Fifth Sunday After Epiphany

Isaiah 40:21-31
Mark 1:29-39
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It occurs to me that memory is an integral part of our life of faith.  Especially these days, it’s easy to rush on to the next thing once we see our way through a matter.

Not so long ago, we were invited to remember our baptism.  Do you remember that odd looking exercise a few weeks ago when Isaiah and Rebecca stood at the front of the church and with a bit of water reminded us of our baptism and that we are claimed as beloved sons and daughters of God?

Again, this morning, the prophet Isaiah invites us to remember the path that we have set out on is a path of faith – not church membership, though I like that too.  But we have set out seeking an encounter with the Lord, Jesus Christ and to grow in the ways of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah calls us to remember GOD: “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth who you are?  And who your Creator is?  You are like grasshoppers; a drop in the bucket or fine dust.  But your Creator is high and lifted up.  He stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in.  He brings princes to naught and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”[1]

This beautiful passage first spoken in the 6th century, with all of its poetry and symbolism,  has been used for hundreds of years to inspire and encourage individuals and groups of people to not give up on life.  Don’t give up on God.

It was spoken to a people who found themselves in exile; held captive in a foreign land.  Their day-to-day reality was difficult at best.   They had been forced away from their homes and scattered like refugees from the very land that had once held promise.  They were a people who longed for Jerusalem but who were forced to weep by the rivers of Babylon.  They had grown tired and weary; oppressed and despondent.  And they had concluded that the gods of their captors were stronger than the God they had known.  Or worse yet, perhaps their God did not really exist at all.  Even their children had become weary and anguished.

Sometimes when people are talking to me about certain things that are going on in their lives or those they love, I will often stop and ask about their faith.  How are they doing?  Because I know that even the strongest among us at times can grow weary; when it’s our fight.  Our body.  Our child.  We can pray for a long time and keep praying for a long time; keep trusting and believing.  We can keep using the right language for a good long while – but after a while and there seems to be no relief at all, it’s easy for faith to wane.  It’s easy to grow tired in body, mind, and spirit.

That’s why we work so hard at worship here.  It’s far from perfect, I know.  But there is a sensibility that we offer our best selves on Sunday morning because I suspect that every week someone crosses the threshold of those doors who has gone the last mile of the way.  It took everything they had just to get themselves up, put on some clothes, catch a bus, a subway, or a cab to get here – hoping, trusting, anticipating that the church would be the church, no matter what.  Even if they have not been inside a church building for months or years, they are counting on the church still being the church.  Is there a word from the Lord?  Is there any good news—a prayer, a scripture, song, or hymn—that will touch in deep places?

The prophet Isaiah says, “Wait!  Remember.  Remember your God.  What he has done in the past; he will surely do again.  Once you were no people at all but God has made you a people.   God has claimed you as God’s very own and called you by name.”

I’m struck by this in our gospel lesson as well.   Jesus had just been baptized.  Walking along the seashore, he called Peter and Andrew; James and John – these fisher-men brothers – and invited them to follow him.  Mark tells us that they left their nets without any hesitation at alland followed Jesus.  “I will make you fish for people.”

And immediately after that, Jesus is in the synagogue and stands up to teach when a man filled with demons began to cry out interrupting everything:  “Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are.”[2]  And Jesus healed the man and sent him on his way.

Today continues that theme.  Jesus arrives at Peter’s house, and Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with fever unto death.  We are told that they brought Jesus to her right away, and Jesus, entering the room, took her by the hand and raised her up.  And the fever left, and she  began to serve.   A little further in the next verses, at sundown, they brought him all kinds of people who were sick or possessed with all kinds of illnesses and demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And Jesus cured them.

I love these stories.  And I am struck by the many, many times in the gospels in which Jesus healed people instantly without hesitation.  I have to be honest, I wish healings still happen like that and maybe they do.  Maybe there are people in the world who pray and instantly their dreaded, debilitating illnesses are cured in an instant.  Not me.   Even a common cold takes a full week to 10 days for my recovery.

And I have spent a fair amount of time praying for people – members, colleagues, friends about illnesses – pleading with God; trusting God; rallying my lament, anxiety, and fear,  which is what pastors do a lot.  I wish I had that kind of healing touch; the laying on of hands and prayers so powerful that once uttered healing is quick, automatic, sure.  Just doesn’t happen that way.  And yet, I have seen miraculous healing of body, mind, spirit.  I have witnessed it in its own time and way.

I think sickness has a way of capturing our attention like nothing else.  I mean real sickness; sickness unto death.  It has a way.  The unexplainable.

It reminds us of our mortality and vulnerability.  It reminds us that there are things that we cannot control nor do very much about.  And keep in mind – in a week and a half we’ll be celebrating the start of Lent with Ash Wednesday – remember you are dust and to dust you are returning.  We are dust and we are returning to dust.

We are broken – all of us bear the scars of brokenness – and sometimes we break.  But we remember that resurrection is not limited to Easter Sunday morning, because the hope of the gospel is that we are being raised up into new life – despite how things might appear.

That’s what Jesus did to Peter’s mother-in-law.  He took her by the hand and raised her up, and she began to serve.  She began to heal people in her own way.  She didn’t stay broken forever – her healing meant service.  In the same way, he takes us by the hand and raises us up – and we become agents of healing hope, and resurrection.

Jesus was not afraid to touch people or to be touched by them. And we cannot be afraid to be touched by the people around us who are sick – in body, mind, and spirit.  Whatever we hear going on out there, we can rest assured that we are encountering those people everybody in one way or another.  We cannot be afraid to be touched by their situations and circumstances.  They are crying out; yearning to enter into our space, screaming aloud.  Can you hear them?  It may not happen in an instant, but I tell you that is our good work.  We may not be perfect at it but it is our endeavor.

Those that wait on God, says the prophet, will be renewed.   They will be refreshed.  Though they are tired and weary; their hearts are faint – they will find strength beyond themselves.   They will mount up on wings like eagles.  They will run and not be weary out.  They will walk and not faint.  My brothers and sisters, we are being raised up for service and God’s good purposes.  This is our hope.

[1] Isaiah 40:21-23 (Paraphrase)

[2] Mark 1:24b-25