On the Wings of Eagles
Sunday, July 4, 2021
Pastor Deb Kielsmeier
Lesson: Deuteronomy 32:10-12, Isaiah 40:21-31
One the best summer vacations our family took was to the Canadian Rockies. It is probably the most stunningly beautiful region I have visited in North America – filled with majestic snowcapped mountains and turquoise lakes. If you’ve never been there, it bucket-list worthy. If you go, on the Icefield Parkway between Banff and Jasper there is a short hike up Parker’s Ridge that is worth the climb. It is a steep 1.5 miles up with lots of switchbacks, but when you crest the ridge, you’ll find windswept wildflowers blanketing the hillside. Regal mountains stand on the horizon with the Saskatchewan Glacier hanging off a mountainside in the west and to the east, a deep canyon stretching as far the eye can see.
Our little family sat down to rest and soak in the view not too far from the trail and whenever a group of hikers crested the ridge they invariably began to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” (Yup, we also did that!)
As we were sitting there, I spotted a golden eagle and was mesmerizing watching it as it caught an updraft and soared miles down the valley, barely moving its wings. It is easy to understand why the eagle is our national symbol with the freedom and majesty they exude.
So why I am I talking about eagles? Well, metaphors are often used in the scriptures to try and describe God’s attributes. For example, God is described as a fortress, or a rock, a shield, a shepherd – AND, as an eagle.
In Exodus 19:4, when Israel was camped out at Mount Sinai, and God told Moses “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
And we heard in our scripture reading for today how God is likened to an eagle, hovering over her young, stirring up the nest, and catching her young on her wings and bearing them up.
Interestingly, the eagles in Israel are also golden eagles. They nest high up on cliffs, which is a precarious place for an eaglet, but inaccessible to predators. And their nests are huge, averaging 5 – 6 feet wide and 2 feet high, enclosing bowl about 3 by 2 feet deep. That is big enough for you to curl up in. They build these large nests by weaving together branches, and objects such as antlers, wire and even fence posts. Then, they will feather the bowl with moss, soft feathers and aromatic leaves that help repel insects.
The couple has one brood each year of one to three eggs and the eaglets always hatch in the order in which they were laid. About 10 weeks later, it is time for the eaglets to fledge or take their maiden flight. Now, remember the verse from Deuteronomy 32? It says that God is like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.
As the eaglets get bigger, the mother will hover about three feet above the nest, flapping her wings like crazy. This creates an updraft that pulls the eaglet up, and it also imprints on the mother’s activity. Hopefully the young eagle will begin to get the idea of being aloft, and flap to exercise their own wings. The parents also begin to limit the amount of food they feed them and place it closer and closer to the edge of the nest.
After all this, if the eaglets have not started to fly, the mother eagle will stir up the nest. This is not plumping up the pillows. No. She begins to toss out all the soft feathers, the moss and leaves. Then, with her strong beak, she will snap the twigs and branches and push them up on end. Not very cozy. If the fledglings linger too long, eagles have been known to destroy the nest underfoot.
The mother will also nudge her young to very edge of nest to encourage them into flight. Some claim that the mother eagle will nudge the fledgling right over and then swoop underneath to catch it and bear it up on her wings and back into nest to teach it how to fly. Most ornithologists agree that the fledglings are not usually pushed over the edge, however. But the mother eagle will swoop up underneath the fledgling if it is faltering in flight and let it rest on her wings until it has gained its strength or adjusted its balance.
WHY? Why would an eagle deliberately make her young hungry and uncomfortable? Why would she deliberately destroy their home and security? Why would she nudge them to the edge of extreme danger?
Why? Because eagles are made to soar. The eaglets just don’t know it yet. And here is the thing… they will never ever discover it if they stay in the nest.
Friends, God also wants YOU to soar. God wants you to be free and to ride heights of the wind.
Have you ever found that, through no fault of our own, life became very uncomfortable? It could be your health, your finances, your career, or a relationship. Suddenly are facing an unknown and uncertain future.
At those times you may even wonder if God has abandoned or forgotten you or is deaf to your pleas. Why is all this happening? It can feel like you are looking over the edge of a cliff and there is nothing under you rocks one hundred feet below.
I believe that, just like with Israel, God at times will take away the comfortable things that we cling to. It can feel like the nest is being stirred up and it is not fun. At all.
So that we might learn to soar. So that we might step out and discover gifts of faith and new life.
Right now, at Augustana, it feels a bit like looking over the side of the nest. Our beloved longtime pastor has retired, and we are not completely sure what the future holds. In any kind of transition, it is normal to have some anxiety. You may wonder, how is this going to work out? Will we be okay?
The truth is, we know nothing about what tomorrow may bring, but we do know the one who holds the future. And underneath us are the everlasting arms of God. It takes courage and faith to trust that God’s spirit will lead and sustain us into the future,
31 But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed. They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak.