Luke 12: 49-56 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Isaiah 40: 27-31 August 14, 2016
“… those who wait for 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.”
Prayer: Holy God, as your Spirit moves among us; please won’t you let your word be wisdom to us, knowing that through it our lives and our loves could be re-ordered? Please tend to us in these moments. In Christ we pray, Amen.
If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’ll no doubt have heard of super-athlete, super swimmer Michael Phelps. He’s the most decorated Olympic athlete—EVER! On Thursday night, Michael won gold in 200 meter medley final. His next race was a semi-final race in the 100 meter butterfly, however, it was only 38 minutes after the 200 medley! Michael was so exhausted after 200 that he could barely get out of the pool! I’m like the arm-chair general at home talking to him through the TV. “Gotta get off your feet, Michael. Go sit down. Rest. Eat a protein bar. Take a little snooze. Do SOMETHING to get restoration of your energy!” But no… He takes time to get interviewed on TV. He has to greet his family. He has to stand on the podium, listen to the national anthem, receive his medal. Then he goes back with barely have enough time to get his cap and goggles on, get his headphones on, get his warmup jacket on, get his game face on… and swim again in the 100 fly! And, he got second place securing his spot for the final—which he won silver on Friday! Amazing! Apparently, he got enough restoration somewhere along the way.
Our 4th and last segment of our Got Wisdom? series is about finding restoration. In our worship today, we’ve emphasized that it’s wise to turn to God for our spiritual restoration. We also heard that God’s wisdom can restore our faith through the faith of others who’ve gone before us… as in the sketch with Martha’s former students. Many of us have stood on Martha’s faith-shoulders and plenty of others’ faith-shoulders in our church in some way or another. These are important ways we can find restoration on our journeys of faith.
Let me share a few more ideas… I think finding restoration on our faith journeys happens when we reach out to others. As Christians, it’s wise to do this because we’re following Jesus’ teachings, and we find spiritual renewal when we do.
Physically, that is not so. To illustrate with another Olympic moment, in the same 200 meter medley, Ryan Lochte, one of Michael Phelp’s biggest rivals, was in the lane alongside Michael. He didn’t place. In his TV interview, he remarked that he spent too much energy in the first half of the race and didn’t have enough to finish strong. He was exhausted.
Spiritually, though, it doesn’t work that way. Reaching out to others because of faith and prayer, tending to those with needs because we’re following Jesus, serving people because God cares deeply about those who are poor and destitute do not exhaust us spiritually. Instead, spending energy doing those kinds of things restores us! Go figure!
In our opening words –and in our first hymn we prayed that God would restore us “under the strain of toil and the fret of care.” Or, when people return from a Mission Trip, they have such a renewed and restored energy that they can’t wait to do another one. God’s Holy Spirit continually feeds us as we reach out and serve others in love and compassion.
Or, to put it another way, Albert Schweitzer once said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found out how to serve” (D. M. Felton, J. Procter-Murphy, Living the Questions: the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, HarperCollins, 2012, p. 168). Wise words.
Another idea about finding restoration is that God’s word and wisdom helps to restore our sense of equilibrium, our sense of balance, especially in the face of societal and cultural injustice.
It’s easy to live with the way things are… it’s convenient to not question them. We take for granted the privileges we have, the ease that we can acquire the things we want or need.
I don’t, for example, check to see if the shirt I want to buy was made in a poor country filled with sweat shops owned by wealthy business
owners who pay their workers diddly-squat in deplorable working conditions. That’s too much trouble to check on that. I usually just buy the shirt. Maybe I should reconsider, though.
Or, how many of us concern ourselves about systemic injustice? Because the concern is that the structures of society overly favor the privileged and the powerful to the detriment of those not privileged or powerful. What might Jesus’ words mean for those who have been burned by our ways of living?
Jesus is no mamby-pamby in our text today. On this particular day, he is not tame or nice. He knows that his presence in our lives will be like a jack-hammer that starts to break up the rock hard status quo, the societal structures which support certain people gaining advantage and certain people not. And, boy! He is anxious to get that going!
Jesus’ words can set fire to our lifestyles, our habits, our ways that we are complicit with systems that support injustice to others, in theory or in practice. The results will not be pretty—all the things we like and take for granted will be under fire! That’s why he says he will not bring peace, but division because it’s difficult to change what has become so convenient and easy for most of us in our society.
But his words are God’s wisdom. They provide a sort of counter-intuitive balancing agent by helping us put on the brakes on us from being swept up in the societal status quo. His words encourage us to question certain practices, to think critically, and to restore a deeper sense of living faithfully in our world.
Homestretch. Finding restoration on our journeys sometimes means learning to wait upon the Lord. As you know, I’ve been troubled deeply by the terrible political climate we are in—there is unbelievable turmoil in our nation politically and around the world with horrific acts of terror. I am equally troubled by the terrible social climate we live in—there is deepening unrest and social instability in our cities as police and citizen repeatedly are killing each other, as racism and religism surge out of control, as drug abuse is rampant.
Like the Israelites dealing with their Babylonian captivity, we are held captive in our own country with such struggles. Like the people of Isaiah’s day, I’ve heard the questions about God’s role in our political and social problems. “Why doesn’t God intervene? What is God waiting for? How can God let people get killed? Why doesn’t God just wipe out ISIS?” One person said to me after one of ISIS’ beheading of a hostage, “If God’s going to do something, now would be a good time!”
It appears that God may have forgotten us, or must not want to be involved with humanity’s struggles anymore.
But, Isaiah’s words of hope are our words of hope. God hasn’t lost interest! God understands the political and social predicament we’re in. Times will change. But they change for those who are humble enough to wait upon the Lord for their strength. Finding restoration means taking time to sit in God’s presence, deliberately becoming empty of power and control, and in the waiting, restoration comes.
God will empower you if you trust the wisdom that to walk in God’s light and presence for spiritual sustenance is much better than running ahead without it.
God will act through you if you trust the wisdom that after your spiritual energy is restored, you are called to serve God. Called to run with purpose and conviction. Called to act by using the gifts and resources you’ve been given.
Some of you may have heard the story of Sylvia Stayton in Cincinnati, Ohio. A devout Christian, Mrs. Stayton and her husband directed the Immanuel Presbyterian Church youth group and were Sunday School teachers. Because of time spent in years of prayer and devotions, Mrs. Stayton was also never afraid of doing what she thought was right, something that eventually put her in trouble with the law. In October 1996, when Mrs. Stayton was 64, she saw an officer writing tickets for cars parked in spaces with expired meters. She put spare change into the meters before he could write tickets. She was arrested and charged with obstructing official business and required to pay a $500 fine and $200 in court fees. Donations, by supporters, however, covered the expense. Mrs. Stayton gained national attention for her attempted acts of kindness and was featured on several national talk shows. She also inspired a generation of parking-meter feeders. She died at age 70, but before she passed on, the city and she resolved their differences, and city officials honored her with a memorial parking meter (http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2004/07/24/loc_loc5a.html, retrieved August 12, 2016, and (D.
M. Felton, J. Procter-Murphy, Living the Questions: the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity, HarperCollins, 2012, p. 187).
Be it sublime or ridiculous, for better or worse, word to the wise: you can find God’s restorative power at work when you wait upon the Lord, when you balance faithful living with society’s pulls, and when you serve God by serving others. But, certainly, God’s restorative power is not limited to these ideas, but opportunities are found throughout our lives, in many places. For that, we say, thanks be to God. Amen!