February 7, 2021 – Duke Lutherans Evening Prayer
Rev. Amanda Highben
Text: Isaiah 40:27-31
I’m not sure when I started noticing this on social media, but sometimes someone will write “I see you” whenever they want to lift up or show solidarity with people who have been made to feel invisible or forgotten, people who labor without receiving rest or credit. “I see you,” says a Tweet, “nurses working twelve-hour shifts giving your all to your patients without proper protective equipment.” “Teachers trying to engage your squirmy first-graders over Zoom, I see you.” “Single parents working from home, young new pastor preaching against the sin of white supremacy, exhausted graduate student working long hours with little sleep and just ready to graduate already. I see you.”
When I first read our passage from Isaiah, I felt like the prophet was also saying “I see you.” Maybe you heard this too, especially when the poet acknowledges that “even youth will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted.” Maybe you felt like these words were spoken to you in your own weariness and you felt seen, recognized. Because in theory the young should not tire, but in reality you know fatigue all too well. Now nearly a year into COVID and still doing virtual or hybrid classes, meeting deadline after deadline but not yet free to be with your loved ones or friends all together in one room or at a common table. Some of us have not been home in a long time. We are fatigued in body, mind, and spirit. “Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted.” “I see you,” says Isaiah. “I have not forgotten you,” says the Lord who is the everlasting God.
The people of Israel thought God had forgotten them. Robbed of their promised land and forced to live as exiles in a foreign kingdom, they thought God was no longer anywhere to be found. Either God was hiding from them, or God could no longer see them, so far were they from home, cut-off from their roots and the beloved Temple where they encountered and worshipped the God of their ancestors. And in their sorrow their vision of God narrowed; exhausted by grief, they thought it was possible for the Creator of the ends of the universe to somehow lose sight of them, to disregard their plight and apparently move on to other things.
But aren’t we sometimes guilty of the same limited thinking? Like the people of Israel, we forget who God is and who we are because of God’s power and grace. As the prophet declares, the everlasting God does not “faint or grow weary, his understanding is unsearchable.” This truth in itself is startling but the far more miraculous thing is that this God knows us and calls us each by name. Just a few verses earlier Isaiah says God is the one “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.” This God would never and could never forget you; this God “gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” This God says, “I see you and I love you. Nothing in heaven or on earth could separate you from my love.”
Still, there are days when the idea of “mount[ing] up with wings like eagles” as Isaiah writes is laughable. Days when you can barely get out of bed because you pulled yet another all-nighter. Days when you’ve submitted countless job applications and yet heard from no one. Days when it seems like this pandemic will never end or hateful conspiracy theories will continue to ensnare people in fear and intolerance. Sometimes the best you can do is put one foot in front of the other, sometimes all you can is “walk and not be faint.”
In the poetry of the Hebrew Bible there is rhetorical device called triplets…three words or phrases that grow in emphasis or importance from the first to the third. This is the case for the last three lines of our passage from Isaiah. Except, the poet here subverts our expectations because the order is reversed. You’d think that walking without fainting would come first, then running without being weary, and finally, “mount[ing] up with wings like eagles.” After all, flying like an eagle is far better than walking, isn’t it?! But sometimes, dear ones, it is enough to just walk forward, step after step after step. Sometimes walking, instead of beating yourself up for not flying, is the most courageous thing you can do…and it is enough. What is more, God is enough, and God promises that as you walk, or crawl, or stumble but get back up again, the Creator of the ends of the universe shall renew your strength. “I have not forgotten you,” says the Lord who is the everlasting God. “I see you.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.