Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 8, 2009

2009.02.08 “The Rising”

Central United Methodist Church

“The Rising”

Isaiah 40: 21 – 31; Mark 1: 29 – 39

Pastor David L. Haley

February 8th, 2009

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

but 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.” – Isaiah 40: 28 – 31



Bruce Springsteen fans will recognize my sermon title today as the title of one of The Boss’s albums, as well as the title of one of the album’s best – and one of my personal favorite – songs. 


“The Rising” was written after 9/11, and in symbolic language, tells the story of one of those 343 firefighters who headed up the stairwell of the World Trade Towers that fateful morning, and never came back. 


In the song, Springsteen turns a sad and tragic story into a song of strength, even resurrection. As Springsteen has put it, “The verses are the blues, the chorus is the gospel.”


“Come on up for the rising

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising tonight”


As reviewer Kevin Cherry put it in The National Review when the song came out: 

“What Springsteen has done brilliantly, therefore, is capture the two near-opposite feelings of most Americans in the days and weeks after September 11: on the one hand, a deep grief for the lives lost; on the other, a belief that we will “rise up.” All of the songs are tinged with despair, but there is something else — something far less than optimism or hope, but more akin to, well, faith: faith that we can join together and struggle through difficult times, that we can “rise up.” (“Come on Up for the Rising,” by Kevin M. Cherry, The National Review, July 29, 2002)


Now, facing a new kind of national crisis, perhaps that’s why – with Obama’s approval – it was sung, accompanied by a Gospel choir, during the “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial on January 18th


Now, facing a new kind of national crisis, we again find ourselves fearful and anxious, not so much of an attack by enemies as the slow erosion of so much that we have worked for: our jobs, our homes, our future.  The hundredths of thousands of jobs lost each week is frightening: each one represents a person, a family, whose future has suddenly become clouded and threatened.  Is it possible for someone in that situation to rise up from such depression and despair?  Is it possible for us to rise up from this crisis that threatens us all?

That is indeed, the invitation offered us in today’s Scriptures, both literally and metaphorically. It is an invitation to be raised up in mind, body, and spirit, by the strength of God, from whatever circumstances depress us, drain us, crush us down. When you feel like you have no more strength of your own to rise up, be raised up by the strength which God supplies.

This invitation to be raised up by the strength which God supplies is issued literally in both the Old Testament text from Isaiah the prophet and dramatically in the Gospel text about Jesus from the Gospel of Mark.

Time and again through the Advent season, we heard how powerful the words of this 6th century prophet are, still resounding in our time. Time and again, the words of this ancient prophet overpower everything else we read.

Indeed, Isaiah chapter 40 – the beginning of what is known as 2nd Isaiah – is one of the great chapters of the Bible.  While 1st Isaiah (chapters 1 – 39) sounds a message of judgment, 2nd Isaiah offers a message of comfort and encouragement.  (If you don’t know it, you may want to look it up this week and read it.)

After having their homeland, Judah, and their capital, Jerusalem, destroyed, the people – God’s people – are taken into captivity into Babylon.  Finally, after 70 years, they are allowed to return, which marks the occasion of Isaiah chapter 40’s word of comfort:  “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”

If that’s the way the chapter begins, our text today is the way it ends.  Perhaps, as wonderful as the news of return was to hear, perhaps they felt like they didn’t have the strength to do it.  Pack up your belongings, tear up your life, and trek homewards, to pick up the pieces and start all over again – perhaps like Hurricane Katrina exiles returning to New Orleans might have felt.  Maybe they wondered if they had the strength to “rise up” and do it.  Ever felt like that in your life?

The last time I preached this sermon, the Sunday before I had been involved in a house fire in West Chicago that had taken the lives of two children, ages 7 and 3. It was traumatic for everyone involved.  When I thought of the inconsolable loss those children’s parents had suffered, honestly, I could barely imagine how they could pick themselves up and go on.

When, a few days later at the funeral home, I went with police and fire officials to the funeral home to express our condolences, I tried to say to the mother what my fellow firefighters had asked me to say: “We tried our best to rescue your children, we’re so sorry we could not.”  I’ll never forget what she had to say:  “I know you did,” she said through her tears.  And then she added, “God will get us through.” 

Sometimes, that is the only way we make it:  in the midst of impossible circumstances, when we’re not sure if we can do it, God gets us through.

In Isaiah’s words, the dominating and descriptive image, which you will hear over and again, is that God can help you “rise up”, as if to soar on eagle’s wings:

But 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.”

Now, as if we need an illustration of that, we are provided one in Mark’s Gospel, from a “Day in the Life” of Jesus.

And what a day he had: it almost makes you breathless just to read it! “Immediately,” says Mark, “Jesus did this; “immediately Jesus did that.”

With his ministry just getting underway, after speaking in the synagogue — where he was confronted by a crazy person yelling at him — perhaps Jesus was ready for a little break, so he accepted the invitation to go to Simon and Andrew’s house for Sabbath dinner.

What he found was that the cook — Simon’s mother-in-law — was sick in bed with a fever.  So – as we’d like to think – out of compassion, and not just to expedite lunch — he healed her. Pay attention to what the text says, which is that “Jesus came and took her by the hand and raised her up.” (“Come on up for the rising, Come on up, lay your hands in mine . . .) That word for raised or lifted up is the same one used for what happened to Jesus on the cross, and also on Easter morning — “He is not here, he is raised up”. 

Talk about “renewing her strength, running and not being weary, walking and not fainting,” immediately Simon’s mother-in-law was up and cooking, both literally and figuratively.

        But even after eating, there was no time to watch the football game. When they heard the news, crowds of people converged on the house, the sick and afflicted, people seeking attention and care, the whole city, it seemed, lined up at the door.  I always think of the how the old hymn by Henry Twells, “At Even, ere the Sun was Set”, put it:

“At even, ere the sun was set . . .

the sick, O Lord, around thee lay.

Some are sick and some are sad . . .

and some have lost the love they had”

        Do you ever wonder, in the light of such overwhelming need, did Jesus ever feel overwhelmed? Didn’t he ever feel like he couldn’t face another day, couldn’t face another upturned human face, didn’t want to see another leper, hear another sob story, didn’t want to see anyone reaching out to touch him again? Did he ever despair because he couldn’t staunch the sea of human need, couldn’t rescue every victim who needed rescuing? Was he ever tempted to yell, as we might: “Can you people please give me a break?”    

There’s no record of Jesus saying or doing that, although there are occasional signs of exasperation. What the text does say Jesus did is this: early the next morning before dawn, he escaped to a lonely place to pray, to seek renewal before God, to get the “fresh strength” Isaiah promised to those who wait upon God.  This despite that fact – or precisely because of it – that, as his disciples said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”

You might say, as some of said, that portrayed in this story about Jesus are the two essential movements of the spiritual life: to go out into the world, toward others in ministry; but equally important to retreat from the world, toward God, in prayer and renewal.  The Christian life is not either/or; it is both/and.

As a congregation, especially as we move toward a vote on the fate of the log cabin, let us note that these are the two greatest single needs we ask of our church buildings: as a base of operations to go out and meet the needs of our community; but also as a place of spiritual retreat – a sanctuary – where we can gather the spiritual strength to continue to serve.

I challenge each of you to look upon these two essential movements of the spiritual life as essential movements of your life as well. As you go about your life, consider yourself in ministry. But, in order to keep from being overwhelmed by need and despair, you balance this with a time and a place where you can be renewed by God.  The old man, Lao Tzu, said it well in the Tao te Ching:

“Break into the peace within,

Hold attention in stillness,

And in the world outside

You will ably master the ten thousand things.”

In both these texts is offered and portrayed this invitation to “rise up” beyond our fears and anxieties, to “rise up” from whatever circumstances depress us, drain us, or crush us down, and to soar as though on eagle’s wings, by the strength which God can provide.

On my recent trip to Rome, I finally got my long-awaited opportunity to sit in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s 16th century masterpiece.  It took Michelangelo four years of hard work to finish the Pope’s ceiling, but it has dazzled everyone since.

One of the centerpieces of the ceiling, is Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Adam, newly formed in the image of God, lounges dreamily in naked innocence.  Above, God, with God’s entourage, soars in a whirl of activity. 

But at the center of the scene are the two reaching hands of Adam and of God.  Michelangelo has portrayed Adam’s hand as limp and passive; and God’s as strong and forceful, God’s finger twitching upward with energy. Here is the moment of creation, as God passes to the human race the spark of life.

What today’s Scriptures say, is that, God is still available. In my life, and in your life, God can do it again.

“Come on up for the rising

Come on up, lay your hands in mine

Come on up for the rising

Come on up for the rising tonight”


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