Rev. Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier
Kingston Congregational Church
February 7, 2021
On Eagles’ Wings
The gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four gospels and the fastest paced. No
nativi”ty stories, no genealogies to set the stage. We launch right into the meat of the
matter with Jesus’ baptism by John, his forty days in the desert and the beginning of
Jesus’ public ministry all in the space of the first five verses. The word “immediately” is
one of Mark’s favorite words. In the first chapter alone, he uses it five times.
“Immediately” the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, “immediately” the
fishermen left their nets behind them, “immediately” the leper is healed at Jesus’ touch.
It is as if there is no time to lose. Mark’s bare-boned style of storytelling and generous
use of such phrases as “immediately” or “as soon as” or “at once,” propel the gospel
along at remarkable speed. The urgency of the story is conveyed not only in words but
also in its pace.
Just look at Jesus’ first day on the job. It began last Sunday with Jesus teaching
in the synagogue and casting out the demon that confronted him there. Those gathered
were astonished and amazed at his teaching, his power, and his authority. Last week’s
reading ended with the observation, “At once his fame began to spread…” You can just
imagine the synagogue congregation, at the close of services, hurrying home to finish
their Sabbath observances, consumed with excited conversation. I imagine street
corner gatherings telegraphing the news from corner to corner to corner. Never had
they seen such a healer as this before. Never had they heard any teacher of the Torah
speak so persuasively. Jesus certainly made an impression.
But as if that weren’t enough for a first day out, our gospel lesson for today picks
up exactly where it left off last week, and without missing a beat we’re told, “As soon as
they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon… [whose] mother-in-law was
in bed with a fever and they told him about her at once.” Jesus’ is not a 9-5 job. Seems
his work has followed him home. It’s inside the house now. Kind of like telecommuting in
the midst of a pandemic. You can’t leave your office when you live in your office. Jesus’
work is always with him. “They told him about her at once.” Soon as he walks in the
door. But Jesus doesn’t roll his eyes, or sigh deeply, or agree through clenched teeth to
see the woman. In fact, the text says, “…he came [to her] and took her by the hand and
lifted her up.”
Certainly, now Jesus has earned his rest. The Sabbath―spent teaching,
confronting and casting out demons, and now healing―is finally coming to a close. The
day is ending, the sun is setting, Jesus’ first day of ministry is just about over.
But with sundown Sabbath is over and the townspeople are free to move about,
free to lift heavy burdens, free to carry bundles, or move stretchers, or pull carts. And
so, the story goes, “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or
possessed with demons. And…” (listen to this) “the whole city was gathered around the
door.” It did not take the human telegraph of astonishment, wonder and desperate hope
very long to spread the news that a new kind of healer was in town. And Jesus, already
having had what any of us would call a pretty full day, went out to meet them, curing,
we’re told, many who were sick and casting out many demons from those possessed.
It is not hard to imagine that with all of Capernaum at the doorstep, Jesus did not
get much sleep that night. Yet while it was still dark, he rose and slipped away from the
crowded house and whoever else might be sleeping, or waiting now at the doorstep,
and found a secluded place to pray. Twenty-four hours into his first day of ministry and
Jesus needs some time alone.
Haven’t we all been in that place at sometime in our lives? While we are not
admittedly the Savior of the world, it does feel sometimes like the whole world is at our
doorstep wanting something from us. And in the midst of COVID the threshold has
moved indoors. Our dining table is now our desk, our bedrooms are now our
classrooms. All the space that sheltering at home seemingly bought us, has been
creatively bridged 10, 11 months in, as work, school, church, scouts, clubs and even the
gym have found creative ways to close the gap and set up business in our living rooms.
And if it’s not our physical space that’s feeling crowded these days, it’s our mental and
emotional space. The world has taken up residence in our heads. News cycles are
endless, the mental and emotional energy it takes to be a world citizen these days, to
stay abreast of the issues and concerns, live with the anxiety of civil strife and the ongoing pursuit of social justice, is tremendous. Even while we’re staying home, the persistent demands seem to keep knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds at all hours of the day and night, wanting our attention, begging for our concern. It is enough
to spiral even the most emotionally hearty of us down into a deep, dark place.
But Isaiah tells us it need not be so. “Those who wait upon the Lord 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 [Is. 40:31].” These are not just words of pious poetry.
Isaiah spoke them two and half millennia ago to Hebrew exiles in Babylon, Jewish men
and women for whom life was very hard. They had experienced devastating defeat and
the loss of everything they knew―home, nation, family, security, independence and
even hope. The loss of everything…except God. Isaiah calls out to their desolation and
their wearied hearts: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the
everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. There is no exile from God. God
gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. And those who wait upon the
Lord shall renew their strength.
There is at our fingertips, within reach, a breath away, a healing and renewing
power. Jesus knew it well. Over and over again, the gospels show us Jesus praying,
seeking solitude in the quiet, regrounding himself in the presence of God. Which begs
the question: if Jesus―Messiah, Son of God―could not maintain his pace without
prayer, could not run without ceasing, could not attend to the needs of others without
rest and return, what makes us think we can? Those who wait upon the Lord shall
renew their strength.
Prayer, spiritual practice, time spent intentionally with God, is our ticket for
eagles’ wings―wings that lift us up, that show us the world from a different perspective,
that allow us to ride the winds of the Spirit and coast on the currents of God’s breath.
Maybe especially now, in the midst of pandemic, when the world is at once too close
AND too far away all at the same time, we need eagles’ wings more than ever. We need
spiritual renewal. We need retreat that reconnects us, engagement that frees us. How
do we run without being weary? How do we live in exile without losing hope? Those
who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.
Waiting upon the Lord can take many forms. You can do it with or without words.
Inside or outside. Many people I know feel most connected to God in the out-of-doors.
But you can be with God anywhere, anytime. You can turn to God by yourself or with
others. You can wait on God actively or quietly, in your garden or in a yoga pose. If you
don’t know where to start, think about joining our “Leading Life from Within” group this
Lent. There is a long and rich tradition of contemplative Christian practices that we
active and heady types rarely avail ourselves of. Our Protestant work ethic disinclines
us from sitting too still, being too quiet. But did you notice in Mark’s narration, a writer
for whom every word counts, Jesus healed many, and delivered many from their
demons, but not all? He didn’t wait till the work was done, till the suffering was fully
relieved, till the storm of human need subsided, to seek out time with God, to wait upon
the Lord. In the midst of the dizzying demands made upon him, he returned to the
source of his strength. And In the midst of our sometimes busy and always emotionally
complex lives, we are offered the same opportunity. Eagles’ wings. Renewal. Strength.
Resilience. Grace. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest, Jesus say. Wonder where he learned that? Come, drink this cup
and eat this bread. Come, draw aside for a while; green pastures and still waters are
available. Life will always demand a lot of us, but there is no need for any of us to keep
running on spiritual fumes. There is at our fingertips, within reach, a breath away, a
healing and renewing power. Followers of Jesus: follow him in this, too. There are
eagles’ wings waiting for us. Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.