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“On Eagle’s Wings”

Sermon Sunday, February 4, 2018 Haydenville Congregational Church
By Rev. Peter B. Ives

Sometimes I get tired and grow weary from long days of hard work.  Sometimes I get tired and grow weary worrying about people I love.  Sometimes I get tired and grow weary from problems that seem so intractable and a future that seems so uncertain.  Sometimes nations get tired and grow weary.  Sometimes nations get tired and grow weary form the problems they face that seem so intractable and a future they face that seems so uncertain.  And that is what happened to the people of Israel in 586 B.C

That year King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and his armies captured the city of Jerusalem and took the people of Israel into Exile.  They lost everything that was valuable and dear to them.  They lost their homes, their families, their neighborhoods, even their sacred Temple as they were taken off to Babylon.  But fifty years later the King Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and the people of Israel were able to return home.  But it meant starting all over again, and they were tired and weary after years of Exile.  They needed words of encouragement.  And the prophet Isaiah gave them just that when he said, “Have you not known?  Have you not heard? The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  God does not faint or grow weary.  God gives power to the faint and to those who have no might God increases their strength.  Even youth shall faint and grow weary and young men shall fall exhausted, but they 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.”

Central to this text is the image of the eagle’s wings.  Eagles are known for the strength and power of their wings.  With a wingspan of almost nine feet and weighing close to fifteen pounds, the eagle can fly effortlessly at 60 miles an hour.  E. Stanley Jones, once told a story about an eagle in India: that soared overhead taking advantage of the rising air currents.  But a strong storm arose. At first the eagle flew away from the storm, as if in fear, but then suddenly, the eagle turned and flew directly at the storm.  Then arching its wings against the forces of the on rushing wind, the eagle vaulted upward, higher and higher, until at last, the eagle could be seen soaring in the calm air above the storm clouds below.”

The wings of the eagle will always be a metaphor for our ability to rise up, to transcend and to surmount the winds of the storms that come our way.  There is the storm of sickness, the storm of a hospital operation, the storm of depression, the storm of despair, the storm of the loss of a job, or the loss of a loved one, or the loss of all hope.  And in every storm we face raises the question: “Where will the strength come from?”  “Where will the strength come from?”Jill Kilmont, the youngest skier on the American Olympic team in 1956 was one of the best.  Then the day came when she skied down a mountain in Utah on her last qualifying heat and crashed into a tree at 50 miles an hour.  She never stood up again.  One day she was considered the most talented skier ever to be on an Olympic team; the next day she was paralyzed form shoulders down.  The biggest challenge of her life was not to be skiing in the Olympics, but the Olympic hurtle of beginning her life anew as a quadriplegic.  Yet within two years Jill was driving a specially equipped car for quadriplegics and teaching handicapped children in a nearby public school.  St. Paul once said, “We are afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying in the body, the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be manifest.” And that was the stuff that Jill Kilmont was made of, she would not let herself be struck down or crushed or destroyed.

When I was much younger, I too was afflicted, with two severely ruptured discs in my back.  The sciatic nerve pain was so excruciating. I could only stand for 15 minutes without having to lie down. I didn’t think I could ever walk again. After two months in bed without being able to walk for more than 15 minutes to the bathroom, the doctors said, I needed surgery on my back.. Then, two days after the operation they came to my room at Yale New Haven Hospital and invited me to stand. I was almost paralyzed with fear.  Slowly I got up in bed and swung my legs out over the edge. With the nurse’s help I put my feet on the floor and pushed up from my knees.  I felt all the weight of my body on the top of my legs and waited for the sharp pain I had lived with for two months to return. I took my first step, the hardest step I had ever taken in my life, but suddenly I realized there was no pain.  I took a second step and a third step and still there was no pain. Suddenly the joy of it all came flooding over me. There was no more pain.  I felt like shouting for joy as I started walking up and down the hospital corridor.  “I can walk!” I shouted, “I can walk.”  It was one of the greatest moments of my life, that day I was simply able to put one foot in front of the other and just walk again, into the newness of my life. .

When a baby eagle first learns to fly it is said that the baby eagle mounts up on the wings of its mother.  The young vulnerable baby eagle learns to fly under girded by her mother’s wings.  In the bible, it is God who is like the mother eagle.  It is God’s love that under girds us when we first try to fly and gives us all the support we need. But where does the strength come from?  Down in the Blue Ridge Mountains there is a marvelous archway called the natural bridge two hundred and forty feet high above Cedar Creek.  Now Cedar Creek isn’t impressive.  In fact, it is such a small stream that everyone asks, “How could such a small stream create such a large archway.  If you asked that question to the creek itself, it would probably say to you, “My friend, I used to be way up high.  I started cutting this arch thousands of years ago.  I just kept moving back and forth, back and forth, like a cross-cut-saw as I cut my way through the mountain, in response to the ebb and flow of the James River.  That’s where I get my strength?  And if you asked the James River, where do you get your strength it would say, from the tides of the Chesapeake Bay.  And if you asked the Chesapeake Bay where do you get your strength it would say; “from the Atlantic Ocean moving back and forth across a quarter of the earth’s surface, giving strength to the Chesapeake Bay and the James River and Cedar Creek.  And if you asked the Ocean, where does your strength come from, it would say, “I just respond to the gravity and the pull of the moon and the ebb and flow of God.  It is God’s baton that directs me?  Well, we are all like Cedar Creek.  We can overcome great obstacles and hurtles.  But we do it only because God’s love works through us in the same way that God’s ebbs and flow move the Atlantic Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean moves the Chesapeake Bay and the Chesapeake Bay moves the James River and the James River moves Cedar Creek as it cuts its way through the Blue Ridge Mountains creating such a magnificent arch.   And God can lift you up.  God can raise you up on eagle’s wings; bear you on the breath of dawn, and make you shine like the sun.
And this happens every Sunday, if you give it a chance, when you come to worship on the Sabbath.  Sunday is the day to be raised up and lifted up too. That’s the whole point of Duke Ellington song, “Come Sunday” that was sung over and over again by Abbey Lincoln, Billy Holiday Mahalia Jackson, and many of the great jazz singers of our time.  “Lord, Dear Lord of love, God Almighty, God Above, Please look down and see my people through?  I believe the sun and moon which shine up in the sky.  When the day is bright I know its clouds are passing by.  You give peace and comfort to every troubled mind. Come Sunday, O Come Sunday, that’s the day.  And that can happen every Sunday in this sanctuary when you remember and never stop believing that when you wait upon the Lord, You shall renew your strength, you shall mount up on wings like eagles, you shall run and not be weary, you shall walk and not faint. And that God will raise You up on eagles’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of God’s hand. Amen

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