February 4, 2018; Grasshoppers and Eagles
Pastor Rebecca Ellenson; ICCM
Isaiah 40:31 is one of those verses of scripture many of us know by heart, thanks to a song. Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength, they shall mount up on wings, as eagles, they shall run and not be weary they shall walk and not faint. It expresses a great hope –that God would lift us up on Eagle’s wings. Who wouldn’t love the idea of soaring above it all, like a swift and strong eagle, with a bird’s eye view of life below.
But if we back up to the beginning of our reading for today we find another image altogether, it says: God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. It’s so true. Much of life is lived not high soaring above but low down with the grasshoppers. Isaiah had such a gift for metaphor—the humble grasshopper and the lofty eagle.
Aesop’s fables portray the grasshopper as a lazy, playful bug that has nothing stored up for the winter. The unreliable creature must beg for food and shelter from the industrious ant,. Humans generally have a rather negative view of the grasshopper. We tend to see it as a pest that can eat our crops.
In fact grasshoppers are quite interesting. They have wings too; nothing like eagles’ wings. They cannot soar– but, they can leap 20 times more than their own body length. For a human being that would be the equivalent of a flying leap of 40 yards. Not even the star players in today’s Superbowl can match that ability.
Grasshoppers are one of the most successful species on the planet, with 18,000 different varieties and a so many colors. Apparently, the brighter colors of grasshoppers warn birds that they are not good to eat. When I was a little girl my uncle Chris brought a little box of fried grasshopper home from one of his world adventures. I can’t tell you if they tasted good or not. I didn’t try them.
When I was little one of my favorite TV shows starred David Carradine. Does anyone else here remember the weekly drama “Kung Fu?” The main character was a wandering Chinese monk who immigrated to the US in the latter part of the 19th century. He passed from one Wild West town to the next, spreading Zen wisdom and kicking the snot out of all the town bullies. Each episode would start with a flash back to his memories as a boy growing up in the monastery. Before delivering a pearl of wisdom, his master would affectionately call him “Grasshopper.”
There’s something about grasshoppers that suggests an adolescent trying to come into maturity. The little bugs look like their tongue is perpetually sticking out, they are quick to leap away and hide in the grass and they have a built-in fiddle to play away the day. Grasshopper seems like an excellent name for a spiritual novice.
Perhaps Isaiah chose grasshoppers to represent humanity not only because they have wings, though they are much less endowed than eagles, but also because they have 5 pair of eyes. Part of their adaptability and survival skill come from their ability to see everything around them in a great panorama. The ability to see the whole wide horizon can take us beyond being a spiritual novice. For, if we only see the next blade of grass in front of us, we will not grow and thrive. As long as we remain down in the grass, content to only look in front of us, we quickly become weighed down by minutia, annoyed by the attitudes of other people, caught up in our own selfish struggles, wondering why the grass doesn’t taste better or worried that we will run out of grass altogether.
When I read this passage from Isaiah, I hear him saying to us, “Look grasshopper…Have you not seen, have you not heard? Look around at the big world. Behind it all is the Mystery of the Universe, The expansive power of life, The Ground of our Being, Ultimate Reality, God, a power that can make a small grasshopper soar like an eagle.”
John Claypool, at one time the pastor of the Crescent Hill Baptist Church, had a little daughter who suffered with leukemia. When she went into remission, everybody thought that maybe God had healed her. But on an Easter Sunday morning, she went into a terrible relapse.
In his book, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler, Claypool relates how for two weeks his daughter was wracked with pain, her eyes swollen shut. She asked him, “Daddy, did you talk to God about my leukemia?” He said, “Yes, dear, we’ve been praying for you.” She asked, “Did you ask him how long the leukemia would last? What did God say?” What do you say to your daughter when you can’t help her, and the heavens are silent? Emotionally and spiritually, he was exhausted. A few hours later, she died.
The following Sunday morning, John Claypool got into the pulpit to preach. He preached on Isaiah 40:31, which says, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Dr. Claypool said something to the effect, “There are three stages of life. Sometimes we mount up with wings as an eagle and fly. We’re on top of the world. Sometimes we run, and we don’t grow weary. We just go through the routine. Sometimes it’s all we can do to walk and not faint, and I need your prayers and your encouragement.”
What is it that sustains you, strengthens you, energizes you for the journey of your life? What do you do on a regular basis to keep going even when you are just too weary to carry on? Our journey though life can be exhausting and sapping at times, and for many there is no shortage of things that wear us down.
We learn from our gospel that there were days in the life of Jesus where it seems he was overwhelmed, too. As we read last week, he started out teaching in the synagogue only to be interrupted by a screaming man with an evil spirit. When he was able to heal the man the word spread and his fame grew. In our reading for today, Jesus returned to Simon Peter and Andrew’s home where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. News about that healing quickly spread too and for the rest of the day Jesus healed all those who gathered outside Simon’s house. The next morning as he was trying to go off for a time of quiet prayer and reflection, Simon interrupted him and urged him to get back to the work of preaching and healing. Jesus must have been exhausted.
Jesus went off to pray often and he urged the disciples to take time for prayer and reflection too: though I don’t get the sense that they listened very often. Prayer time for Jesus was not only a time of rest and quiet though. It was also a time of wrestling and questioning. No doubt prayer was a break in the relentless pace and pressing needs of the crowds, but it was also a time of wondering about the next step, and perhaps even anguish over the many needs of those who surrounded him. Jesus needed and sought those times apart, those times to be in prayer to sustain him for his journey. The words of Isaiah must have been known to him: “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.”
Waiting on the Lord means carrying on with our days in a state of trust that we are not in this alone. When we take time to be renewed, to listen for the Wisdom that is Eternal we will find the resources for dealing with whatever comes up.
Just yesterday I was visiting with someone whose burden is heavy right now. She told me that she felt like David was a kindred spirit, with the way the psalms express the full range of emotions, anger, sadness, fear, distress. It is through that expression that we wind our way around to praise. Isaiah’s advice for renewal is to take the time to go off by yourself and open yourself to God’s leading, to God’s eagle like strength. You don’t have to kneel, or fold your hands, or use religious language. There are no perfect words or formats, just stop and open yourself to God’s leading.
Each of you know what sustains you: it may be music, or sitting quietly and watching the hummingbirds, or reflecting on a passage of scripture. It could be walking on the beach or the Malecón, or just sitting and breathing, there is no “right way” to do prayer time. Jesus didn’t just pray on his knees in a garden. He went off in a boat, out in the wilderness, just off by himself whenever he could. He just knew he needed to take the time and so do we!
Yes, we are called to follow Jesus through actions: caring for others, doing justice, preaching the good news with our lives, sharing what we have, and yes, even giving of our treasure and talents. And, we are also called, like Jesus, to find what sustains us for the journey. Take the time to find your eagle’s wings, or your grasshopper wings and leaping strength. Use your vision to see beyond the blades of grass in front of you. This is not just another task for your to do list…it is a life-giving practice that will recharge your very soul! Stop and be and know that God is with you. Amen.