Reading Ramblings – February 7, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 7, 2021

Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; Mark 1:29-39

Context: What perfect words as we near a year of pandemic fear and alarm! We search for hope in so many places, we anxiously await the latest pronouncements of pundits, politicians and physicians. Each of these vocations is a gift of God in a broken world, but each is limited and should never replace our God as the ultimate source of hope. A year of pandemic feels like an eternity but is nothing more than a breath in a larger historical context. We often look to God as a ready balm for our immediate needs, such as the people of Capernaum in the Gospel reading. But the scope of God’s plans is so much vaster, as the psalm and the reading from Isaiah remind us. This doesn’t detract from God’s individual love and care for every single aspect of his creation, but it should teach us to keep in mind the larger context we are a part of, and consider constantly that God is using us in the midst of our joys or sorrows for things that extend well beyond our awareness or even interest.

Isaiah 40:21-31 – We hear the opening verses of this chapter during Advent. God promises favor to his people (vs.1-5) as his people are reminded of their transience (vs.6-8). The greatness of God is then extolled and the ridiculousness of idols is asserted (vs.9-20). It sounds so easy to us, but to the people of God – surrounded by idols and with idols creeping into or alongside their worship of God, these are strong words in a time of great uncertainty. Can God be trusted? Is God capable of sustaining and delivering his people, or should they continue to hedge their bets with some side offerings to the local deities? God is the All Mighty one, and He alone holds all power over every aspect of creation, whether humanity (vs.21-24) or the heavens (vs. 25-26). This should be a source of confidence for God’s beloved, chosen people, but also a call to fidelity. God is fully aware of their lax faithfulness. But if they think they will be better served by other so-called gods, they are mistaken. It is God alone who sustains all things to his purposes, and no situation or cause is ever beyond the capacity of God to rescue or resuscitate.

Psalm 147:1-11 – We praise God for his all-encompassing power and authority. There is no aspect of creation beyond his jurisdiction, no series of events beyond his ultimate control. His care for his people is a matter of historical record, should memory fail or the fearfulness of present situations cloud our theology. In fact, singing the praises of our God should be a pleasant pasttime, rather than a command we obey grudgingly. As we enjoy relating tales of the heroic or noble deeds of various people in our lives or throughout history, we should also take pleasure in telling and retelling the stories of our God’s faithfulness and deliverance. This act of communal as well as private recollection should serve not simply as an intellectual reminder of historical events, but as encouragement and hope. As we remember God’s ultimate authority we should be able to endure the uncertainties of our individual situations better, knowing his love for us is eternal and so is the relationship created between us through the Holy Spirit’s fostering of faith in the forgiveness won by the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ. We may not know our exact fate in temporal terms – the time of our passing or the cause – but we know that not even death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, and we know that ultimately whether things play out as we would prefer them to or not, the glory is God’s and we will celebrate his love forever.

1 Corinthians 9:16-27 – I’d much prefer that we read the first two-thirds of this chapter as well! Otherwise, it’s very easy to spiritualize what is an eminently practical chapter regarding the restraint we place on our rights rather than endanger the work of the Gospel in those around us. In the previous chapter Paul addressed the issue of rights (the ability to eat meat sacrificed to idols, since idols are nothing) as one less so of theology and more of love towards our brothers and sisters in Christ who might be endangered as we engage in our Christian freedom. Paul illustrates what this looks like with a personal example in Chapter 9 – the matter of his not asking for support from the Corinthians although he is entitled to it. The structure of chapter 9 is confusing at first as it seems such a major change from the previous chapter, but v.12b is the place where the first 11 verses of the chapter are put into context as personal example. Paul wants to make clear how serious he is in admonishing us to focus less on what our rights are in Christ and more on loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and considering their welfare constantly.

Mark 1:29-39 – Jesus begins his public ministry with demonstrations of authority in teaching (vs.21-22, 27), authority over demons (vs.23-27, 34) and authority over illness and disease (vs.29-34). Among people living essentially hand-to-mouth, the presence of someone who could offer such protection and deliverance would be a Godsend in every sense of the word! So it was that Jesus was busy late into the evening, after the workday and dinner time ended (v.32) and already He was being sought very early in the morning (vs. 35-37). Jesus no doubt understood the need and the desire of the people of Capernaum for him to stay. But Jesus’ purpose was broader than the temporal well-being of the population of one small town. Jesus makes this plain to Simon Peter and the other disciples. And even more specific, Jesus indicates his primary work is preaching. The Greek word in vs. 38-39 is often described as acting as a herald, announcing in a very public and obvious way, carrying a gravitas and authority, perhaps associated with the one commanding the herald’s announcements. Jesus has something important to announce – the need for repentance and preparation because the Kingdom of God is arriving (vs. 14-15). Jesus is preaching and a response is necessary – both repentance and belief of the good news He is proclaiming. Preaching has the same goal today, even with the people of God. Repentance is an ongoing necessity, as is an active belief in the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are always in danger of becoming lackadaisical in our faith, sitting too comfortably with our sin and not comfortably enough with the assurances of God’s grace and peace through Jesus Christ. We are too easily enticed away from reliance on God to casting our hopes on any number of other possible sources. Fortunately, the Gospel assures us of our forgiveness as it refocuses us on the Good News of Jesus Christ as our fullest and greatest hope.

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