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Fifth Sunday After The Epiphany - February 4, 2024





 

In the name of God who created us, who sustains us, and who redeems us.

 + Good morning. 


In today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah, we are invited to contemplate the magnitude of  God’s power as creator of the universe, compared to humanity’s powerlessness, in this case  through the lens of the peoples of Jerusalem who had been exiled to Babylon around the year 597  BCE. 


To us, an ancient people in ancient times. 


The prophet Isaiah is calling out, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” Who is God’s equal? 

Lift up your eyes! God created all! 

God has numbered all and calls all by name! 

God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing! 

God does not faint or grow weary; 

Rather the Divine gives power to the faint, 

and strengthens the powerless! 


Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? 

An almighty God who gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless… 


Yet…in all honesty… 

I still feel faint and powerless. 

I still feel weary… 

And I have for quite some time…. 

…Perhaps, I am not the only one…. 


Personal and family struggles. 

Physical and health issues.  

Death of family members or loved ones. 

War. Famine. Injustice. 


All can make one feel faint, powerless, and weary, 

just like our ancient, exiled brethren of Jerusalem.



It can be confusing and maddening!  

If God is so powerful, so almighty, why is there still war? 

Why is there sickness, hatred? 

Why did my beloved die? 


Have you not known? Have you not heard? Isaiah reminds us. 

We must wait for the Lord. Not a “when is God going to get here and fix all this” kind of waiting. But a remembering of who God is … 

Creator. Sustainer. Redeemer. 


We, who are part of the beloved creation, only have hope to go forward when our eyes, our face,  is fixed upon the Lord… 

We are known. We are counted, called by name. 


So why am I, why are we, still faint and weary? 


The Rev. William J Carl III calls it “theological amnesia”. 

It causes me, causes us, to worry or fall apart when crisis comes. 

We wonder, “Where is God?”. 

We ask, “Why has the Divine left me, forgotten me, in this time when I am most in need?”. 


But that is the wrong question. 

God has not forgotten me, not forgotten us. 

We should instead ask, “Why have I forgotten God?” 


I get all wrapped up in my own, small world to worry and fall apart and try to fix it myself. 


Have I not known? Have we not heard? 

Those who wait for the Lord, those who REMEMBER the Lord, 

Shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles,  

They shall run and not be weary,  

They shall walk and not faint. 


There is still going to be struggle. 

There will be war and sickness and our beloveds will die. 

In 597 BCE, Isaiah reminds us that God’s “understanding is unsearchable.” And today, in 2024, God’s understanding is still unsearchable! 


Some of us may have our own theories, but none of us will ever know why there is suffering in  this realm… until we are re-united with Divine in the next. 


So now what? Do we just throw our hands up in surrender and give up? 

I mean, what does God expect, after all? 


Have you not known? Have you not heard?  

Jesus the Christ, the anointed one, has come to show us the way! 


We are shown how to move forth in today’s reading from the gospel according to Mark. 


Mark is the “get to the point” gospel writer. Within two very short passages, we read about Jesus’  first exorcism last week, and his first healing this week. 


Also note, last week’s reading and this week’s reading are a continuation of the same day,  probably not as a historical account, but as a theological account.  

“As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew…” They told Jesus “at once” that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. 


Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. 

Then the fever left her… 

And she began to serve them. 


There are two important ideas I want to highlight in this one sentence. 


First, several theologians, both male and female, declared that Simon’s mother-in-law in this  passage is shown to be the first deacon. It is still the Sabbath day when no work is to be done.  So, her actions are NOT to be understood as the woman’s role to do menial work. 


Instead, she is mirroring what Jesus has already shown. She serves. 

Without thought to selfishness or restrictive teachings, she becomes a servant of the church  


Thus, according to the Rev. Ofelia Ortega, (FOTW, pp 335-6) 


Christianity began being affirmed socially, not in a sacred space, but rather in daily life,  in small communities, and there, in that basic social structure, this woman’s figure  appears, a mystic revelation of what true Christian discipleship means. 


Service to others. In daily life. In small communities. 


The second idea is that of touch.  

In this passage, Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up.


There are so many passages in both the old and new testaments about touch, that it cannot be  ignored. 


The angels touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh. 

The blind man whom Jesus touched and healed. 

Jesus touched the leper. 

The woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. 

And later in Mark we will read wherever he went, the sick sought him, that they may be touched  by him and made whole. 


“…The power of touch.  

It might even be said that in Scripture touch is a metaphor for intimacy, for presence, for  relationship.” (FOTW, p. 334b) 


The early church met in intimate communities of house churches.  

And relationships built in community are important in the healing process. 



Gerald May, a medical doctor and psychotherapist in Washington DC, writes… (FOTW, p. 334- 5b): 


God’s grace through community involves something far greater than other people’s  support and perspective.  

The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant nor as mystical as in communities of faith.  Its power includes not just love that comes from people  

and through people  

but love that pours forth among people,  

as if through the very spaces between one person and next.  

Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power. 


Jesus “came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her.” The power of intimacy, of nearness, to make whole. 


“God knew the human need for nearness. 

Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love,  

which makes it all the more demanding to realize that for some people,  

we are the only Jesus they will ever meet.” (FOTW, p. 336) 


Now I know some of you aren’t “huggers and touchers”.  

That’s okay. You can still be in loving relationship by being “hand-shakers”, “fist-thumpers”, and  listeners. You can still look another in the eye so that they know they are seen, they are counted,  they are named.


To me, today’s scripture thus comes full circle.  


In the human experience, there has always been struggle. 

And my guess it that we have all been faint and weary… of body, mind and spirit. We have failed to seek God first. 

It is then that we have to remember God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. To remember that God has not forgotten us. 


And though the understanding of the Divine is unsearchable,  

we have Jesus… who shows us how to cast out demons and how to heal,  by relationship in community,  

through touch, 

pouring forth love among all people, 

with hugs, with handshakes, with an arm around a shoulder, by looking into another’s eyes. 


This is how we serve.  

This is how we cast out demons… demons of hunger, of addiction, of loneliness. This is how we heal…healing sadness, broken heartedness, and loss. 

For others and for ourselves. Individually and collectively. 


This, St. Andrew’s, is the time for US to call out … 

Have you not known? Have you not heard? 

The Lord is the everlasting God, 

the Creator of the ends of the earth. 

Wait for and remember the Lord… remember Jesus… remember Divine Love. And through touch, through relationship, 

God will use us to give power to the faint. 

Through us, God will cast out demons;  

hearts will be healed;  

strength will be renewed,  

Then…then, we shall all be lifted up with wings like eagles,  

so that we can run and not be weary, we can walk and not faint. 


Amen.




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