St. Paul’s Congregational Church
Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39 – Epiphany 5B
Rev. Cynthia F. Reynolds
Why did you come to worship today? To reconnect with God and each other? To take some time to try to break the distractions we all face in our daily living? I’m a snow lover, honestly, but another storm today? Enough already…my driveway was clear yesterday thanks to a lot of shoveling – I truly have wonderful neighbors – and two days of above freezing temperatures and bright sun! We do get swept up in our daily living, our daily worries, our daily frustrations, the isolation we feel too often these days, don’t we – and we get carried away like a tidal wave.
Are you feeling drained? Maybe are you losing hope? Is joy harder and harder to find? Are you finding it harder to remember your call and the dreams that God has placed in your heart? Are you feeling besieged from all sides and unable to get it together? I suspect we’ve all experienced these feelings – maybe not today, right now, but at one time or another. We’ve heard wonderful call stories during epiphany – how do we respond to our call? How indeed do we sustain our ministry, our relationship with God, our discipleship journey, our connection with Jesus with all the distractions around us? How do we escape the tidal wave?
Our scripture passages today give us lessons of how to do that – and they hold out the promise of strength to maintain that balance that we all seek. I truly believe we’re all on that search – and somehow we know that we can find the help and strength we need here in worship, gathered as the Body of Christ here in this place at this time.
So we look to the Bible: The Isaiah passage is one of my favorites – it reads like a hymn of hope. The people have long known God as their creator – but when this passage was written, they are living under oppressive circumstances in exile in Babylon and it feels like God has abandoned them. They’re tired and desolate. But Isaiah gives them a new song to sing: it’s about God, not only an awesome creator but also a tender sustainer, who not only created the stars but gave every one of them a name.
It reminds them, and us – that God is not passive – God makes, stretches, brings, reduces, sends, leads, calls and never grows weary of caring for us. Isaiah tells us that if we trust in God for help, God will renew our strength like that of the mighty eagle – and we will run and not grow weary, walk the distance and not faint. Don’t these words give hope and raise spirits!
Mark tells the story of a day in the life of Jesus: teaching and healing. The healing of Peter’s mother in law shows a compassionate Jesus and a model for discipleship. She is brought to Jesus by others – think about the evangelism shown here – and she is given new life and responds with service.
Then there’s the response to Jesus by the crowds and by the demons. Even after the sun has set, the crowds follow him for healing. The whole town is there! The people are caught up in the miracles, but the demons, who recognize who Jesus is, are forbidden to speak. Jesus had a full day – very full – very busy.
The overwhelming job of healing the crowds is put into perspective as we read of Jesus rising early to go off by himself to pray, to unplug, to a place by himself for a talk with God. For a time of listening to God. For a time of developing his relationship with God. For a time of strengthening. For a time of remembering how God has been with him in the past. For a time of being reattached to God. Jesus shows us the way to escape the tidal wave.
Why do we worship? To praise God. To thank God. To let God inhabit us, fill us, restore us, guide us: We all need to unplug and make room for God’s voice for us – to turn aside from the noise in our heads – from the worry, the fretting. To listen for God’s word – through the word, through prayer, in the silence, through the music, through the sacrament. To reconnect with the God who loves us all.
God’s strength can be our strength.
And hear the promise: those who wait on 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.
What powerful, wonderful words. That, if we let them, can break through our feelings of being overwhelmed and move us back into living in an attitude of gratitude. And look forward to the future with a sense of joy, a sense of promise.
The fog clears – we can step back and take a deep breath, and let go and let God. We can get our focus back. We realize that we’re not alone – we’re not in charge – we can find hope again. We’re able to see those signs of hope around us – we don’t quit. We keep going. We move forward to the promise of good news. These words are for us today just as much as they were for those ancient people of Israel.
How do you find – re-find – your focus. We have to take the time to do that, don’t we. Is there a place that helps you know God’s presence in a powerful way? Go there! Meet God! Let God’s presence work in and through you. Get your focus back. Get your perspective back. Be still and let God speak.
Jesus teaches us all we need to know, shows us all we need to be and do. Why did Jesus go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day? Week in and week out? Why did he worship at the temple with God’s people as well as keep the law of God? Why did he continually turn aside during his busy days of doing God’s work, of preaching, and go to a quiet place to pray?
Why did he withdraw from his disciples and from the crowds to go up on the mountain or into the garden to wait upon God?
Because he knew this is what would keep him on track. He knew this is what would give him the strength. Maybe he did all this because without doing it he could not have done all that he did.
God has a purpose for each of us.
God will raise us up.
When we put our hope in that, when we feed ourselves with God’s word, when we allow God to speak to us – instead of just talking at him all the time, when we take time aside – when we take time to be holy – God moves in us to do what we cannot do on our own. God moves in us to give us the strength and peace that lasts.
How do you start your day? What grounds your day? In spite of the craziness in getting the children off to school and yourself off to work or errands or a myriad of other activities for the day – how about taking some time in prayer – waiting on God. There are plenty of devotionals available to help with a structure for this – I especially enjoy the daily devotion from the United Church of Christ – first thing I read in my emails each day. Or – when you first open your eyes when you wake up, just say a simple prayer: Thank you God. Those few moments with God will change your day! God will raise you up!
Hear again the promise from Isaiah: God does not faint or grow weary; God gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted. But those who wait on 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.
Unplug and let God abide in you. Unplug and listen for God’s word. Unplug and know the joy and peace that passes all understanding.
May God’s spirit work in and through each one of us – as individuals and as church, members of the body of Christ –now and tomorrow and all the days to come!
Let us pray:God of life, by your great will and power you have created and sustained the vast universe.In the midst of all this greatness and splendor, you have set us, creatures in your own image.By your grace you have called us to serve you and be your people.Teach us, O God, your ways.Help us each day to turn aside and to listen for you, to study your word, and to pray to you that we might live as your people, and give ourselves – all that we are and all that we have – in obedience to your will – so that we might have strength and hope, peace and joy, and so that we might be able to share these with others in your n