[Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147:1-11, 20c, I Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39]
In this Sunday’s reading from the book of Isaiah, the prophet is speaking to the Hebrews, who are living exile in Babylon.
They’re living among strangers, speaking a language that’s not like their own and trying to adapt to a culture that’s foreign to them.
Their temple—the place they’ve always gone to encounter God– has been destroyed by their enemies, and they’re living among foreigners who worship other gods.
They’re away from home. We can read in many of the Psalms how the Hebrews grieved for Jerusalem. (Psalm 137 is a good example of this.)
Have you ever been so depressed, so hopeless, so wracked with grief, so heartsick that you could hardly get through the day?
I have. And it’s a terrible feeling.
I imagine that’s how the Israelites felt in Babylon.
I imagine they ached so much for their home and their old lives that they could barely put one foot in front of the other. I imagine they felt weak—that they felt powerless to do anything about their situation. I imagine they were heartbroken—the kind of heartache that begins as sadness, but after a while, it soaks through your skin and seeps into the marrow of your bones and settles there, and you don’t even feel sad anymore; it just feels like unbearable exhaustion that never seems to let up. I bet that’s how they felt—exhausted. Weary. Ready to give up.
And what does God say to them? Let’s look again at the words of Isaiah:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted.
God understands that we get tired. God knows that sometimes we’re heartbroken, so heartbroken that just to pull the covers up off our heads and roll over and get out of bed seems like so much effort. God knows that we all have those days—weeks, months, years—where we wonder if we should just give up.
God gets that. He really does. And he promises us this:
Even when we’re exhausted—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or any combination of the above—and in fact, even in situations that would wear out the youngest and strongest of us, God doesn’t get tired, even when we do. God doesn’t feel like falling down on the floor, even when we do. And God will always be there.
Those who wait on the Lord, the prophet says, will renew their strength. God will there to renew our strength when we have none, to cry for us when we don’t have any tears left to cry, and to help us carry on when we don’t feel like we can.
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary.
God will make our heavy hearts so light that we can soar like an eagle.
God will give us the strength to run and never get tired.
And then, there’s that last promise—and sometimes it seems the most profound of all. Sometimes that last one is the hardest to get our heads around when we’re having one of those truly awful days where everything hurts and nothing’s okay and getting out of bed is enough to make us cry:
They shall walk and not faint.
God promises us that, when we feel like we can’t even put one foot in front of the other, when it’s so bad that we feel like falling down and giving up, God will give us the strength to keep walking, step by step, and continue the journey toward the healing and joy and light that God desires for us.
Today’s Psalm speaks a bit about God’s healing. It talks about God binding up our wounds. It speaks of a God who heals our broken hearts, and lifts up those who are downtrodden.
Do you know what downtrodden means? It’s not a word we use very often. It means trampled. Like, run over by something—a herd of cattle or elephants, or maybe an eighteen-wheeler. You know that scene in The Lion King– the one that scarred everybody my age for life when we were kids? What happened to Mufasa is a pretty good picture of what downtrodden means.
(Has your heart ever felt like a herd of wildebeest just stampeded over it?)
Of course, downtrodden can also mean being trampled in a more metaphorical sense—oppressed, mistreated, abused, disenfranchised, made to feel like less than a child of God. That’s how the Hebrews must have felt in Babylon, and a lot of us have felt that way at some point, too.
I’m reminded of the chorus to the hymn “I Am the Bread of Life”, which simply says, from God’s perspective, speaking to us, “And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day.”
Don’t give up. God will raise up the downtrodden.
Don’t give up. God will renew your strength.
Some days, you don’t feel like an eagle, or a marathon runner. Sometimes the best you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Our Israelite ancestors knew that. The prophet Isaiah knew that. And God certainly knows that.
And with his strength to sustain us, God promises that—even when those baby steps are all we’re able to manage—God will sustain our courageous little steps. However slow and clumsy and difficult the process may be, he will keep us moving forward in the direction we’re meant to go.
May we trust that promise. May we walk and not faint.