Tag: young

Renewing Strength

eagle_molt_ron_dudleyIsaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39

You’ve all been around chickens – think of a molting chicken, with its bare little behind peeking through downy fluff and its spotty neck and wings that are all broken, and missing, its pinions– its wing feathers– are scattered from the barn to the house and back again.

I’ve been told before that the eagle described in Isaiah is described with the kind of word used for a molting, ragged, old bird. No spring chicken. No new chick. But an old wet bird missing so many feathers it cannot even fly.

Some of us might be molting in here, right now.

See, the Israelites Isaiah is writing to have been scattered all over. Isaiah is saying we can’t do this – can’t go home and rebuild – without everyone involved. We need those of you who are comfortable and retired. You remember our history and what things were like in the old days. And we need those of you who are busy, and earning money, and supporting everyone. You’re the hands that keep us going. And we need the youth, the energy and vibrancy of them, they are our future.

Isaiah addresses his prophecies to different people. Today’s reading is perhaps addressed to the elderly. For Isaiah hears God saying: lift up your eyes, and see – someone is older than you. Someone who created the stars and calls them out by name every night. Someone who is so old, humans appear like barely grown plants or little bugs. Someone who is older than dirt. Everlasting. Timeless. Beyond time.

You old folks watch those young folks. They run and run and run, but eventually, they’ll fall down exhausted. Then they, like you, will need the Lord to renew their strength. Whether very young or very old, our feathers get worn, our bodies and minds and souls get worn. But God offers to renew us. Keep us going.

Isaiah wants all the generations to know they are NEEDED. Tomorrow is not possible without every age, and without God who unites us and fuels us.

Isaiah is speaking about going back to Jerusalem to rebuild. He is encouraging and begging and telling all – go back! “In reality, though, they do not go back. They go forward. They accept a new adventure. The thesis sentence of this part of Isaiah comes in 43:19, that God does a “new thing.” The people will go back, but in reality, everything has changed. They cannot go back, they can only move into God’s new future.” ((Charles L. Aaron, Jr.)) The new temple is not like the old. This causes the elderly to cry in sorrow, while the youth proclaim with joy at the rebuilt temple. The new city is not like the old. The new people and new education are not like the old. There is a new thing. A new way of being Jewish in ancient Israel.

Look around us… we cannot go “back.” What church is today is a new thing. It will not be the church that the elderly remember. It won’t be packed and won’t be an automatic priority is everyone’s lives. But it is still church. It is a new set of wings for flying into the uncertain future – but wings gifted to us by God and we fly in the shelter of God. It is our shared future, but one that is only possible if we embrace all the generations. All the different gifts and different ways of knowing, worshiping, and serving God that come with different ages. Tomorrow’s church may have rock bands, or meet in coffee shops, or occur via online videos. It may be less worship and more service. We don’t know. But a new kind of church is emerging now. We’re witnessing God doing a new thing!

The church does this about every 500 years. 500 years ago was the Protestant Revolution. 500 years before that was the Great Schism that separated the one church into two – East and West. 500 years before that? The Bible was being collected, and wrote, and argued, and our religion was going from a Jewish cult to a state religion. 500 years before that? Jesus was walking and revolutionizing ancient Judaism.

We don’t know what the church will be. Our great-great-grand kids might have enough distance they can look back and say ‘Ah! Look what our ancestors lived through! What a wild time!’ but we don’t have that kind of hindsight. We can just celebrate we feel God recreating the church now.

We’re not to go back. We’re to go forward.

Consider Christ – he didn’t heal every person in Simon’s village. He did what he could, and then he retired, took a new set of wings, new energy from God, and moved on to continue his message. It seems kind of cruel. Jesus didn’t fix everything in that town. He didn’t make it all go back to the way things were in the Garden of Eden — with no cares, no worries, no illness.

Jesus wasn’t making things back to the way they were. Jesus was making the way things are changed into the future God is always creating and recreating. The future God is filling with ways for us to be healed, and heal, others.

Jesus rose out of that little town several disciples. One, I believe, was Simon’s mother in law. She is said to have been lifted up, like Christ was lifted up, and she served, as Jesus served. The other disciples continue to struggle with what their role is and in Mark, even abandon Jesus at the cross in the end. But throughout Mark, the women get it and stay. Stay for death. And stay for Resurrection. And through it all – stay and serve. To be Christian is to accept the new life of Christ, to be lifted up by God, and then to go out and serve. To go out and lift up others.

Jesus left the city not because everything was perfect, but because he had spread the message there and left behind people who heard the call, accepted the new life, and now were getting up to help others.

We’re not going to fix all the church’s problems ourselves. We’ll mount up on new wings over and over again, but it is not our job to do EVERYTHING. It is our job to spread the message, widen the welcome, value every age and generation and contribution.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary. When we rest, God is still working. God doesn’t get tired. Doesn’t need to rest. And so, it is this teamwork of us AND God who will welcome the new ways of being the church.

That may sound… exhausting. Especially for those of us who are molting. It is why Jesus offers a hand to us, even as we lie on our bed with fevers and ills, aches and pains, of all sorts. Offers that hand and says – let me lift you up. You don’t do this alone. We serve together.

So come today to the table where Christ invites you. Come and be served by Jesus, so you can go out and serve others. Come and renew your wings. Amen.


Never Orphaned

Acts 17:22-31hands-old-young
John 14:15-21


Orphan. This is one of those categories of people the Bible has a lot to say. Over and over again God tells us to care for the orphaned and the widows. To care for the fatherless and the stranger. To care for the outcast and the afflicted. A sign of God’s people is their love and care for those who are most vulnerable.

In these ancient cultures where our scripture comes from, men are the people who can own property and bring in income. So… a widow… or a child without a father…. where are they going to get food? Water? Shelter? Who is going to protect them from being victims of violence?

God says again and again – you are. You are their protection.

Jesus reminds us that it isn’t just widows and orphans God wants us to care for – but ALL. So he shows us again how to care for strangers, care for outcasts, care for the physically and mentally sick. Whomever is at risk, we are their guardians.

So who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

I tell you, I visited an orphanage.

I know – you tell me they are all closed. There are no more ran in the US and we only use the foster care system. But I tell you otherwise: I walked in and signed my name to the Visitor’s Sheet. Eyes poked out of doorways to see who this new person was with curiously and then disappeared back into their rooms. I got my badge that marked me as something even more different. That badge saying I’m permitted to be there, but not OF there. Permitted to enter, but also permitted to LEAVE. And I walked the halls of these orphans. Some laid in their beds calling for their mommies. Some had photos of their missing parents on their walls. Some asked me if I’d seen their loved ones, or knew who they themselves were.

Here, in this Alzheimer’s Unit, are the people who need others to give them food, and water, shelter. To protect them from violence. To be parental figures.

I found my orphan and she didn’t know who I was. But my orphan and I, we sat and talked anyways. Bit by bit, she told me a few memories of her parents, a sister… or a brother…

I sat and I thought it’s strange to think that nearly all of us will be orphans before we pass away. Eventually, nearly all of us, will bury first one parent, then a second, maybe even a third. We actually pray we pass away before our children, so it’s not a strange thing to be orphans… but yet… it doesn’t mean its any easier.

My orphan lost her parents decades ago, but the hurt was still so deep and fresh. And she still thought of them with mixed emotions. Relief – that they are no longer in pain. Relief – she’ll see them again. Sorrow – she doesn’t see them now. Sorrow she can’t ask them for advice, can’t introduce them to her great-grandchildren, can’t just share a cup of coffee. Simultaneously she recalled to me great bitterness and anger with her parents and great love and longing for her parents. No one has simple relationships with others when we’re honest.

The same is true in our scripture on feeling like an orphan today. This isn’t a simple relationship Jesus is describing. He is giving his farewell speech to his disciples. He’s telling them he’s going to a reunion with his father and they’re not welcome… yet. Telling them they know the way… but it isn’t on a map. And they are realizing Jesus is speaking about his death, and going to Heaven, and waiting for us there.

They are realizing they are about to be orphans.

Anger. They can’t go back home. They gave up their homes to follow Jesus. Fear. Who is going to protect them when Jesus is gone? Worry. Who are they going to turn to for advice? How are they going to keep following Jesus’ Way when Jesus isn’t there to lead them? Sorrow. There won’t be walks together and sitting down to dinner. Fear. How can they trust themselves to be the leader, the parent, the wise on when they know they know so little? Feeling so not ready.

And Jesus reassures them in these words. You do know the Way. What is more, the Spirit of Truth, which you have known through me, will be given to you to abide in you. This Holy Spirit will help guide you on the Way. We will meet again.

You will not be orphans. You will not be without someone caring for you. You have someone watching out for you, someone being your advocate – your helper and companion and champion – you have someone leading you, listening to you, loving you.

Want evidence? Lead, listen, and love another – and you will find you, too, are led, listened to, and loved.

So, again, who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember to lead, to listen to, and to love in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

Those who are aging are one of our brothers and sisters we need to give special protection to.

Another is those with physical or mental disabilities. Remember in Jesus’ time he cared not just for the widows and orphans… but also those with trouble walking, or speaking, or seeing. And those who suffered from mental illness and internal distress.

Today, our orphans are not in orphanages. They are in nursing homes, and at friends’ and families’ homes. And our orphans are in foster care and state custody. Our orphans are often homeless because there is so, so little help for those with mental demons.

Sadly, many police are like you and I, and not trained how to handle responding to someone in mental distress. So they see this ‘crazy erratic’ person, and choose to respond in ways that cause MORE distress and so more erratic behavior. Many, many mentally ill people are killed by responding officers because neither the cop nor the person know how to relate to each other – fear takes over – fear what the other will do – and one or the other goes from fear into attack mode.

Growing up, there was one of these guys living under a bridge near my hometown. Everyone knew him. He screamed at telephone poles most of the day. Where was his family? Did they know he was doing this? Had they passed away, had he run away and they lost track of him? Had he been more than what they could handle and care for?

… I’m his family, you know. So are you. Where were we?

Standing on the opposite street corner watching him and blaming his absent family. Judging them. When in actuality, Jesus commissions us – gives us the commandment – to love and care for those at risk and orphaned.

That man with mental illness is my brother. Your son. Our family.

And yes, he needed more help than any one set of parents, any one person, could give. But that is why we are more than one. We are the Body of Christ. Our parent in heaven, our risen Messiah, and our abiding Holy Spirit give us when we work together all that we need to care for all the orphans among us.

Paul argues to the Athenians in part that God isn’t like their statues. God doesn’t need us to feed God, bathe God, and bring God gold and silver because God provides US with everything and God isn’t IN a statue. Rather, God is in us and we are in God. We are God’s children, offspring.

In the same way, Jesus says he is in God, and we are in Jesus, and therefore with God. God doesn’t need us to care for God… but if we love Jesus, we will do as Jesus asks. Jesus asks us to love God – and love each other. Scripture tells us to love God, and love each other. The Spirit within us tells us to love God, and love each other. That Advocate reminds us again and again of the highest commandant: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind: and love others as you love yourself.

God doesn’t need bathed, need food, need support – God’s children do. The aging and the young, the physically or mentally challenged, or able or disabled, the often well or often ill – the widows and widowers – the orphans and the foster care kids – the moms and dads – the grandparents and neighbors – every single soul needs someone being their earthly advocate, just as we all need our Heavenly Advocate.

So who are the parents to the orphans?

Who are your parents?

We are. We are each other’s support, each other’s protection, each other’s advocates. We are each other’s family. We are the family of God.

Care for every person in some way – great or small.

Care for each other – here. And care for each other – out there, the strangers we are yet to meet.

We are never orphaned.

We are the children of God.

We are the family of God – and to love God is to love one another.