Monday, February 9, 2015

Wait. Move. Stay. Go.

(A sermon based on Isaiah 40:21-31 & Mark 1:29-39 for Sunday, February 8)

What has you stuck? What has you stuck in a rut, stuck in a mess, stuck in a quandary, or stuck in your life?

Maybe it’s the state of the world that has you stuck. You look around you at all that is happening in the world and you wonder if anybody can do anything about it and if anybody even cares about it. You may even wonder if God cares.

That’s the way it was for many of the people addressed by the prophet whose words are found in Isaiah 40-55. They were in exile in Babylon, having been ripped from their homeland in Judah a few decades before the prophet spoke these words. Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple within it had been levelled; the faith of many people was destroyed along with the buildings. Their thinking went something like this: Babylon had conquered Judah so Babylon was stronger than Judah; Babylon’s gods had defeated Judah’s God so those gods must be stronger than the Lord.

You can understand how they would feel that way. Maybe you even feel that way. Maybe you look at the ways in which so many people in this world as suffering because of the horrible actions of a misguided few. Consider ISIS, for example, that radical so-called Islamist force comprised of an estimated 30,000 fighters that is creating havoc in the Middle East and that so cruelly executes its captives. Maybe you look at that and at the other evils that people perpetrate against other people and sometimes find yourself thinking that God has written us off.

In response to such thoughts the prophet thunders, “Have you not known? Have you not heart? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable” (Isaiah 40:28). We must never forget that God is indeed God and that the cruelties that seem so strong will in time and in fact fall.

There was a day when it was crystal clear that the forces of evil, of cruelty, and of hate had won. It was on a long-ago Friday on Golgotha’s hill when the only perfectly loving, fully gracious, and totally selfless person who ever lived was executed in the most humiliating fashion possible. On Friday night he lay in the tomb; on Saturday and into Sunday morning he lay there, dead. But on Sunday morning something happened. On Sunday morning love won over hate, selflessness won over selfishness, humility won over arrogance, and God won over all the forces of evil that had been reveling in their seeming victory.

“He 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 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” (Isaiah 40:29-31). Sometimes we have to wait but God in God’s time and in God’s grace will get us moving. God got the people moving back from Babylon to Judah. God got the people moving rebuilding their temple. God got the people moving reconstituting their nation. But they had to wait a while.

And on Easter Sunday morning, God got Jesus moving so that he was no longer dead but was alive. But Jesus had to wait a while.

God will give us strength to get moving, too—but sometimes we have to wait a while.

So maybe it’s the state of the world that has you stuck. Wait on God; God will get you moving.

Or maybe it’s the state of your life that has you stuck. That was the case with Simon’s mother-in-law; she was sick and confined to bed. That meant not only that she was physically ill but that she was unable to fulfill the social expectations that gave so much of the meaning to people in her environment.

Is there something about your life that has you stuck? Is there something that drains the meaning from your life or that makes you feel like life is not worth living? Jesus wants to touch you and raise you up so you can really live again. And when Jesus raises you up he will set you on your feet so you can do what most needs doing—he will enable you to serve others.

Simon’s mother-in-law began to serve her guests as soon as her feet hit the floor. Jesus helps us for own sake, to be sure, but he also helps us so we can help others. Jesus helps us because he loves us, to be sure, but he also helps us because he wants us to love others.

Sometimes we have to wait for Jesus’ touch, too—but once he has raised us up, it’s time to get moving and to give ourselves away for the sake of others. His grace is too great for us to keep it to ourselves!

That doesn’t mean, though, that we have to wait for complete restoration before we start serving; if we wait for that we’ll never serve. Simon’s mother-in-law’s fever went away but I’m sure she had other problems—if not then, then eventually; Jacob limped after his encounter with God; Jesus’ wounds were still visible after his resurrection. We are all, to use Henri Nouwen’s famous term, wounded healers.

Maybe it’s the state of our perspective that has us stuck.

Lots of people then came to Jesus for his healing touch. The next morning, he went out by himself to pray but Simon came looking for him. “Everyone is looking for you,” Simon told him. Simon wanted to alert Jesus to the fact that there was still much to do; perhaps he wanted Jesus to be aware of the fact that if he was going to build a big following in the local area he was going to have to stay with it.

But Jesus told him he couldn’t stay there; there were other people in other places and he needed to go because that was why he came. He came not to pile his grace up in one place; he came rather to spread it around.

Bill Moyers once said that Baptists are like jalapeno peppers—spread them around and they add flavor to life but put too many of them in one place and they’ll bring tears to your eyes. Israel has two large lakes, one called the Sea of Galilee and the other the Dead Sea. Do you know why the Sea of Galilee is alive and the Dead Sea is dead? It’s because the Jordan River flows into and out of the Sea of Galilee but only flows into the Dead Sea. The reason the Sea of Galilee is alive is that it passes the life-giving river along; the reason the Dead Sea is dead is that it keeps the river for itself.

If our perspective is that it is better to keep God’s grace for ourselves and to try to keep piling it here for us and for ours, then we are likely to bring tears to stagnate to the point that we become sick and make others sick. But if our perspective is that it is better to pass along the love and grace and healing and mercy and forgiveness that we have received from Jesus, then we will become healthier and healthier and will contribute more and more to the health of the community and the world around us.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about vaccinations in the light of the recent measles outbreak in our country. One thing I have learned is that there is such a thing as “herd immunity” or “community immunity.” It is defined this way:

When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. []

We get inoculated and we have our children inoculated, in other words, not only for our sake but for the sake of others.

What will we do with the life and the healing and the grace that God has given us?

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