THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
FEBRUARY 5, 2012
Isaiah 40:21-31 – 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 – Mark 1:29-39
It’s a simple little story, but the reading we just heard from Mark is one of the most moving, and most challenging, parts of this gospel. It’s from the first chapter of Mark, and it describes the second part of a sort of model day in the ministry of Jesus and sets before us the essence of the Gospel story. Last Sunday and this Sunday, the Gospel tells us of what Jesus was about, how he saw his work, and the foundation of prayer and commitment to his mission that held his attention and his desire for what he came to do. As one having authority, grace, and love from God, Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, cared for the poor, and drew the outcasts to himself. This is what the Gospel is all about. That is what God had sent His Son to do.
Isaiah said, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? . . . Lift up your eyes and see. . . The Lord is the everlasting God . . . He does not faint or grow weary . . . He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” That is what God is all about.
Saint Paul wrote, “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel . . . I am entrusted with a commission . . . I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” That is what God has called us to do and who God has called us to be – extensions of the mission of proclamation of the Gospel and a continuation of the heart of God to reach all people.
Jesus is the embodiment (the incarnation) of the mind and heart of God – the same God Isaiah declared for all to see. Jesus then called those around him, like his disciples and, later, Paul, to take up the mind and heart of God which would not only dramatically change their lives, but begin a revolution in the world. This revolution, which you and I have been made a part, is the most heart rending, mind changing, spirit transforming, life renewing act in the history of the world. It is enough to fuel its participants with the courage, energy, and enthusiasm to set the world on fire for God. It is the call to go out in the name of Jesus to bring our community of faith to all people who seek God and who hunger to be a part of his family, his new creation.
Is this the spirit, the fire, which we bring to the world and to the church? Are we ready to be revolutionaries? Is being a part of such a revolution why we have become members of the church? Is this faith we proclaim bringing about in us a heart rending, mind changing, spirit transforming, life renewing existence in our personal lives, as well in our family life, and our corporate lives?
Looking at this level of commitment, we may be inclined to say in our hearts that we really didn’t bargain for this. Yes, we believe in God and in Jesus Christ, but maybe we are not sure about taking on all of the implications of being a Christian. Me, a part of a revolution? Not my style, we may say. Surely that is not what it means to be a Christian, is it? Really, everything should be in moderation. Right? No! One of the more insidious and undermining attitudes that has been ingrained deeply in us as Episcopalians is the idea – in which we have often taken with great pride, by the way – that everything should be in moderation and good taste. We have lived with a deep suspicion of too much zeal and overt passion about what we believe and how we live our lives and what our expectations are of ourselves and others. But if we are to take the Gospel to heart (and in fact take the entirety of Scripture seriously) we are talking about a major life change.
At an Annual Meeting at the Cathedral where I used to be the Dean, I said, “To discover God's will for us, to energize our commitment to his mission, and to strengthen our own relationship with him and with one another, we must begin with a discussion of our own renewal, repentance, and personal discipleship.”
Renewal means to reignite the fire within – the light of the Holy Spirit. It means that we seek to discover Christ in our lives, not just in the life of a book, or a sermon, or an institution, but within ourselves, deep in our hearts and minds. Marcus Borg wrote a book some years ago, entitled, Discovering Jesus Again, For The First Time. That is renewal. Looking for and discovering Christ in us in a new and creative way that allows us to begin again. New life – a new creation – was the way
it. How often have we heard, or,
perhaps, even said ourselves, “Oh, how I wish I could start all over.” Well, we can.
That is “renewal” in Christ. Saint Paul
We enable that renewal with repentance – by simply turning loose of what is inhibiting our movement into renewal and new life. It is the freedom that occurs within us when we accept the forgiveness already given to us and live as forgiven and forgiving people. It is not only saying, “I am sorry,” as important as that is, but it is turning around, facing a new direction. In order to turn around, we have to let go of the distraction to which we are clinging, and face God. It is a “re-orientation” -- turning to the east – the direction in which we turn to pray – the way we face God. TURN TO GOD. I heard of a teacher of autistic children who would take hold of the child’s chin and gently direct the child to look into her eyes and say, “Look at me. Pay attention.” We are called to look into God’s eyes and pay attention.
That movement in our lives then empowers us and sets us free to follow Christ – personal discipleship. This life as a Christian is not a spectator sport. We are all an integral part of the “game.” We are called to march to the sound of a different drummer. We cannot be about business as usual; we cannot order our life as a church, or individually, as if Christ had not come. He has come, he is here, we have seen him, he is changing the world, and he expects us to live as if he really has shown up in our lives. And now we must be about the business of building a community that is founded on the reality that God is with us; and that community is where we discover that the desire of God for us and the great longing for God in our hearts are integral elements of our being
Are we prepared for change, new directions, and renewed energy that will enable our mission and ministry in this congregation and this community to meet the challenge that lies ahead to be the living Body of Christ? Are we prepared to light a fire? What this challenge requires of us is a willingness to be very attentive to God and to the needs of his people. It requires us to be open and vulnerable enough to allow Christ to draw us into a new and deeper sense of connectedness and wholeness with God and one another.
It is really very simple, not always very easy, but very simple: “The Lord requires no more of the people than the justice that has been circumvented; the loving kindness that has been neglected; and the humility that accepts God’s revelation of truth and unlimited forgiveness for all of his people.” [Synthesis]
This gospel revolution is that the love of God is the ethical, moral, and spiritual standard by which the people of God are called to live and to relate to God and one another. Seems obvious and simple, yet, we have managed throughout the history of the church to build up a systematic way of edging love aside and replacing that central place of God’s love and desire for us with our own agendas, often judgmental, almost always political in one way or another, institutionally self-preserving, and exclusive – the antithesis of the revolution begun by Jesus.
We are not here to be entertained or to be coddled. Our mission is not to create empires or personal kingdoms. We are not called to be curators of ecclesiastical museums, or developers of social clubs or benevolent societies. We are here to worship God, care for one another, proclaim the Gospel, and to live like we believe what we say we believe. We are here to do justice, love steadfastly, and to walk humbly with our God. So simple. Not always very easy, but very simple.