Wait for the Lord – July 25, 1982
Ps 27.14 – Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
yea, wait for the LORD!
The title for today’s sermon is taken from the OT Rdg, Is 40.28-31, where we hear the well known promise, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”
Is 40.31 – but they 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.
I think we moderns have two problems with this promise: first, we don’t know what it means; and second, we wouldn’t believe it is we did understand it. Let us tackle these two problems today, with the twin goals of understanding, and believing.
This promise was written for a people in exile – a people who had been in exile for over forty years – a people for whom the place of Jerusalem was almost a spiritual necessity, but who had almost given up hope of ever returning to Israel. It is to these people that 2nd Isaiah speaks.
But in a larger sense, it is to anyone who faints or grows weary – to anyone about to fall exhausted. It is to these people that Isa says, “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” You may be familiar with the play ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Becket – like all of Becket’s works, it is very cryptic – very hard to follow, but I interpret the title as meaning ‘Waiting for God’, and the message is that we don’t know what we are waiting for when we are ‘waiting for God’. The mystery of it all is a part of our faith, but according to this promise, one of the things we are waiting for is ‘renewed strength’. Although the passage seems to allude to physical strength, I think that it is a figurative allusion – that it actually alludes to the courage and determination necessary for survival in a hostile world. It refers to the strength to keep on keeping on.
Our NT Rdg will be from the 2nd Ltr of Paul to the Corinthians 12.7-10 – the account of Paul’s figurative ‘thorn in the flesh’, an unknown affliction, that some believe was epilepsy. In this passage, look for Paul’s formula for coping. What does Paul mean when he says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”
LUP for Illumination. Done.
Wait for the Lord
Edit: Back on page three of the Centre Daily Times, Clara’s home-town newspaper, we might have read this item a few days ago: ‘Pleasant Gap, July 13, Mike Ripka, age 20, was found dead in his room by his parents. Death was by gun-shot wound, apparently self-inflicted. Police are still investigating. His parents report that he had been despondent lately. Funeral arrangements have not been made.’
The young man described in this article was our nephew. When something like this happens to someone close to us, we begin to search for answers. Why did this happen? What could have been done to prevent it?
At one time, members of this church were among those manning the phones at the Crisis Center. I happened to be there in another connection, when I met a young men who was serving as a phone counselor, and in other ways. He also was about 20. I told him in my own tactless way that I was surprised that such a young man could be effective in suicide intervention. He explained that only a short time before, he had been on the other end of that phone-line – that he had been the one considering suicide. Many of you, like that young man, know more about suicide prevention than I do. You are already familiar with the kinds of crisis that precipitates suicide, or drive a person to try to escape the real world with drugs or alcohol. It was probably one of these well-known crises that was the motive for our nephew’s suicide – probably something that a more mature person would not believe to be a motive for suicide. We don’t know specifically what it was, but teen-age suicides are common enough that books have been written about the problem.
Now, a mature person realizes that crises are a part of living – that they are a part of the package. And he may also know that weathering a crisis takes its toll, no matter how tough a person is. Researchers have studied this problem, too. They have studied and ranked life’s crises to the point where they can pretty well predict when a person will collapse under all that emotional weight.
For example, shortly after Mike’s death, Clara learned of the death of a cousin who was near and dear to her. The effect of these two deaths on her emotional stability will be cumulative. She realizes that this is not a good time to take on more emotional tension, if she can possibly avoid it.
Just this weak, we saw the effects of these emotional burdens on a man who held police at bay for eight hours, before being flushed out with tear-gas. The police had been called to investigate a loud family disturbance in which both his wife and mother were involved. Later, in pleading for him to give himself up, his wife admitted, “We both need help.” – meaning counseling. He was described as having been despondent. He was unemployed and in poor physical health – having undergone 30-40 operations in his short life. He had lost a brother to cancer, and his father had recently died. We are not surprised that all of this was too much for him.
The question we must ask now is, “What resources do we have available to help either ourselves or others through these emotional crises that are a part of life?” What is the meaning of the promise? ‘They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.’ Rudy Laumbach said, as we prepared for the second family funeral in as many weeks, “I couldn’t handle this alone. I have my family, and I have my faith.”
There are many stories in the bible about people who have met crises and survived, because they were sustained by a strong faith. In fact, crises were used in the Book of Job as a measure of the strength Job’s faith.
In spite of all of the emotional burdens Satan could put on Job, he remained steadfast in his faith in God’s justice. According to the KJV, Job says, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”
No words are more pitiful than the words of David on learning of the death of his son Absalom, “O Absalom, my son, my son. Would God that I had died instead of you. O Absalom, my son, my son.” All thoughts of Absalom’s treachery had vanished from his mind in this moment of grief. We can believe that in this moment, he, like Jesus, might cry out, ‘My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?’ ‘Why are you so far from helping me?’
‘O my God, I cry by day
But you do not answer,
And by night, but find no rest.’
Many of the Psalms, like these, are in the form of a lament. The writer pours out his soul to God, as we all should do in a prayer. The writer describes only in a general way what is bothering him, because these prayers were designed to be used by anyone and everyone. Then, usually, the Psalm contains a line of praise or a statement of faith. In this case, verses 9-11 are such a statement.
‘Yet you are the one who took me from the womb.
You did keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts.
Upon thee I was cast from my birth,
And since my mother bore me
Thou hast been my God.
Be not far from me for trouble is near
And there is none to help.”
“. . . there is none to help.” He says, but if a person has a good close personal friend, he has a valuable resource. Jonathan, had he lived, would have been that kind of friend to David.
Everybody needs friends, but not everybody has friends. Some people will just not let themselves get close to another person.
A person who is trying to cope usually needs the help of other people in times of stress, but if he has poor [emotional] health, then he will not be comfortable in a socials situation – he will not mix well with other people – he will tend to be a loner. He might be described as having poor social health. This area is an important one for the mission of the church, because if a person can be led into accepting the love and concern of the members, then he can be led toward better [emotional] health. We have heard the church described as a ‘social’ organization, as though this was a central, but trivial, function of it.
Personally, I believe that it is, and should be, a major function of the church – that it is a vital function. Any human being needs training to become a social creature in today’s world. There is a lot more to it than what comes by instinct. Theoretically, at least, individuals can learn in the church, what the nuclear family should be – what it could be if everything were perfect.
But in the real world, the family is as often a source of stress, as it is a haven of comfort. Sometimes a person needs the comfort of his extended family – the family of God – that is the church. If we fail that person when he needs us, then we are not being the church. We must become a ‘support group’ to that person.
The idea of a ‘support group’ has become very popular in recent years – [probably due to the failure of the immediate family to provide that support.]
Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group – a very effective support group, in fact. There are other support groups made of people who have a common disease, or a common problem. They associate together for the sole purpose of helping each other cope with the stress of that problem. Thus these groups are highly specialized in their area of concern. The church, on the other hand, is trying to be all things to all people, and that is difficult to do. What we must remember, is that we are not on our own in this work – we are the body of Christ – we are his hands, his heart, and his lips. We are only trying to do what the mind of Christ would have us do.
In summary then, we have seen a situation where a young man needed a faith that he did not have – who needed a support group that he did not have, and because he could not cope with the stresses of life, he decided that his life was not worth living. Then his suicide created stress in his family, for which they all needed both faith and a support group.
Then we saw a similar situation a young man did have faith – and did have a support group which successfully intervened in his threatened suicide – and who later joined that support group in helping others who need and who want help.
“Those who faint and grow weary
Shall rise up on wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary.”
Those who do not try to handle life’s crises alone, but who wait for the Lord’s help shall renew their strength. Like Paul, we say, “We are not ashamed that we are weak, fallible human beings, we are proud of it, because now the Power of Christ may be made manifest in us.”
May his name be praised.
LUP – O Lord our God, the earth is thine and the fullness thereof – the world and those who dwell therein.
Blessed be thy glorious name forever – may thy glory fill the whole earth. (Ps 72.19)
What are we that thou art mindful of us? – What is a mere mortal that thou doest care for him? (8.4)
Yet thou hast said that not a sparrow falls to earth unnoticed. (Mt 10.29) We thank thee for thy servants, Job and David – for all those whose faith continues to be an inspiration for us. We thank thee that we may cry out with the Psalmist, “Answer us when we call, O God of our right! Thou hast given us room when we were in distress. Be gracious to us, and hear our prayer (4.1) for we are lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of our hearts and bring us out of all our distresses. Consider our afflictions and our troubles, and forgive us all our sins. (25.17)
Our Father, we pray also for our loved ones – and for others. We pray for this thy church. We pray for our Pastor Nominating Committee. Lead them to the person who will be good for this church. We pray for all those who are suffering in any way, or who are afflicted. Comfort them with thy presence. We pray now in silence for those we know of who need thy presence today.