Finding the Lessons

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany B February 4, 2018


With a father's care and a mother's compassion, you embrace as your own, O good and loving god, the sufferings borne by the whole human race, and you join these to all that your Son endured in his Passover from death's bitter pain to risen life. In all our time of trial and testing, purify our hearts and fortify us deep within so that, bearing the light of unfailing trust in your power to heal and save, we may hasten to the support of our brothers and sisters as they face the mystery of illness and pain. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Mark 1:29-39
"The healings and exorcisms reveal the effects of Jesus identity and divine power, but the good news is not reducible to them."

"The Secrets We Keep," Alyce McKenzie, Faith Forward, 2012.

"This passage is loaded with wonderful possibilities for the preacher."

Commentary, Mark 1:29-39, Sarah Henrich, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

"You could surmise that Mark is making a point here by having the kingdom start at home. That may not be in Mark?s intention, but its truth stands nevertheless."

"First Thoughts on Year B Gospel Passages in the Lectionary," Epiphany 5,William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

After reading and studying this passage I have these two questions for us preachers: Are we bringing people a glass of cold water on the battlefield of life? Or are we delivering them off the battlefield?

Jesus is here to teach (vs 38) and specifically to offer Good News. Joel Marcus points out that this is decidedly the most important message of the verses which follow the healing of Peter's mother-in-law.  (Marcus, Mark, vol 1, 201ff)

Jesus is invited to come and heal Simon Peter's mother-in-law. He touches her hand and she is healed and is so revived that she begins to serve them. Jesus does many works of healing and casting out demons and these are important to show his power and his might over and against the strong man of this world. He is a doer of great deeds. Yet this is not the purpose of his coming (vs38).

Jesus does not come to heal us. He does not come to cast out the demons. He does do these things but they are specifically acts that show his strength and his power. And, in so doing draw us to his teaching and preaching. He has come to proclaim a gospel of Good News. As one scholar put it, to give us the good news from the battlefield. (M. E. Boring, Beginning, 56; see also Marcus, Mark, 146) This ties into Isaiah's prophetic voice of offering good news for the captives.

He has come to tell us the good news. And, that good news is accompanied with mighty acts that free people from their lives. Lives are changed, the world is different.

I wonder what battlefields will be brought into our churches this Sunday morning? What battlefields will you be bringing in with you? How easy it is to stay on the battlefield and to remain captive to our fear and anxiety. How easy it is to be imprisoned by our anger at someone. How immobilizing it is to be so angry that we might avoid our real work.

What about the battlefield where people are hungry, naked, and in prison? What about the battlefield of raising kids alone? Yes...there will be many battlefields carried laboriously into the church sanctuary this week. Can we let the mighty Jesus heal us as he heals Simon Peter's mother-in-law, so that we may hear the good news of deliverance, and serve him in mission?

Some Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

"His evangelism is not a numbers game, but one of drawing people into a relationship with this God who loves, and produces in people the fruit of the Spirit, which is love."

"First Thoughts on Passages on Year B Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,"Epiphany 5, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia.

"Preach, or be damned - what would you choose?"

Commentary, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Karl Jacobson, Preaching This Week,, 2009.

Paul believed that he was called to be an apostle. He was called to be one who is sent - that is what apostle means. He believes that he was given a ministry. Yes he has a family and yes he needs the support of the church to do this work. But his family and receiving funds are not about him being an apostle. It is not why he does it.

He has done good work - he believes. People have been drawn to the living and loving God through him. Yet he will not count the numbers. He will not notch his belt for each person saved. Again, being an apostle is not about the numbers. It is not why he does it.

Being an apostle, a preacher, a teacher of the Good News of Salvation and God's love is about being authentically himself. God has given Paul a work to do. He is to carry out God in Christ Jesus' mission. 

This is who he is - an apostle of God. He is sent to people who do not know the living God and his work is to introduce that God to them.

Moreover, Paul says he will chose to do certain things and to not do certain things based upon the sharing of the Gospel. If he does things that keep others from hearing the Gospel he will refrain. For instance, he will not eat meat. Paul is a man who is clear about his ministry and the fact that God has given it to him - just as God called the others along the shore of Galilee and appointed them to share the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul believes this is his nature and at the core of his very being.

What is amazing is that Paul offers a vision of ministry which is so God centered. It is about God, what God is doing, how God is using him, and what God is doing through him. Sometimes I feel as though I am the one who has to do it, it is my burden to carry, I have to accomplish it, and if I don't then I am not worthy. The truth is that like Paul I am worthy. God loves me. I am worthy of that love because I am a creature of God's. I am also invited to stop hustling for God's love - as Brene Brown puts it. I am instead, through Paul's example, invited to do the work God is doing through me. I am invited to be a vessel of his grace and mercy and kindness to others. I am invited to share the God of love with other people who do not yet know this God. I am called to remove those obstacles that keep others from coming to this God. 

Finally, I am invited to remember it God doing the work not me...I am only a faithful apostle. I am sent. So... I go.

Some Thoughts on Isaiah 40:21-31 

"So to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is not just a passive thing, a pious, prayerful, churchly thing. On the contrary, to wait for Christ to come in his fullness is above all else to act in Christ's stead as fully as we know how. To wait for Christ is as best we can to be Christ to those who need us to be Christ to them most and to bring them the most we have of Christ's healing and hope because unless we bring it, it may never be brought at all."
"Waiting for Christ," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Sometimes, no matter how much we long to soar like an eagle, all we can do is barely manage to put one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again. Maybe that is the pinnacle..."

"To be able to walk," Melissa Bane Sevier, Contemplative Viewfinder, 2015.

"When the calculations comparing our smallness with God’s greatness are finished, we can react to our position in the universe in several ways. We can slink away in despair and denial or we can crawl back into God’s big saving hands. Isaiah proclaimed, and the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus confirmed, that this God who knows all, creates all, controls all and plans all also loves all. God has no inconsequential creatures or untended corners of the universe. God tells us how precious we are in God’s sight."

40:21-31 - Isaiah is a master at putting God and humankind in perspective. by Mary W. Anderson January 26, 2000

Oremus Online NRSV Text

The first part of the book of Isaiah, as you may well know, is about Israel's grief. Here in this second part of the book we switch. Walter Brueggeman is famous for reminding us that what we learn from the Israelite experience is that we cannot get to comfort until we deal with the grief that is truly within us.

The God that the prophet is speaking for is a God that is greater than the lesser gods of the Babylonians, greater than their might and army, greater than the ties that are binding them and keeping them from their homeland. This is the God of history and the God of their ancestors - yes...but the God of all.

Moreover, this is a God who while incomparable to the lesser powers and principalities with their totems which attempt to rule this world, is also a God who cares for the least and the enslaved. This is a God who hears the cry of human beings. This is a God who is mighty to save.

This God is also a God who in incomparably merciful and gracious. This is a forgiving God and a God who is to free them.

It is this incomprehensibility of grace and mercy that is true about the revelation of this God's character from the very beginning of scripture and is truth throughout the arc of the New Testament.

This is played out as the author of the gospel of Luke weaves the past to the present and sends it off into the future. As prophet himself, almost mimicing the prophet who wrote these words in Isaiah, he reminds us that this God is the one who saves through the work and mission of Jesus Christ.

Richard Hays, scholar, writes:

The most significant observation here is that in Luke 3:1-6, Luke has taken the keynote passage from Isaiah 40 that declares the salvific coming of Israel's God and worked it narratively into an announcement of the imminent coming of Jesus as the one who would bring "the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6; citing Isaiah 40:5). Considering the full content of Isaiah 40, this identification of Jesus as the one in whom "all flesh will see the salvation of God" is hermeneutically momentous, for it is precisely in Isaiah 40 that we find one of the most radical declarations in all of Scripture of the incomparability of God: To whom, then, will you compare me, or who is my equal? Says the Holy One. (Isaiah 40:25). It is precisely because God alone possesses all sovereign power that the nations are "like a drop from a bucket" before him Isaiah 40:15). (Richard Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 248.)
Gods incarnation enters the world, the second person is birthed, and comes into being. All power of the God of Israel is contained in the person of Jesus. No nations will be victorious.

Not unlike the people who feared the gods, powers, wealth and armies of Babylon, so Luke reminds his readers that God in Christ Jesus is greater than the gods, powers, wealth, and armies of Rome. In this way the passage today is a reminder that the least, lost, oppressed and forgotten today must remember that they are chosen by God and that this God and this God's community shall be about the work of undoing the world's powerful enslavement.

Previous Sermons For This Set of Lessons

Healed to Serve

Sermon Preached at St. Christophers, Houston, Episphany 5.b. 2018.

Sermon preached at Christ the King Atascocita, Epiphany 5b, 2015, healing of Simon Peter's mother in law.

Superheroes: understanding the power of Jesus' message 

Sermon delivered at Epiphany Houston Texas 2012

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