Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany for Year B (February 8, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

I’ll admit I was a little behind the times this week when, on Monday morning after the Super Bowl, I had no idea who had won or lost the “big game.” Not that I was a completely uninterested party…I like football! I just got busy with other things and didn’t have time to watch the game or catch the news. What I discovered was that people everywhere were talking about the controversial ending and the perhaps-somewhat-unexpected triumph of the Patriots over the Seahawks — especially with a practically “sure thing” for Seattle from the one-yard line and four tries upcoming for the end zone. (I’ll spare you the reliving of the pain/gain scenario that ensued…)

Like the words from Isaiah, other fans looked at me with those “you mean you haven’t heard?” eyes…almost incredulous that I didn’t know the outcome — and have a strong opinion about it! When it comes to God’s playbook, it truly gets spectacular. There aren’t really any fumbles or interceptions (even if there is a sense of mystery about God’s timing, etc.) when God gets to work in the world. I love to imagine the “soaring with eagles’ wings” things; I appreciate those times when God’s strength allows us to “run and not be weary.” But, I am especially grateful for the days God is there to help me simply “walk and not faint.” Or fumble.

You don’t have to be a gifted or great singer to join the text of Psalm 147: “it is good to sing praises to our God.” Go ahead, lift up your voice and sing, or shout, or testify. God is gracious and does good things for God’s people!

If you don’t stand up for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Great country song hook — maybe a little questionable when it comes to appreciating the fine art of Christian life in community. Paul encourages the Corinthians to be willing to bend a little in order to accommodate the perspective of others, especially for the cause of Christ. When is a dose of humility a necessary component of the gospel?

As I have read and proclaimed the gospel from Mark in my congregation this Epiphany, we have thought a lot about the “everydayness” of Jesus’ ministry. He meets people where they are — fishing, collecting taxes, hanging out at home and around the town. I’m struck that part of the every day ministry of Jesus includes meeting people where they hurt, too. Simon’s momma-in-law is “stove up,” as we used to hear; she is laid up in the bed with a high fever. Jesus is concerned enough to meet her and minister to her. She is helped and healed by the compassion of Christ. Notably, after being released from her burden, she immediately begins to serve Jesus and his crew. Maybe, just maybe, a life lesson there for us. As my pastor used to proclaim from time to time: “Jesus didn’t save you to sit and soak — he called you to serve!”

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Years ago a youth group gave me a T-shirt I wore so much I wore it out.  It read something like this:

“To be is to do.”  Socrates.
“To do is to be.” Plato.
“Do-be-do-be-do.”  Sinatra.

Our Gospel lesson for today shows Jesus moving back and forth between doing and being – healing Simon’s mother-in-law and the others who were brought to him, getting up early and going off alone to pray, to just BE with God.  In the midst of his prayer time, the disciples interrupt him with demands that he come and do what everyone wants him to do – more healing. Instead he insists on going to the next city to preach because, “that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38)

As with Jesus, so with us. For the church and as individual believers, it is sometimes difficult to find a balance in the doing and being departments.  We can get so busy with our ministries and programs and in keeping the organization running and in meeting the needs out there that we take no time for either God or ourselves.  And the usual end result of that is those who are doing too much get resentful of those whom they think are not doing enough.

On the other hand, there are those who are really good at “being with God,” but have a hard time figuring out ways to be involved with and care for God’s people. I count myself in this group.  I grew up on a farm.  My Daddy once told a neighbor, “Delmer works hard but you have to tell him what to do.  If you ask him to figure it out himself, he’ll just sit there and look at the work and think it to death.”  Some of us think our religion to death, contemplate the beauty of holiness or liturgy while ignoring the ugliness of sin and hunger and disease and homelessness and violence and, and, and . . .  going on all around us.

Those of us who do too much need help in finding time for self and God; those of us who do too little need a push, a prod, a kick in the pants, to get moving and let our faith be ACTIVE in love. We can get some guidance from a few incidents in our text.

1) We must deal with what is put before us.  When Jesus went to Simon’s house for dinner, he discovered his host’s mother-in-law was sick.  In a simple act of compassion, Jesus healed her. Jesus touched her and she got up and served. People heard about it and began to bring people who were sick or had demons to Jesus for healing.  And Jesus dealt with what was put before him – he did healings and exorcisms into the night.  You can’t always chose what it is you are to do, sometimes God choses for you.

2) While we do need to carve out time and space for ourselves and that personal time does include spirituality and prayer, that’s only part of what’s going on with Jesus getting up early and going off pray.  This episode is a continuation of the temptation, the forty days in the wilderness with Satan. (Mark 1:12-13) Mathew and Luke (Chapter 4 in each) make clear that Jesus temptations were the urge use his power and authority in ways that would attract fame and attention and popularity.  Jesus is feeling that temptation one more time.  People are astonished at his teaching, the whole city is coming to be healed or to see healing.  His fame is growing.  He goes to the mountain to search both with God and deep within himself.  “Who am I, really? What does it mean to be the Son of God? What am I doing?  What am I called to do?”  When the disciples find him, Jesus is once again clear on the answers to those questions.

3) Just like Jesus, we have to learn to say no when the demands upon get in the way of a God’s purpose.  The disciples came looking for Jesus because people had come to them looking for him.  They were excited, the people were excited.  Jesus of Nazareth was the “next new thing,” the latest in a long list of faith-healers and exorcist who had emerged in the multi-cultural Galilean region, which was a mix of Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and others.  Everybody wanted to see Jesus do his stuff, the time was ripe, the iron was hot.  And Jesus said no.  Jesus said, “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.”  Jesus “being” and “doing” had come together.  He knew who he was and what he was to do.

I’ve always loved this bit from the writer Anne Lamott:  “Again and again I tell God I need help, and God says, “Well isn’t that fabulous?  Because I need help too.  So – you go get that old woman over there some water, and I’ll figure out what we’re going to do about your stuff.” (“Traveling Mercies,” p.120)

So it is with us; we turn to God for help and God sends us out to help others.  Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we have receive a touch from Jesus, and in response we get up and begin to serve others.  Sometimes the touch we receive is charismatic. Some people have been sick and were prayed over and got healed. Sometimes the touch is emotional, a crises life or morals that lead one to give up and turn it all over to God, resulting in a conversion and a change of life.  But most often the touch is less dramatic than that.  Jesus touched us with water in our baptism, Jesus touched us with gentle persuasion in Sunday School, or caring relationships in Youth Group, or a hot meal and kind conversation in Campus Ministry, or week in and week out in our local congregations Jesus touches us in the sacrament of the table, giving his body and blood for us and to us.  However we have been touched by Jesus, the call is the same; the call to get up and serve.

Amen and amen.

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