a people.  It is a tough sermon to preach, because in the midst of their captivity the people are wondering how they can be the chosen people and the demoralized people at the same time.

After reminding them who and how great is their God, the prophet then reminds them that the response to this God in situations of despair and depression is for them to wait for God.  This might seem like strange guidance to someone mired in the pit of despair.  This is where it helps to look directly at the Hebrew word the prophet uses.  The word here is kawah.  This is not the kind of waiting in which one sits with folded hands and pious inaction, twiddling one’s thumbs, expecting God to do something to get us out of this mess.  No, kawah originally had to do with twisting or plaiting strands together, as in making a rope.  It carries a sense of the strength that comes from binding things together.  There is also a feminine form of the word, makawah, used to denote a place for collecting waters, like a tank or cistern.  In this dry, desert land, where the rains come only a few times a year, it was vital and necessary to have cisterns in every community to collect and hold the rain when it fell to provide water for the rest of the year.

Waiting on God then, implies an experience of allowing God to bind together our strengths, or to collect our resources, or as we might say these days, letting God help us “get our act together.”  God focuses us, gathers the frayed strands of our being, conserves our resources, reinforces us, and enables us.  God assist us to get ready for whatever challenges are thrown at us.  This waiting is active, not passive.

Waiting on God is acknowledging that true healing comes from God, not from anything we are doing.  Waiting for God is waiting for the coming action of God.  God is not sitting still in heaven, just observing everything on earth.  God is active, always on the move, always doing new deeds and working to fulfill God’s loving purpose.  God is constantly moving history and nature toward the goal of God’s reign.  That means God is constantly working for health and healing for God’s people.

Jesus’ healing ministry is an expression of God’s care for our physical condition.  God doesn’t want us to suffer pain and affliction; God doesn’t want human beings to be enslaved by emotional powers beyond our control.  Too often people are inclined to believe that God brings illness and afflictions as some sort of test of our faith, or some sort of punishment for our lack of faith.  We have heard the well-meaning folk who offer the religious clichés: “Everything happens for a reason.  God never give you more than you can handle.”

Such clichés forget the truth of our faith in a God who cared about the world and human flesh enough to come to earth, take on our flesh, and live and die among us.  We fail to acknowledge that when we suffer, God suffers.  When we hurt, God hurts.  When we are depressed and hopeless, God identifies with us.  Spiritual writer and priest, Henri Nouwen points out that this is what the good news of the gospel is all about: … that God is not a distant God, a God to be feared and avoided, a God of revenge, but a God who is moved by our pains and participates in the fullness of the human struggle … God is a compassionate God.  This means, first of all, that he is a God who has chosen to be God-with-us … As soon as we call God ‘God-with-us,’ we enter into a new relationship of intimacy with him.  By calling him Immanuel, we recognize that he ahs committed himself to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us.  The God-with-us is a close God, a God whom we call our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom, and even more intimately our helper, our shepherd, our love.  We will never really know God as a compassionate God if we do not understand with our heart and mind that ‘he lived among us.’

Since God is a God of compassion and has chosen to be in solidarity with us, then we are called to be in solidarity with one another, and to wait together.  This is what Christian care giving is all about.  The word care finds its roots in the Gothic “Kara,” which means “lament.”  The basic meaning of care is to grieve, to experience sorrow, and to cry out with – that is to be with the other person in the midst of their emotions.  We tend to look as caring as an attitude of the strong toward the weak, of the powerful toward the powerless, of the haves toward the have-nots.

But truly we feel most cared for not when someone showers us with those religious clichés or offers us advice, solutions, or cures, but rather when someone chooses to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand.  The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness.  That is the friend who cares.  These are the people who say, “I know this is really hard.  I’ve been there, too.  And you know what? I’ll be right here with you until we get through to the other side.”  These are the people who communicate true caring, because they’ve been there and they understand what I’m going through.  And I can trust that they’ll be here with me and for me.

In Jesus, God touched, caressed, and healed even the deepest, most fragile places of all human life.  He had been there, right in the midst of life’s messiness.  He is the wounded one who has been healed.  Jesus sends us into the world to talk about God’s love.  Not to fix every problem or situation, but to be present, to listen, and to wait.  Together then we can help people wait for God.  Together we will renew our strength.  We will discover that we can rise up with wings like eagles.  We will run and not grow weary.  We will walk and not faint.