Epiphany 5 Lessons & Meditation

FIRST READING:  Isaiah 40:21-31

[Some background: The first part of the Book of Isaiah contained announcements of God’s judgment against his unfaithful nation, the southern kingdom of Judah. When Isaiah began his work as a prophet, the nation seemed strong and wealthy. But Isaiah saw injustice and unconcern toward the poor, religious “lip service” to God that never transitioned into faithful obedience, and outside threats by nearby neighbors and faraway monster empires. Isaiah declared that the only true hope for the future was God’s mercy and intervention, not material wealth, religious pretense, or political alliances. Chapters 1-39 are often called “The Book of Judgment”. Isaiah 40 begins the second part of the Book of Isaiah, the portion that seeks to offer promise and hope for God’s people during the time of exile in Babylon (587-538BC). For Biblical scholars who divide the book into two major divisions, we are in “The Book of Comfort” (Chapters 40-66); and for Biblical scholars who divide the book into three major divisions, we are in “Second Isaiah” (Chapters 40-55). In either case, Jewish exiles – who have been defeated, deported, and devastated – are being encouraged by proclamations of future deliverance from exile in Babylon, a return to their homeland, and the restoration as a nation and faith community of an Israel that has been judged and punished by God.]

There is a good reason for the Jewish exiles to wait patiently and hopefully, to seek to persevere and to  endure in difficult and challenging times: the one who will bring them to freedom is the God who has created the world, the God who subdues the rulers of the earth, the God who gives strength to those who are weary, the God who is everlasting, the God who offers mercy and renewed strength.

Read verse 31 again. Have you ever experienced “soaring like an eagle” and flying on, or running on, or walking on as you tried to wait patiently for the Lord?

A favorite song that we used in our St. Peter’s Summer Day Camp over many past years, a song that children as well as staff found much encouragement and strength in, had the words:

“I don’t know all of the future,

but I know He holds my hand.

And He’ll never (ooh-ooh) take his hand away from me.

Jesus walks right beside me,

holds my hand and He’ll never let go…”

Sometimes – when we are right in the midst of life’s struggles, experiencing pain, and maybe even feeling abandoned by God – we don’t feel like we have firm footing in the present, we don’t have hope for the future. So we must look back into our life’s journey to the faith that sustained us… we must look back in order to remember, in order to be renewed and revived by the God that we have trusted in in the past, the God who is strong and ever-loving. Who or what is more powerful than our God? Have you not known? Have you not heard? 

 

SECOND READING:  1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Chapter 9 deals with Paul’s policy of receiving financial support as a servant of Christ. Perhaps Paul was being criticized by some in the Christian community in Corinth for not exercising his right to receive provisions of support from them during his initial period of ministry… perhaps they wondered if he was indeed a real apostle, since receiving food and drink was considered an apostolic right. On the other hand, Paul might have used himself as an example in his discussion on “meats offered to idols”, found in Chapter 8 and Chapter 10, to illustrate how “personal liberty” should not be the prevailing principle for a Christian’s actions.

In Chapter 9 Paul asserts that he is an apostle and has the same rights as other apostles. He also asserts that he has the right not to make use of his apostolic rights, especially if he can avoid burdening others. He will

not use the teachings of Jesus to demand support, especially if such a demand would get in the way of preaching the gospel. To preach the gospel – that is Paul’s purpose, that is what he has been called to do, that is his accepted obligation and his privilege, and that is his life’s priority. So he’ll use his “freedom in Christ” – not his “personal rights” as an apostle – to do anything and everything he can to reach and win the lost for Christ and to build up the saints. He’ll do anything and everything he can to build a connection between Jesus and Jews, between Jesus and Gentiles (“those outside the law”), between Jesus and “the weak”. He will become “all things to all people”.

Are there groups of people in your community who are not being ministered to: The poor? Unwed mothers? LGBTQ persons? A different race or ethnic group? Children or the elderly? Persons with less education or more wealth? What would it mean for you, for us, to apply the principles of verses 19-23 in order to communicate the gospel with them? What “baggage” would you/we have to get rid of to be more effective?

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 1:29-39

In this reading we hear the report of a specific healing and the witness of numerous cures. Both evil and diseases are contrary to God’s will and have no place in the kingdom of God. Disease, devils, and death are all on the run.

Everywhere Jesus goes, the sick are cured, demons are cast out, the lowly are lifted up, the brokenhearted are healed, the gospel is proclaimed, and life becomes new. JESUS IS ALL ABOUT THE GOOD NEWS OF GOD’S GRACE AND MERCY. 

How is it possible that we, the Church of Jesus – who sometimes ourselves feel abandoned or overwhelmed, in suffering or sorrow, or just worn out and afraid – can shine forth that same LIGHT OF THE WORLD to others? Only by God’s grace and mercy… and our own humble willingness to serve.

Imagine what it would be like to have the whole town crowding around your door. Life feels that way sometimes. Sometimes the opportunities to serve others are too many, overwhelming us. How do you discern and respond to the occasions that arise in your life? Have you grown in your compassion?

You have been blessed to be a blessing. Will you? 

 

A PRAYER

Living and loving God, today we hear how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever… today we hear how Jesus was healing and giving hope, driving out demons and delivering, calming and curing, liberating and lifting those in the town of Capernaum  who were ill, who were in need of healing. Today we are asking that the Risen and Living Christ be present among us, reach out and touch us… and heal our wounded hearts and bodies and minds and spirits. This morning we entrust to God all who are in need of healing. We pray

for all who are afflicted and suffering in any way…

   for those who seek to heal others, provide medical care, and for the healing ministry of family and friends…

   for those whose lives are burdened and broken by addictions…

   for those who await diagnosis, face treatment decisions, or are about to undergo surgery…

   for those devastated by disaster or overwhelmed by tragedy…

   for those whose increasing years bring weariness…

   for those who cannot sleep and all who are tormented by anxiety…

   for all who are dying and those who are despairing…

   for all who are full of grief and sorrow…

   for broken relationships in our personal lives, our congregation, this community, our nation, and our world…

   for the sickness of this world that is expressed in violence, oppression, terrorism, and war…

   for the healing of this polluted earth and your abused creation…

   for the Church as it faithfully carries out the word and work of Jesus

    and shares God’s love and seeks to be and bring a healing difference to individual lives, to this world.

                                                      Amen.

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