Year B — The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for February 5, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

Isaiah 40:21-31

Verses 28-31 of today’s reading are classic descriptions of God’s being and power. This is the Creator of the “ends” of the earth (God has already been to the boundary of the universe that we are striving to glimpse with space telescopes like the Hubble and the Webb.) This God never grows weary — and never runs out of computing power, either!

For an interesting overview of gigabytes, terabytes, exabytes and beyond, click here. I suppose God’s understanding, being “unsearchable” or limitless, must surely exceed the current largest measure of computer capacity, the yottabyte (1.209 × 1024)

All of that said, notice that God’s inexhaustible power is made available, not only to those who wish to soar with the eagles or run with boundless energy — but also to those who need help just getting up and walking for a few more steps along the way. That’s God with us!

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
Some of God’s favorite things:

  • stars (knows how many there are!)
  • young animals (provides grass for them)
  • clouds and rain
  • the brokenhearted
  • the poor
  • the wounded
  • people who both fear (reverence, respect) and hope in God

1 Corinthians 9:16-2
Paul’s “all things to all people” approach sounds wishy-washy to some. It’s really kind of hard for me to imagine Paul as either wishy or washy, but be that as it may — I believe this passage speaks of some opportunity for understanding those who are “not like me.”

I am definitely not Jewish — I’m not black — I’m not female — I’m not Muslim. In fact, there are just a whole boatload of things that I am not, so there is a whole boatload of perspective that I may need to try to gain if I am to be a true “preacher” of the gospel of Christ.

An old gospel song came up in conversation in a small group that I participate in this week; I still love the tagline after all these years: “Don’t tell me what a friend I have in Jesus, till you show me what a friend I have in you.”

Mark 1:29-39  
Jesus had a fairly singular focus: “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

But he stopped long enough to help out Peter’s mother-in-law and a passel of other sick folks. Never too busy to do a good turn. Good example for pastors and busy disciples of the Lord, don’t you think?

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (verse 35)

I have a church cartoon file. In it there is an old cartoon from Leadership Magazine. It shows a pastor down on his knees in his office, Bible or prayer book open on the chair in front of him.

Secretary sticks her head in the door, looks at him and says,” Good, you’re not busy.”

And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (verses 36-37)

Which is just another way to say, “Good, you’re not busy.”

That’s pretty much what happened to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. The story takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. He has been baptized and then tempted in the wilderness.

He has returned to the area and begun gathering disciples and doing some teaching in the synagogue, where he healed a man with “unclean spirits.”

And today, they leave worship and go to Simon’s house for dinner. While there Jesus learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is not well and he very matter-of-factly heals her.

Word of both healings spreads and instead of a restful Sabbath afternoon, Jesus spends the day healing sickness and casting out demons. A very full work load for anybody, even the Son of God.

So, early the next morning Jesus sets out to find some “me time.” Or, perhaps more correctly, some “me and God time.” After a day like the one he’d had, he needed to think, to pray, to just be in the presence of the holy for a little while.

But it was not to be. Here come “Simon and his companions,” like a herd of zealous church secretaries. When they find him sitting quietly alone they say, “Good, you’re not busy. Everybody is searching.”

They probably expected Jesus to jump up and say, “My goodness, where did the time go? Boy, I’ve got to get back to town and get on those healings and exorcisms right away. Thanks for coming to get me.”

But that’s not what he said. And that’s not what he did.

Instead, Jesus got up, stretched and said, “Let’s go to the next town, so I can preach the message there too. After all, that’s what I’m here for.”

Or as Mark puts it, “. . . so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

What is this message that Jesus has come out to proclaim?

It is a promise and an invitation; a promise that God has not forgotten or abandoned the world, and it is an invitation to become a participant in God’s work in the world.

One of the most important keys to reading Mark’s gospel is to realize that all the healings and exorcisms show us not only who Jesus is, but they also show us who God is and who we are and who we are called to be.

The healings and casting our of demons show Jesus to be a healer and proclaimer sent from God, carrying on God’s work in the world.

They also reveal clearly that our God is a God who is present and not far off, a God of love and compassion, a God who is active in the world and in our lives.

These healings also revel to us who we are.

We are the people whom God loves; loves enough to touch and heal and care for.

And, we are people invited by God to join in the divine mission and ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world.

And it is in the context of this life of service to God and the world that going off alone to pray makes sense, for Jesus and for us.

Every few months, there is another article in the religious press about why a lot of people have left the church. More recently I have seen articles in USA Today, the New York Times, even the Wall Street Journal.

In the midst of most of these articles you will find the phrase, “spiritual but not religious.” Often you will also find, “They like Jesus, just not the church.”

They, depending on the authors intent, are either “young people,” or “modern people,” or “urban people,” or “working-class people;” some socio-economic demographic or the other.

Anyway, this “spiritual without being religious,” has led to a notion that spirituality and prayer being mainly personal and private, for one’s own good and benefit.

The “value” of God and Jesus and the Church in our increasingly materialistic and consumerist culture is calculated purely on their effectiveness in “making my life better.”

This is why you have folk moving from church to church or abandoning the concept of church all together while saying, “Well, I just wasn’t getting fed; I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
Listen up people, it’s not about you.

It’s not about me, or any other clergy person. It’s not about the church board or the youth program or the Sunday School or whatever.

It’s about God and it’s about the world and it’s about the people in the world.

It’s about joining Jesus in his mission to proclaim the Good News of God’s love and grace to all the people in the world.

And that is hard work and you can’t do it 24/7 and you need friends and you need God to be able to pull it off.

Jesus went to synagogue, Jesus had a small group, Jesus spent time alone, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, Jesus did healing.

It is only as a part of this sort of rhythmic cycle that the personal time with God fits, it cannot stand on its own.

For us to answer God’s call to follow Jesus, we need public time gathered around Word and Table, we need the support of and conversation with like-minded folk, we need private prayer and meditation and we need to be out there, sharing God’s love in word and deed with God’s suffering children.

We are called to a life of prayer and service, living within God’s community so that we will be strengthened and empowered to love and serve and heal and save the world.

We are continually called into God’s presence so that we may be sent back out into God’s world, proclaiming God’s love, healing God’s people, being genuinely busy doing what we too have come out to do.

AMEN and AMEN.

2 thoughts on “Year B — The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

  1. Nicely balanced between pointing out what the Gospel reveals about God and what it reveals about what we are called to do. It also points out pastors' need for balance in their lives. Don't forget to listen to your own sermons.

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