St. Paul’s Congregational Church

Psalm 111, Mark 1: 21-28, Epiphany 4B

January 31, 2021


I’ve been all over the place in my thoughts and reflections these days – actually, these past few months as I’ve faced the most serious health issues I’ve ever had. It seems a lifetime ago since the last time I was with you all in worship – it was Christmas Eve when we sang the wonderful carols, heard the story yet again of the coming of the Prince of Peace, and went out into the night with our candles burning in celebration of the Light coming into our world.

And then the coming of the season of Epiphany when we try to understand what that Christmas event all means – then and now. Epiphany – when we celebrate the coming of the Wise Men from the East – the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy that when the light came, it would shine for the whole world – for all peoples everywhere, for those who never heard of temple or torah, who never darkened the door of a synagogue or read a page of scripture.

Epiphany calls all of us to the light, and reminds us that light shines indiscriminately on those in the cold, dark shadows of a lightless and chaotic world. Jesus came to bring security, hope, mercy, to all people – to all people! To us. To you. To me. And to whoever we think of as “them”. To whoever we think of as “other” – it’s good news to all people.

And don’t we all yearn for that good news. How do we receive it?

Then during the season of Epiphany we deal with the question of God’s call – God calls us – not once, but again and again throughout our lives – to choose new priorities and leave behind the things that get in the way of our discipleship. God calls to us in the midst of our everyday routines – like Jesus called those early disciples. And God calls to us through the crises of our lives – like Jonah experienced. We have examples in our scripture passages of those who can show us the way this season: as we read their stories, we can glimpse God with us too, both in the midst of our joys and our challenges.

And this year the challenges are so great – I’ve had time this month to reflect on those in my own life, in the life of our country, our society, our world, and our church.

The theme of light keeps coming into my thoughts: I’ve been haunted by Amanda Gorman’s incredible poem, “The Hill We Climb” – she writes, “When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never ending shade?”

Isn’t that the question we all have! Whatever your context, whatever my context – that’s the question, isn’t it! Her ending challenge to us all: when day comes, we step out of the flame and unafraid, the new dawn balloons as we free it. For there was always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to BE it.

How indeed do we respond?

Jesus accepted God’s call to accept the rejected, heal broken spirits, liberate oppressed people, renew hope – to show the way of salvation, wholeness for all people – now it’s us who are called by God to continue Christ’s ministry. Are we willing to work hand in hand with the marginalized and oppressed people in our world? How do we cry out against the “demons in our culture and model a better way?

What moment is happening right now – for us as individuals, as a church, as a nation, as a world? What is our call? How will we respond?

I’ve felt a lot like Jonah lately – think about the image of being swallowed up – swallowed up by tragedy, illness, fear, anxiety, depression, the feeling of being overwhelmed. Swallowed up by anger, frustration, hatred – when we’re stuck in those feelings. I know we’ve all been there.

So, let’s go back to Jonah’s prayer – I called to the Lord out of my distress and you answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and billows passed over me. The waters closed in over me: the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains. Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord, my God. As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!

Our psalter this morning is a hymn of thanksgiving – the psalmist who has experienced our pain is reminding us that God doesn’t ever forget us – after all it’s God who set the people free, who provided them with food, who constantly remembered the promises of the covenant. We celebrate God’s enduring faithfulness! Remembering all this leads to wisdom and obedience and hope as the response to God’s faithfulness to us. Remember what God has done.

The God of all people is also our personal God – the God who knows the number of hairs on our head. The God who cares about each one of us, who calls us by name; the God who hears each one of our cries.

Frederick Buechner writes about the whale: no matter how deep it dove and no matter how dark the inside of its belly, no depth nor darkness was enough to drown out the sound of Jonah’s prayer. Jonah called out from 60 fathoms and God heard him and answered him.

God will hear each one of us too as we call out from our own depths, our own darkness. The challenge is there for all of us – both as individuals and as a gathered community of faith right here and right now – these challenges we’re all facing are hard. But we are never alone – we can’t escape God’s presence, we can’t escape God’s love.

My fervent and constant and comforting prayer is this when I take the time to focus: it’s you and me God…and God has never let me down. Like the psalmist, I’m challenged to remember that amidst the times of feeling overwhelmed, of feeling all over the place – one of my challenges and I’ll bet yours too, is to take a deep breath and celebrate God’s constant presence, receive God’s constant love – to focus on God’s faithfulness, God’s caring, God’s light – focus on letting God be God. And then we have the strength to respond to God’s call.

There isn’t anything else we really need, is there, to meet every challenge we face in our lives. God is with us, now and always. The light shines! May we see it and rejoice and in turn share that light with others. Amen