Roots and Wings
Isaiah 40:28-3/1Luke 8:11-15
I remember my first airplane ride. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and Syracuse University’s football team was playing in New York City. I was in the marching band, and was obligated to be at the game. I also had to perform in a concert that night back in Syracuse, a six-hour drive away. My parents, who lived in New York at the time, attended the game, then drove me to the airport, where I caught a plane that got me to Syracuse in time for the concert. I don’t remember much about the flight, but I do remember being in the air, and traveling the distance in much less than six hours. It was a thrill.
Today, flying isn’t as much fun, with crowded flights and airports, long waits in terminals, slow boarding procedures, and little leg room. But that day—wow! It was an experience.
Even with the inconveniences, if you have to get somewhere far away really fast, flying is the way to go. Many of us will put up with the hardships for the speed.
Isaiah could not have imagined airplanes. I’m sure he couldn’t have imagined moving through the air by any means. The closest he could come was a simile. Those who wait for the Lord shall “mount up with wings like eagles.” Isaiah knew what flight looked like. He had seen large birds soaring high above the earth, wings extended as they took advantage of air currents to float effortlessly, arriving at their destination quicker than any human could walk. When he imagined God strengthening those who had grown weary, this is the image that came to mind.
We moderns can visualize both kinds of flight: the speed and power of aircraft and the beauty of birds’ flight. We understand Isaiah’s example of the way God strengthens God’s people and helps them move to where God can use them.
But wings are not enough. They are the final step in God’s preparation for us to engage in the Christian journey. The process begins long before we take flight.
We can’t get anywhere in our Christian life without a solid base. If we’re not (to use one of my favorite lines from Paul) rooted and grounded in our Christian faith, we’ll never take off, never soar.
Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed helps us see the need for rootedness. He wanted people to understand the need for constancy and for time to grow in their life of faith, so he told a story of a man who planted a field. First century farmers didn’t have large machines to do the backbreaking work for them. They had to walk the field, throwing handfuls of seed to the left, front and right of their path. Of necessity, some seed fell on ground where nothing could grow successfully. In fact, there were three kinds of unproductive soil and one kind of productive soil. (We have to believe the majority of the soil fell into the last group, or the farmer would have wasted a lot of time and seed.)
The three kinds of unproductive soil had one element in common: the ground was not conducive to the seed taking root, and without roots, the seed wouldn’t grow. (Those of us who have spent any time pulling weeds know how true the reverse of this maxim is. If you don’t pull up roots and all, the weed comes right back. There’s a sermon in that.)
Before the green shoot appears, before the shoot flowers, before—to mix metaphors—the plant takes flight, the roots must be solid and strong. Without a healthy root system there will be no soaring.
God is the source of both our roots and our wings. Without God, we can’t get started. With God we can bloom where we’re planted, and soar to amazing heights.