Armed Forces Sunday – 2018 LSB #848
Text – Isaiah 40:31
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.
THE LORD SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH
The prophet Isaiah calls to mind the desperate circumstances of God’s people in Babylon. The people of Israel were captured & enslaved because of their disobedience. They were in a foreign land, but the Lord reminds His people they are not forgotten or abandoned. He will soon rescue them from bondage. This is a foretaste of the future fulfillment with Christ on the cross.
Today is a great day – a day of thankfulness! As redeemed children of God in Christ Jesus, forgiven & restored, we take time to acknowledge & say, “Thank you.”
Thank you 1st to our Lord Jesus for coming into the world to redeem us from our sins. “Thank you” for the men & women who serve & have served our nation. “Thank you” for their families, who stand beside them while they enter military service, deploy in harm’s way & return home. We are indeed a thankful people because, & by way of, our redemption in Christ.
As we gather in worship we hear God’s Law & are reminded of our fallen humanity & our sinfulness – helpless & pathetic, beat up & tired, authors of our own misery & threadbare due to our fallen condition. We are sinners. We are miserable for it & we deserve nothing but death, yet, we are not abandoned!
Our Lord comes to us & saves us from eternal death. The Son of God takes on the form of a servant & is the sacrificial lamb. Christ Jesus took our sins – all our sins – & nailed them to the cross. We are forgiven, redeemed & restored to everlasting life. We are indeed a thankful people. We join in confession of sins & receive absolution. What a comforting blessing!
We are assured pardon & peace in the forgiveness of sins by the blood of Jesus on the
cross. Earlier, we heard words of Absolution in the liturgy. Absolution – spoken by the pastor – bought & paid for by Christ. As we are repentant, the words ring in our ears with joy-filled resonance. Through Jesus, whose death on the cross redeems us, we are lifted up as on eagles’ wings, pulled out of the quagmire of misery & death. We are so thankful.
In humility & thankfulness, we seek ways to live a new life made holy through the work & activity of Christ alone. We, as a congregation, acknowledge, give thanks to God, & call to mind those who serve in the military. As Lutherans, the powerful theology of the cross allows us to recognize the role of the military, & service to country, as good & godly.
A military commander once came to Martin Luther with questions concerning war, its barbarity, & the role that service personnel have in military conflict. Luther saw many of the concerns the commander witnessed among the soldiers in Wittenberg.
In 1526, he wrote a short essay titled “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved.” It spoke of God’s words of promise, the deep, rich theology of the cross we have as Christians confronted by war, & it gave advice from a caring pastor to both enlisted personnel & officers.
Never one to sugar coat the violence & brutality of war, Luther described the role of those in the military as holy, godly & instituted by the Lord Himself. The following is what he said about all who serve their country in the armed forces:
“… when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, & creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to the love of Christ. But when I think of how it protects the good & keeps & preserves wife & child, house & farm, property, & honor & peace, then I see how precious & godly this work is.”
Luther understood the world as a place of sin & fallen humanity. He knew of the violence of war & in how ghastly a manner it devastates nations, institutions, the land & its
citizens. For help, Luther turned to Holy Scripture & found that Romans 13 tells us with clarity that God honors the sword.
Like people in Luther’s day, we also know about sin. We know about dissension & conflict. We know about war. It is horrific & never glorious – never actively sought by a godly nation – never seen as a solution when other opportunities present themselves.
All of you know someone who served in the military. Many know of men & women who died in service to our country. Some of you know those who were wounded. Still others know men & women who returned from harm’s way & were never the same.
There is no greater way to thank God & acknowledge those who serve than sharing from the prophet Isaiah: “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.” (Is. 40:31)
The words of Isaiah recorded in the 40th chapter are among the most famous passages in Scripture. The soothing promises of God are so powerful. They resonate in a culture looking for peace & consolation. Many people in our American society today are simply tired. They are worn out & fatigued by what they hear & see around them.
The causes of being worn out are endless, but we understand it as sin & the consequence of living in a fallen world. The words of Isaiah are in Holy Scripture to give encouragement to God’s people. By the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, things looked dismal for the children of God.
As a consequence of their rebelliousness, they are ripped away from the land of Israel & Jerusalem. Its temple is destroyed. The people are locked away in a foreign land. The war brought desolation, slavery & death. It was a crushing, humiliating defeat. At the time of this prophecy, they are enslaved to the rulers of Babylon.
Far from home with broken hearts, they long for restoration with God. They are a tired &
defeated people, but through the prophet Isaiah, God speaks words of consolation, restoration & peace. Chapter 40 is all about comfort, the steadfastness of God’s Word & promise. The chapter points to the coming of Christ. It reassures the people of the supreme power of the eternal Lord over nations & powers. God keeps & fulfills His promises.
Isaiah brought encouragement, reminding Israel – you still belong to the Almighty. As those redeemed by Christ, we need to hear the same promises! Due to our fallen humanity, it is essential to recognize God is in control of every aspect of our lives. Knowing that is a great comfort to those in all walks of life, including those who serve in the military.
Our men & women who serve do so voluntarily & keep us safe from our enemies. As Luther said in citing the book of Romans, service in the military is a godly, blessed vocation. It is not without peril or self-sacrifice, but it is a good thing to serve your nation. Those who serve need to hear the Good News that they, too, are granted life eternal through Christ Jesus.
Talk with those who serve our nation. They’ve all had experiences of being alone while guarding the frontiers of our freedom. They understand what it means to be weary & tired – standing watch when fatigued – pulling guard duty while “bone tired.”
They’ve scanned a perimeter while suppressing thoughts of home to stay focused on the mission, or analyzed laborious data with their heart elsewhere. Military service can be routine & boring. Walking patrols or standing watch for endless hours – sitting & waiting for everything from food to fuel to transportation. The monotony is often broken by terror & destruction.
Many Christians serve our country as leaders in the military. Caring for people under their charge they shoulder a unique burden – it is the leader who decides whom to place in harm’s way. This is just a small snapshot of the sacrifices in military service.
Hearing the words of Isaiah 40, “they shall renew their strength,” is such good news & it
is rooted in Christ our Savior. “They shall mount up with wings like eagles” has even worked its way into secular society & contemporary Christian music, yet, they don’t get it right.
Posters of Isaiah 40:31 adorn locker rooms & places of business, often with a sweeping portrait of a magnificent eagle. The bird is lifting high, soaring above a rugged, impassable mountain. The phrase “on eagles’ wings” is scrolled on the poster in waxing calligraphy. It’s as if to say: “It’s going to be alright. Keep trying. You can do it.”
Eventually, you’ll soar above obstacles if you try hard enough. Your personal best will happen, & you will meet your sales quota.” So much more is going on in this verse than achieving goals & overcoming obstacles. This is a verse about God & His plan of salvation – a plan which you do not have the capability to accomplish.
“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint” is about the promise of God that frees the children of Israel from captivity.
It’s about the promise of God that points to the cross & the sending of a Messiah which free humanity from bondage & slavery to sin. That guaranteed freedom is the force & power behind words of such comfort & peace. As Christians, we know this well.
Hymn writers know the beauty of God’s promise in Isaiah 40. There are over 250 hymns in the English language attributed to it! Among the more popular are “Fight the Good Fight,” “From All That Dwell Below the Skies,” “On Eagles’ Wings” & “This Is My Father’s World.” All revolve around God’s promise & His activity to rescue humanity through Jesus.
Years ago, the Academy Award-Winning film “Chariots of Fire” used Isaiah 40:31 in an artistic manner. A picture was painted to illustrate human strength compared to & against the eternal might of God. Imagine if you will, the words of Isaiah 40:31 read aloud while scenes of the great hopefuls in Britain’s Olympic team suffer humiliating defeat after humiliating defeat. These strong, powerful men lose races, tumble over in mud-covered embarrassment, & are soaked in inconsolable grief – all those years of training & hopes crushed. The text of Isaiah 40, in this case, captures the themes of futility, loss & inconsolable grief.
The prophet Isaiah wants you to hear God’s Good News of “Christ alone” forgiveness. That is what strengthens us. That is what lifts us up. It is the greatest act of love in human history. It is Christ’s suffering & death on the cross that reconciles you to God. It is His wings! It is His bearing! God is lifting us up through Christ while He is on the cross.
Clearly, Isaiah prophesies about a great & wonderful act only accomplished by God. This magnificent deed is achieved only through Jesus. Hear again the words of Isaiah 40:31, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run & not be weary; they shall walk & not faint.”
Today is a day of giving thanks. Be thankful for those who took up our country’s call to serve nation & family. Be thankful for the love of God in Christ Jesus, whom the prophet Isaiah personifies. By Christ’s death, we are renewed to life everlasting. We shall run & not be weary. We shall walk & not faint – in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lord, whose love through humble service bore the weight of human need, who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. As we worship, grant us vision, till Your love’s revealing light in its height & depth & greatness, dawns upon our quickened sight, making known the needs & burdens Your compassion bids us bear, stirring us to tireless striving, Your abundant life to share. Amen. LSB 848:1 & 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet