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They Shall Walk and Not Faint



Seven years ago, I ran the Manchester Road Race.

It was a big deal for me because I am not much of a runner—

I had been told at an early age by a gym teacher that I wasn’t much of an athlete.

So I had watched the race for 14 years when I lived in Manchester

Cheering on friends and parishioners and even my 70 year old dad.

But this year, I had decided to try running it for myself.

I started training in the summer time, jogging alongside the kids on their bikes as we headed toward the park.

By the early fall I had worked up a 2 ½ mile loop.

The end of this run was a great downhill through the park.

I would just pick up my feet let gravity take me.

I can do this! I thought.

As I flew down the hill, I remembered the lofty words from Isaiah,

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.

As the fall wore on, though, I just couldn’t seem to find the time for a longer run.

The kids were still small and didn’t want to bike that far;

I was busy with a new church and caring for the family.

I started to doubt myself: how can I run this 4.7 race if I have never even tried it out?

I started to waiver in my resolve, and as the race drew near I even stopped training.

I felt defeated.

In our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah today, the people of Israel were not just feeling defeated,

They were literally defeated – by the mighty Babylonians.

Forty years before their nation had been brutally conquered by King Nebuchadnezzar.

The Babylonians had laid siege to Jerusalem for over a year, slowly starving the city;

When they overcame the city’s weakened defenses, they killed the king’s sons before his eyes,

Blinded him, and then took him prisoner.

Soldiers looted the city, and chased the people out.

They marched the people 500 miles across the desert to live in refugee camps in Babylon.

While back in Jerusalem the city was demolished, and the temple destroyed.

When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they not only conquered the city, they broke their spirits.

because for the Jews it seemed that their God had been defeated.

That was the symbolism behind destroying the temple—see our god Marduk beat your God Yahweh.

Our passage today, then, begins with a word from God through the prophet Isaiah

that reclaims God’s rightful place as creator of the world and ruler of the nations.

“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and Its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;

Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;

Who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”

Isaiah brings home that point that the people of Israel needed to hear:

That there is no other god to whom one can compare the LORD, and the LORD was still in charge.

But is that enough in hard times?

What good is God’s power if God is removed from human existence, aloof and unconcerned?

This is exactly the complaint of the people, paraphrased by Isaiah:

“My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God.”

And so Isaiah answers their complaint with this reassurance:

“[God] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.”

The Lord of the universe cares about them and is with them in their struggles.

The day of the road race was drawing near, and while I was losing my nerve,

my husband announced he was going to run the race.

That was it—I wasn’t going to let my husband who hadn’t trained a lick out do me.

So we went to register the day before the race.

The weather predicted for Thanksgiving was perfect, and they had record registrations.

My husband, my dad and I got the last three numbers out of 15,000 people—

Now I was committed.

I was also a wreck.

Why was I putting so much pressure on myself? It was just a race.

I told myself I could walk it if I had to.

But this wasn’t how I had envisioned it—

I was supposed to train, work up to 5 miles, run the course once or twice.

I was supposed to do my best, and I knew I couldn’t.

Thanksgiving dawned as beautiful as predicted.

We ate our high carb breakfasts, and headed to Manchester.

I lined up just in front of the walkers, figuring that is what I’d do.

And then the race began.

As I jogged I started notice that not all of them looked as if they had trained.

In fact I saw mothers with their kids, people in costumes, guys older than my dad— All running.

All along the route people were cheering, bands were playing, the folks at the pub even raised a glass to us.

I still didn’t know if I would make it to the end of the race, but I was starting to have fun.

Now if you’ve run the Manchester Road Race, you know that the first half is one long hill, then it evens out.

I had never run the course, though, so I was thoroughly surprised when I came upon the 4 mile mark.

I couldn’t believe it- I had less than a mile to go. I thought: I’m going to make it!

And the words of Isaiah came back to me:

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.

I recently learned that whenever you have a set of three phrases in Hebrew poetry,

That the third phrase of the set is the most important.

You’d think that in this case in Isaiah’s prophecy that the most important message would be

God’s promise to make you soar like an eagle.

But instead the last phrase, the most important phrase is about walking—

Not running like the wind, not even jogging—simply crossing the finish line without fainting.

I have decided that this is what the life of faith is like.

We may not always fly high; we might not even run.

But our performance is in the end not the point.

The point is God’s faithfulness in all circumstances:

In exile and in homecoming, in sickness and in health, in failure and in triumph.

God is present to support us and sustain us through the long haul.

This week marks our one year anniversary as people and pastor.

Together we have embarked on a journey.

Like the road race, we have some idea of where we are headed

Continuing to get to know one another and build the bonds of community

Building on our strengths of care, generosity, and leadership

Investing in our mission priorities of nurturing the faith of young people and families,

welcoming new people, and connecting with ministries beyond the walls of our church.

But we don’t know the course—we don’t know what curves or hills or potholes that lie ahead.

We don’t know all the companions on the journey, for some will join us, and some will leave.

We do know the most important thing, however: that God is with us on this journey.

And God is faithful.

God will guide our planning, our learning, our creative responses to challenges.

God will sustain our behind the scenes labors, and our visible service in the community.

God will strengthen us in worship and in fellowship and in caring for one another

as we journey as a people of faith together.

I finished the race that day in Manchester, and I didn’t even walk.

I was amazed that I could do it—it was a sign of something I would continue to learn about myself

that I have a lot more strength to draw on than I thought.

That strength, of course, is God.

God’s strength is what fuels our ministry. God’s power is what renews my life, and yours.

When we wait on the LORD,

When we tap into God’s power to follow God’s call, there is nothing we can’t do.

When we walk with God together.


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