Second Weekend After Pentecost (A/RCL): "On Eagle's Wings"
June 17-18, 2017
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
“Our Father who art in heaven.” Why is God called Father?
· Jesus called God “Father” and even “Abba” (Aramaic for Daddy)
· In Hebrew Scripture, also, we find these references:
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you?
Father of orphans and protector of widows
is God in his holy habitation.
…O LORD, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Scripture uses metaphor to describe the indescribable God: God is Father/Creator, heavenly Parent, Potter, Protector.
Last week we talked about the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or in non-gender terms, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Before the people of Israel recognized Yahweh as their Creator, they knew the great God as their Redeemer – not as in Jesus Christ, but as in the God of the Exodus who sent Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Let my people go!”
In today’s first lesson from the book of Exodus, on the safe side of the Red Sea, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God has Moses remind the people of Israel about their redemption from slavery in Egypt:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4)
This reference to the “eagle God” is great follow-up to our conversations these last couple weeks about the importance of not “domesticating” God, not making God too cozy. Remember: though the Holy Spirit may have descended like a dove upon Jesus after His baptism, the Holy Spirit is also dynamite that explodes the status quo. The third Person of the Trinity is also the spiritual “third rail” that electrifies our lives with power from on high, sometimes blessing us with the peace that passes understanding and other times disturbing our peace, creating holy turmoil to effect divine change in this world, alternately comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
I can’t hear about God bearing Israel (and us) on eagles’ wings without thinking of a couple scenes from Lord of the Rings. In one, the wizard Gandalf is imprisoned at the top of an impossibly tall tower (Orthanc). The audience gasps as he launches himself off the edge, only to be flooded with relief at the sight of a huge eagle arriving at precisely the right moment, wings outstretched to catch the wizard and bear him away to safety. The other scene is near the end of the third movie, Mt. Doom having erupted like a volcano, spewing lava everywhere, leaving Frodo and Sam stranded on a tiny foothold and in danger of being swept away by the rising ocean of molten rock. The same eagle, Gwaihir the Windlord, arrives in the nick of time, plucks them up by the nape of their necks and carries them out of harm’s way. “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
No, the Israelites enslaved in Egypt weren’t rescued by a convocation of eagles. (That really is the word for a flock of eagles – I looked it up! Not as poetic as an “exaltation of larks” or a “parliament of owls,” but interesting!) Being born on eagles’ wings is a poetic way of describing how a warrior-like God acted to deliver them “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” sending the plagues to force Pharaoh’s hand, parting the waters of the Red Sea so they could cross dry-shod, and drowning the Egyptians who came in pursuit. This God exercises “majestic, devastating power.”1
Listen to another description of the “eagle God” beloved by the authors of Hebrew Scripture. This God comes across both as paternal and maternal, fatherly and motherly. (I like that. My dad was a single parent, so he had to draw upon both his masculine and feminine qualities in raising his daughters solo.) This beautiful passage is from Deuteronomy 32, verses 10-13:
[The LORD] sustained [Israel] in a desert land,
in a howling wilderness waste;
he shielded him, cared for him,
guarded him as the apple of his eye.
As an eagle stirs up its nest,
and hovers over its young;
as it spreads its wings, takes them up,
and bears them aloft on its pinions,
the LORD alone guided him…
He set him atop the heights of the land,
and fed him with produce of the field;
he nursed him with honey from the crags…
Apparently when eagle parents intuit the eaglets are ready to spread their wings, they “stir up” the nest, nudging them out. The parents are on-the-ready, though, in case the babies start to plummet, to swoop underneath and catch them on their wings, like Gwaihir caught Gandalf. A parent eagle’s wings, then, can serve as a flying carpet or an umbrella in the rain or a shield from danger. The psalms, especially, are filled with references to the protection we find “in the shadow of your wings.” (Cf. Psalms 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 63:7, 91:4). I really wish Psalm 91 had been assigned for this weekend. That’s where we get the refrain for the popular hymn, “On Eagle’s Wings”: “And I will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of my hand.”
God is Father, God is Mother, God is Creator, God is Redeemer, God is Protector, God is Eagle, God is Dove. These are just a few examples of the many metaphors we use to try to get our arms around the immense God. Since God is Spirit, God is all of these things and none of these things and infinitely more than we know. We have to use literary license to describe our indescribable God – but we should do so humbly, resisting the temptation to cut the divine down to human size. Remember this definition of an idol? “A god cast in our own image that requires of us only what we are willing to give.”
On this Father’s Day weekend let’s rejoice in the Father who redeemed the people of Israel from physical slavery in Egypt and who sent the Son to redeem us from spiritual slavery imposed by sin. Let’s remember that, like Israel, we are redeemed not just for our own sakes but for the sake of the world. 1 Peter 2:9 echoes the language of Exodus 19 to remind us of our sacred duty in this world:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
1The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1994), p. 833.
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham