5th Sunday after Epiphany
February 5, 2012
Mark 1:29-39, Isaiah 40: 21-31
My friend Katie is a talented and beautiful young woman married to a soldier. In the short time she’s been married she’s already lived far away from the people she loves. It’s sometimes a lonely life. But it doesn’t stop her from loving life and continuing to live the love of Jesus that brought her to seminary where I met her. She posted at cartoon a few days ago on the web that caught my attention. It shows a young man kneeling to pray that Jesus would protect him. As he walks away, a stone comes through the air hitting his head. He weeps “Why, Jesus, Why?” He turns to gasp open-mouthed, and we see what he sees: a huge Jesus with his arms outstretched, being pelted with all kinds of stones flying through the air, and one that has whizzed past his head and is lying on the ground next to the man. “Oh, I’m sorry,” Jesus says, “Did I miss one? Are you alright?” Somehow it’s always when we are hit with the unexpected that we turn to God in anger. Is God really there to keep all those promises? But it is precisely when we are the most vulnerable that we are open to God working something for us.
The people in Isaiah’s story this morning are vulnerable. They are in exile. They have been violently removed from the land which formed them as God’s people and are afraid that God does not see or hear their pain and sorrow. “Why do you say my way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God?” The prophet wants them to know that the God who is so far away that we look like grasshoppers is also the God who gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless. Nothing escapes God’s care. Nothing. But it’s so hard for us to trust that. It is only when we have nothing else to depend on that we turn to God for miracles. We don’t see that God is always working to keep us and protect us, even when thing seem bad. So it is when we are out of options that we see that God lifts us up.
And so in our Gospel story, we see a day in the life of Jesus. He is on the move. It started in the morning of the Sabbath in the synagogue. Jesus gets up to preach and is interrupted by a disruptive spirit. He casts it out immediately, restoring this man to health, to his family and to his community. When they arrive for lunch at Peter’s house, Peter’s mother in law is possessed by a fever. Without hesitation, Jesus touches her hand and raises her up, restoring her to her family and to her role as hostess for the guests. As the Sabbath ends, the whole neighborhood comes to be healed in Peter’s front yard, far into the night it seems. Even when Jesus gets up in the dark to find a quiet place to pray, people are searching for him and offended that he is not at their disposal. But Jesus does not hang around, he has work to do and lots of ground to cover. People need to hear that the kingdom of God has come near, people need to be made whole so they can see what the reign of God looks like.
Mark uses the Greek word for “suddenly” over and over again. The translators give it to us as “at once” or “immediately.” Jesus has work to do. Jesus’ teaching is what he does, his healing and his exorcisms. And his healing is his preaching. Jesus doesn’t wait for the Sabbath to be over before he heals Peter’s mother in law, or before casting out the demonic spirit from the man in church. He is right there, lifting up the lowly, healing and teaching about God’s presence and God’s power to accomplish whatever is needed. His day is not just biography, it is theology, the theology that we hear from Isaiah. God does not stand far away in the heavens watching people struggle, God is as close as the touch of a hand to raise up a failing woman who is stressing about not being able to serve her guests, and as close as the command, “Out of here, you evil one!”
We Lutherans have what we call the Theology of the Cross. It tells us exactly where we will find the deepest truth about who God is and what God wants us to know. When we see Jesus on that cross, suffering unjustly under the evils of the world, we can see straight into the heart of God’s love. It is a love so deep that God is not willing to spare himself to show us how much we are loved. It is a love so close to us that God took on our own flesh and became physically our brother to tell us that humans are God’s own creation. It is not “those people” that Jesus came to teach and heal and love. It’s us.
The sad thing is that we are usually so hard-headed that we don’t really believe that we can’t take care of ourselves and that somehow God loves us because we have earned it or deserve it. And so it is that when we are out of options, stripped of our plans and the most lost, that we can see that God knows and hears and is there to lead us, to lift us up and to bring us to safety. And God is always there, just as we see in this mornings readings.
Jesus is still on the move, you know. Attending to our illnesses, our sorrows, our lack of attention, our blindness to God’s care for us. Jesus is at work among us and in the feeble acts of love that we do for each other and for our world. We read these stories to remind ourselves that nothing has changed but the face we see lifting the lowly, touching the sick and sorrowing, addressing evil and injustice. The face we see is Jesus reflected back to us in the faces of those we love and serve in his name.