Sermon for Epiphany 5B – 7th February 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31; Ps 147:1-11, 20c; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Donald goes on holiday to the Middle East with his family, including his mother-in-law. During their stay in Jerusalem, Donald’s mother-in-law sadly dies. He goes along to the British Consulate to enquire about how to send her body back to the Scotland for a proper burial. The Consul tells him that to send the body back to Scotland for burial is extremely expensive. It could cost him as much as £5,000. The cost of burying the body in Jerusalem however is however only about £150, so most people opt for the latter. Donald thinks about it for a little while and says, “I don’t care how much it costs to send the body back, that’s what I want to do.” The Consul says, “You must have loved your mother-in-law very much.” “No, it’s not that,” says Donald. “You see, I’ve heard someone, many years ago, was buried here in Jerusalem, but on the third day he arose from the dead! I just can’t take that chance!

Many preaching on today’s Gospel concentrate on the fact that the woman that Jesus heals is Simon and Andrew’s mother-in-law which is possibly the least interesting detail in the passage.

In much of his writing, Mark’s encourages us to look for instances of resurrection in everyday life in the lives of our friends and families and in the social and political realms. As so many in our world have found over the last year, a wide-spread fever can be extremely debilitating if they can’t do what they need to in relation earning money to feed, provide for and more generally serve their family.

We all long for the day when we can be released from the grip of Covid-19 and a world-wide vaccination programme is undoubtedly a step in that direction. It will allow us to feel whole again and means that we can once again be fully present to to others. We, for instance will be able to visit our new granddaughter Alanna and of course her parents Tracey and Andrew. In Mark’s gospel healing isn’t an “individual” thing, it’s a repairing of relationships, son to father, daughter to mother, and here, mother to children. Repairing the bonds of family is a dimension of resurrection.

The resurrection life that Jesus proclaims here isn’t simple or unambiguous in the world in which we live. Our passage goes on to suggest the enormity of the suffering (“the whole city was gathered around the door”) in much the same way that daily we hear stories of people who have lost their jobs, their businesses, their sense of well-being and their sense of orientation. Note however that Jesus doesn’t attempt to deal with all of this illness and suffering.

Early in the morning, Jesus leaves the house of Simon and Andrew and withdraws to a “deserted place” to pray. Prayer is an essential part of Jesus’ spirituality and He always turns to it in moments of crisis in his ministry. When Simon and his companions finally find him, alleging that everyone’s looking for him, he tells them that they need to move on to the surrounding towns in order to proclaim the message there too, and to continue his ministry.

In our passage from Isaiah, we find the people of Israel in exile in Babylon. They’ve had their familiar way of life turned upside down. Many are separated from family and friends, and to put it mildly, they’re down-hearted and fed up it’s been going on so long. I don’t suppose that rings any bells does it?

But Isaiah doesn’t seem to be down-in-the dumps. God, speaking through him says that the same power used to make the heavens and the earth will be deployed on behalf of the people to form them into a New Creation. The claim that the Creator doesn’t faint or grow weary suggests that Creation didn’t stop somewhere in the Genesis narrative of Creation, but is continuing and as a result great things can be expected.

Part of this creative work will be renewing and strengthening the people. God may not be tired, but people around the world are. But, a new future with unrestricted travel, a removal of restrictions, and rebuilding our lives in new and creative ways will require energy. Just as travelling back to Jerusalem and rebuilding that city would require energy of the people of Israel, once they’re released from captivity. However, we’re told that those who trust in the Lord will have the energy to move forward into the new creation that the Lord has in store.

Those who returned to Jerusalem would find their share of struggle and disappointment. The promise of new creation was not a promise of life outside of the world as they knew it. Yet the creative power of their God would open for them a way where before there’d been none. This powerful, caring God would provide the energy the people needed for their journey back to Jerusalem.

Those who wait for 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”.

At times when life has worn us down, when the spiritual battle seems overwhelming, when we feel as though we can’t go on, Isaiah offers us spiritual energy from a powerful, creative, but engaged God. In one sense, the prophet offers encouragement to go back. The scattered exiles can go back to Jerusalem from the far-flung regions of Babylon. The people will go back, but everything’s changed. They can’t go back, they can only move forward into God’s new future.

Weariness, of course, isn’t unique to the Israelites. Moving forward into a a future that we can’t yet imagine may seem some way off, but the promise of God’s continual creative work, with its mysterious yet life-giving power, should continue to give hope for God’s tired and weary people.

As the church we can’t go “back” once the restrictions are lifted. The church can only move forward into an uncertain world. What sort of church do we need to be as we move into that future? This passage look back to the faith that formed the church. That faith which recognises God’s creative power as well as the affirmation that God sees and knows us and God cares for us. God can and will give the church the energy it needs to move forward, so long as we let Him speak to us.

Where to start? Well even Jesus couldn’t heal everybody or sort out all of the things that were wrong in the world. So as we look to the future we need to accept our limitations.

For Jesus, prayer was the place to begin and so we each need to find our own “deserted place” in order to re-charge our spiritual batteries and to allow God to speak to each one of us and show us what Resurrection looks like in our everyday lives and in the lives of our friends, families and communities. Through that prayer He can show us what He how he wants us to play our part in that New Creation.

Amen.

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