Sunday, February 5, 2006

5 Epiphany
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

Praise ye Jehovah; For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is comely.

The six friends on the television show "Friends" were often caught up in larger than life troubles, and yet their troubles were often things with which we could identify. They had problems with their relationships, their families and their jobs. Though it is unlikely that most of us will ever really face the number of situations they did in their many years on the air, I think we can all point to episodes that touched our own hearts and memories.

On one episode Rachel, who was working for some clothing company, found out that a better job was available within the company. She was excited about the opportunity because she joined in hopes of working her way up the corporate ladder. Her boss seemed excited for her also and went to the meeting to represent Rachel before the decision makers. Unfortunately, her boss felt she could not live without Rachel, so she made all sorts of comments about her incompetence, alcoholism and other falsehoods. The committee, of course, decided not to hire Rachel. She was devastated, and even more so when she discovered why she had been rejected. She went to her boss and asked, "Why?" Her boss admitted that she did not want to lose her as an assistant and that she lied.

Though this is fiction, I'm sure there are people out there who have had similar experiences. It may not have even been in a work relationship. We are selfish creatures, wanting what we believe is best for ourselves and we are willing to do what is necessary to be satisfied. There are many reasons we do this. We are afraid that someone else's gain will mean our loss. We want control and power over our own life and over the lives of others. We need others and think that we can not live without them. There is some truth in this. In Rachel's job, the boss would have lost a good employee. She needed Rachel and did not think she could continue to do her job without her. Her boss wanted control and thought she could not live without Rachel.

Our selfishness might just keep our friends from doing the very things that God has created them to do. How many times have we faced such a problem in our churches? Have you ever known a new person to come through the front door with an incredible gift and desire to share, but the leadership did not allow it to happen for some reason? Perhaps they are intimidated by the person with the gift, afraid that they will look bad in front of the congregation. Perhaps they are afraid of the changes that might come with the sharing of the gift.

We tend to enjoy our closed communities and we'd rather that things stay the same. However, things can never stay the same in the church. It is a living, breathing organism, moved by the breath of God. Living, breathing beings change. They move and grow. A butterfly starts out as a caterpillar and goes through many stages before becoming a butterfly. A person begins as an infant and changes in some way every day. We learn, we grow, we mature. We have losses and deal with pain; we have successes and rejoice. All these things have made us who we are today and they are leading us closer to who we are meant to be. Some of our losses and pain are a natural part of living in this world; others are caused by outside forces such as Satan and his demons. Or they are caused by people who happen to cross our path. We cause loss and pain also; it is part of the human condition.

The people in Capernaum were certainly facing some road bumps in their journeys of life. In today's Gospel lesson, Jesus left the synagogue after healing the man with the demons and He went straight to Peter's house. Peter's mother-in-law was ill with fever and lying in bed. Like the man with the demons, Peter's mother-in-law could not live her life according to the vocation to which she'd been called. Though her dis-ease was not supernatural in nature, she was still not able to be who she was created to be. Instead, she was forced to lie in bed, unable to serve her family or enjoy their fellowship.

Jesus went to Peter's mother-in-law, reached out and took her hand, then lifted her up. She was cured immediately and was restored to her whole self. I suppose we might read this passage with a modern edge and be disturbed that the poor woman who had just recovered from what seemed to be a pretty horrible illness had to get up and serve the men. Yet, that was her role in the household. She was not only healed, but she was restored to her vocation, the care of her family.

As we heard in last week's Gospel lesson, word spread about Jesus throughout the countryside. After the Sabbath ended, people began arriving at Peter's door with the sick and the possessed. It seemed as if the entire city was gathered around the house. Jesus cured many of the diseases and cast out many demons. He took care of their needs and restored them to their roles in their society. This was very important in Jesus' day. There were no laws which gave handicapped people help in overcoming the difficulties of their disease. There was no mobility between stations in life or the roles to which you were born. If you were sick, you were considered unclean. If you were a Jew or a Greek, you lived, worked and ate with only your people. There were not only stumbling blocks, there were walls keeping people inside and outside.

Jesus broke down walls. He brought healing, He cast out demons. He changed lives and restored people. But that's not all He came to do. He also came to preach. Unfortunately, the people were so amazed by the miraculous things He was doing that they did not hear what He had to say. They were closing in on Him and expecting from Him only what they wanted. They were not giving Him the room to be who He came to be. So, after dark Jesus went out to a lonely place to pray. When the disciples found Him they told Him that everyone was looking for Him. He said to them, "Let us go elsewhere into the next towns, that I may preach there also; for to this end came I forth." He was not going to allow the people to dictate the work He was going to accomplish. It was time to move on, to share the message with others who might hear. Sadly, we learn in Luke 10 that Capernaum never came to believe. Strange, isn't it? They came to Jesus for healing, but never found wholeness.

What is the message that Jesus was preaching? It was good news! He may have even quoted our Old Testament passage, for in it is the Gospel. "The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint."

We are reminded, however, in this same passage that we are trivial. We are like grasshoppers compared to God Almighty, who created everything and whose hand drives it all. God can bring down princes and rulers and scatter them like a storm scatters stubble. He placed every star in the sky and He knows them all by name. "To whom then will ye liken me, that I should be equal to him? saith the Holy One." There is none like God. Yet, we try to be like Him. We try to be the one in control, we seek the things that we desire without seeing or hearing the message He brings us.

Twice in today's Old Testament lesson Isaiah says, "Have ye not known? have yet not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?" Twice Isaiah cries out to the people to hear God's Word. Jesus too, longed to be heard, for the true healing from God is in His Word.

Jesus didn't stop healing or casting out demons because the miracles were a sign to the power in Christ's Word, but He moved quickly from one place to another so that the people would not focus solely on the miracles. He went to do what He was sent to do, preach the Good news.

I imagine those who were healed were very happy, perhaps even grateful for what Jesus had done. Yet, I wonder how many of them praised God. If we take into consideration the healing stories found throughout the Gospels, we can be assured that not everyone gave credit to the One who had done the healing. Not everyone heard the Good News, not everyone met the Father whom Jesus was sent to share with the world. The ones that found the voice to praise God were the ones who both were healed and were made whole. They were the ones who heard and shared the good news through songs of praise, like our psalmist. "Praise ye Jehovah; For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is comely."

In today's Psalm we are reminded of the amazing things God does. He lifts up the downtrodden, He casts the wicked to the ground. He heals, He casts our demons, He restores us. Most of all, He restores our soul. He restores our relationship with Himself. He draws us into His heart and makes us one of His own. He does these amazing things for you and for me, despite the fact that we are as trivial as grasshoppers. He does this despite our natural human condition that sees the world only through out own eyes and needs. He loves us even though we think we are in control. But the psalmist reminds us, "Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his lovingkindness."

So, what do we do with this hope? Is our world that much different than the world in which Jesus walked? Are there not still walls that divide us? Is there not still dis-ease that causes us to lose our place in the world? Are there not still demons that haunt our souls that need to be cast out with the Word of God?

And now that we have that Word, the Word of life, of hope, of peace, are we not called to take it into the world to share it with those who need the healing touch of God's grace?

Paul knew the power of the Gospel and that power manifested not only in the impact his ministry had on the towns he visited, but as we see in the book of Acts, Paul was able to continue the physical ministry that Jesus did. Yet, Paul also knew he had nothing about which he could boast. The Gospel called him into a new life. He was restored to God and made whole not to receive the gift and keep it for himself. Instead, Paul knew the obligation that was laid upon him and knows he'd live in woe if he did not proclaim that Gospel to others.

As we read the Epistle lesson for today, again with a modern perspective, we are bothered by what Paul has to say. In this passage we see him as little more than an insincere politician, willing to say and do whatever is necessary to convince people of his point of view. Perhaps we've seen our own pastors or religious leaders acting in the same manner, refusing to rock the boat to succeed in ministry.

However, the Gospel is shocking, it is life changing. It is powerful. Most of all, it is for everyone. This week we saw Jesus heal a mother in a home with a fever. Last week it was a man in the synagogue with a demon. Then Jesus healed the sick from a whole city and finally we see Him going throughout the countryside preaching, healing and casting out demons. The power of the Gospel is for men and women, for those in worship and at home, for those in our small circles of friends and for our neighbors far away. That's why Paul says that he has become all things to all people. He's not wavering on the one thing that matters the message.

Just as Jesus was unwilling to stay in Capernaum where all they wanted was His healing, Paul will not change the message to get what He wants. However, we talk to different people in different ways. The lessons I teach to adults are not appropriate for preschoolers. Teens hear with a whole different perspective. When I visit a friend from another culture, I honor and respect their point of view while keeping be true to the Gospel message. Paul was willing to eat with the sinners so that they might hear God's Word, just as Jesus was willing to think outside the box into which He was born. He reached out to all people, sinners and righteous, Jews and Greeks, sick and healthy, rich and poor. He offered them healing and wholeness. Not everyone heard.

Paul knew that not everyone would hear. He wrote, "I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some." He does not expect that all will be saved, but he's willing to do whatever he can to share the Gospel message with them.

Why don't we? Why do we keep the Good News of Christ all to ourselves? Are we afraid that someone else's gain will mean our loss? Do we think that if we keep the Gospel to ourselves that we will hold on to the control and power of our own life and the lives of others? Are we worried that the Gospel will take away those on whom we've come to depend, who we think we need and can not live without? The Gospel will bring change. In Christ we will live and breathe and move and grow. But then, in Christ we are more alive than we have ever been, and the breath we breathe is from the Spirit of God Himself. The Gospel draws us into a life of thanksgiving and gives us a voice that can't help but proclaim His praises to all who hear. The Gospel gives us the power to bring the Kingdom of God closer to those who will hear, and it gives us the power to continue the work of Christ in this world.

We have no reason to boast, because we are nothing more than grasshoppers. Yet, through faith in Christ by God's grace, we are lifted up, given eagle's wings and the strength to take the Good News into all the world. Thanks be to God.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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