Today’s appointed lesson from the Hebrew scriptures contains one of our favorite verses: Isaiah 40:31—
Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
I don’t have a lot of time for a sermon today, so I’ll just take us through this verse. It opens with trust in our translation—those who trust in the Lord. In other translations, it might say wait upon. The actual Hebrew word there, וקוי, might mean expect: Those who are expectant of the Lord.
I chose to talk about this this morning, because the root of that verb is קוה, which means to gather, or even twist together. And so there’s the sense in this Bible verse that we’re not individuals sitting alone, waiting on God and being expected to trust in God on our own. We’re gathered—bound—together and supporting each other as we expect great things from God. We share our faith, we tell stories, we share our gifts.
And our expectations are rewarded: We soar on eagle’s wings. This is a beautiful image, and it’s a very Old Testament image. The only mention of an eagle in the New Testament is in the Revelation to John, and it’s not used in a poetic way. But throughout the Hebrew Bible, eagles are spoken of as symbols of freedom and vigor and strength—just the way we might speak of them in a country where the eagle is our national symbol.
And when Jesus talks about strength, he talks about it in terms of faith. What’s the greatest commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” [Mark 12:30]. The same with the Apostle Paul. “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” [Philip. 4:13] …he’s not talking about weightlifting, by the way; he’s talking about spiritual strength.
This spiritual strength is what’s needed to run and not grow weary, to “run with endurance the race God has set before us” [Heb 12:1]. This image isn’t all that common in the Bible, but when it’s used, it’s talking about winning a prize. That’s why Paul said to “run to win” [1 Cor 9:24]! The prize was to be completed on the day of the Lord, it was salvation from nothingness, it was wholeness.
But much more important, I think, than all this is the notion of our Christian walk. We have a fancy word for it: Discipleship. Isaiah tells us that those who trust in God, who wait on God, who expect something from God, will walk and not faint. And think about your own walk—the path that you have followed or are following. I think if I look back on the times when it was hardest to be a Christian—hardest to be a disciple—it was because I didn’t trust God, or that I expected nothing from God.
When I expect nothing, it might be for one of two reasons: The first one is that I don’t think God is able to come through, that God has nothing to offer. The second one is because I don’t think God is willing to come through because I’m not worth coming through for.
Today we’re talking about the wings of eagles. And Jesus himself did mention wings once. Except they were chicken wings, and not eagle’s wings. He was talking to Jerusalem when he said, “How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
Perhaps the protection of those wings before his crucifixion is now the wings of eagles after the resurrection. Let us trust that God is able to lift us up and grant us the strength we need—the strength to do what God wants us to, or even just the strength to make it to the next day. Today as we renew our covenant, let’s join together to trust God to bring us through, and to expect that God can do it.
—©2024 Sam Greening