Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany - Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-38
Jesus is the Savior who doesn’t forget. He doesn’t promise to call and then it slips his mind. Instead he trespasses upon you. Sets up a loudspeaker in your frontyard, proclaiming to all the world good news, the proclamation of God that he is now pleased with you on account of Christ and nothing else. Freeing you from bondage, not forgetting you in the prison of your own souls, of your own sin, of death; and releasing you from the terror of your mortality to live in Christ. The good news being that all the other news is bad news. As we hear at Advent, the opening of Isaiah 40 – “Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and announce to her that her time of forced labor is over, her iniquity has been pardoned, and she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” All the other refrains you hear are curses rather than blessings. The world becoming that orchestra that announces your death-march, your requiem mass, the song of the loner and the forgotten, trying to get a dead man to walk (something impossible), only to have Christ step in with one word of comfort, good news of deliverance, taking you by the hand and raising you up.
That was where the Israelites found themselves here in Isaiah. Taken away to Babylon. Placed in the bondage of their own sin. In part, God removing his protection by giving them what they wanted, an Israel without Yahweh. Without the Lord. That can be dangerous, can’t it? Life without the Life-giver. Left to our own devices. Lord of the flies on steroids. Setting aside the God who has told you he is your God, to find some other god.
But then also led into bondage through the sin of the Babylonians. Men imprisoning men only because they are different, or they lost the war. The people of Judah, the last remaining tribe, living in land Babylon wanted, and so Babylon took it. Taking the Jews away from all they had that was given to them by God to make them live as Babylonians live. To be as Babylonians are. Forced exile, forced labor, bondage as a way to pacify people, to scare and terrify them. Bringing the Israelites to the point, after 70 years, that they say God has forgotten me. “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my claim is ignored by my God.” This God who tells us that he is our God and has redeemed us from Egypt, they say, has forgotten us because now we need redemption from Babylon.
Move ahead about 800 years and imagine what it was to these people of Galilee, the forgotten. The red-necks. The blue-collar. Fishermen. Carpenters. A minor district in an impressive empire who could wonder themselves. Has God abandoned us? Forgotten us?
But who is this walking along the beach? Why it’s Jesus of course. Here comes the good news strutting his stuff. This Jesus of Nazareth speaking with authority, not because he’s done his research and has a good PowerPoint presentation, but because his word has power. He says, “Follow me” and they do. It does something.
Think of his first sermon as he comes to Galilee and announces to you that you are not abandoned. Remember? “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of heaven has”…what?...”come near.” Jesus announces it and then does it. He comes. Snuggles with you in the pew and whispers in your ear – I’ve found you. You are mine, my Beloved.
He enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and does the very work he came to do – releasing the prisoners. He casts out that demon. The demon of silence that was holding men down too long by wordless preachers. By preachers and scribes who brought nothing of God or life to a world of dying godless people.
Now he makes his way to Peter’s house and he won’t leave it alone. Peter is living with his mother-in-law. No mention of a wife if you notice. By all possibility they are living together because Peter is the last living male relative she has. Her husband and sons are swallowed up by death and Peter is left to care for his mother-in-law. He tells Jesus, “She has a fever.” Jesus, making sure that his words will always have power to break the chains, he goes into that room, takes her by the hand and raises her up. Resurrects her. Gives her new life, devoid of that fever. Ensuring that if these disciples might listen to anyone, they might listen to this One who likes to save and heal dead and dying things.
All of life is spent trying to avoid the inevitable. Trying to imagine that we aren’t grass. That we won’t wither by one breath of God Almighty. That we aren’t here one day and gone the next. But the demand, the law, of bondage comes and does it’s work when it takes the time to hit you over the head. I step on the scale and I’m told, You’re grass. I go to the dentist and am told, you’re grass. I think about retirement, about saving enough money, wondering if I can save enough – You’re grass. I fight with my wife – you’re grass. I wish my kids would listen – you’re grass. I hear the political theater get everyone’s undies in a bundle and then I listen closely – you are grass and so are they. This is just your mortality, the law coming to us in ways we think average or everyday. We haven’t even gotten to things done or left undone. Sin. Bondage. It’s everywhere. Exile. Everywhere.
In the midst of this captivity, the people in Galilee come and fill up Peter’s house because they want to see a miracle. They need a miracle. Illnesses healed. Demons cast out. Because of all the miracles he has done the house is crowded. Their hanging from the rafters and sitting on the bookcases begging to be touched by the word of this Jesus. To be healed. To get one glimpse of this power of God that has come near. Jesus being his name, God saves – that is what his name means. So he comes seeking the bound, the broken, the lost, and saves them.
People come seeking Jesus. They want to see this Christ for themselves. “Everybody is looking for you Jesus.” They want to hear him speak these words of authority that tell you your sins are forgiven and you are free. Because when he speaks, things happen. His word being the word that does the work, both of putting us to death, showing us our frailty, but then giving to us life everlasting.
Jesus doesn’t stay there though. He wants this news, this news that creates faith in a God who frees captives, to go all over the region. “Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I came.” To preach. That is the job of the Word. To preach the news. To be spoken. To release the captives by announcing that freedom has come.
Jesus is not going to stay there in Capernaum. Why? Because he can’t help it. He must get the news right. No fake news with Jesus. The state of his union is always perfect. The budget always balanced. Freedom is held in high esteem because, for Jesus, he doesn’t like to see his beloved in chains. So he must come to you and tell you, you are free. You have been liberated. The devil can’t harm you. Death has no victory, no sting. They may kill your body, but Christ is one whose words can call for life from death, creation from nothing. Giving you the very thing you need.
O that this word would be alive in us. That this place would be Peter’s house. People hanging from the lights begging to hear of this Jesus who is theirs. To hear the words. To know that you all have not been forgotten. That from this pulpit you will never hear something other than this news. That you might go and tell. Bring along the captives that they might be freed. For that is what your freedom does. Freed from bondage, freed from yourselves your Jesus turns you towards the work calling other slaves so that the keys of the Kingdom might be used. Be Peter’s mother-in-law, freed of bondage she served. Service being the result of the freedom. Being found and healed by Jesus, now service begins. Service doesn’t bring us to Jesus but is what happens when Jesus finds us.
That is why, for Paul, he can’t help himself. He must preach the Gospel. This good news of God that the Lord has not forgotten you, or is only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is your God, en-fleshinated for you. Crucified for you. Raised for you. The good news not being that you are to love one another. Because how many days do we do such a poor job of loving our neighbor, let alone our enemy? The good news is that whether you have done a good job or a poor job today of loving, of serving, God is pleased with you on account of Christ. Whether you are strong in faith or weak, God is your salvation. Whether you are holy or sin-filled, God’s work has been done in you. Nothing you can do can snatch you from the Father’s hand if you abide in Christ.
One day, one day, you will be laying in that bed, feverish, afflicted, in bondage to your mortal flesh. Disease coursing through your veins, and Christ will take you by the hand and you will arise to the glory of the One who comes for the forgotten and the bound. All loving of neighbor and of God will end, for you will reside in the fullness of love that is Jesus. For while we are still in our sins, Christ died for us. We love first and only because he loved us. That in all the ways we forget him, he remembers us. Sees us. Waits for that day to wipe the tears, to soak up the pain, to tear away the chains of all that should damn us. That is the promise which overturns the demands. That God, in his infinite mercy looks upon us, seeing not our deeds or our credentials, but his own Son, knowing that in Christ we are not forgotten. Thanks be to God. Amen