A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
(Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39)
Our Old Testament reading begins with a series of questions: ‘Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?’ (Isaiah 40:21). This theme is revisited later in our passage: ‘Have you not known? Have you not heard?’ (Isaiah 40:28).
Clearly there is something Israel is missing. Something they are not hearing. A distant rumbling they are not detecting. There is a sound from the ‘beginning’. A distant and primal note from the beginning of everything.
And the people of God are missing it.
You see, Israel is distracted. They hear momentary sounds. The orders of princes. The plans of earth’s rulers. Sounds made by those who God blows away in a moment. Under God’s breath they ‘wither’. They become ‘stubble’.
The image changes: ‘Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?’ People of God, you are listening to the wrong voice. Your eyes are fixed too close to the ground.
Lift your eye! Tune your ear!
The Israelites have fallen into an age-old trap. Not only have they lost sight of God. They are so convinced that God is not above the ‘princes’ and ‘rulers’ that they declare out loud: ‘My way is hidden from the LORD and my right is disregarded by my God’ (Isaiah 40:27).
Yet all the time God remains. He knows we grow ‘faint’ and ‘weary’. He knows we ‘fall exhausted’. And so, God offers the remedy:
They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not grow weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31).
How well we know this verse. Yet how rarely do we listen carefully for the rumbling of our creator and saviour. How rarely do we lift our eyes to the horizon – the place where heaven and earth meet. How rarely do we ‘wait’ for God.
Yet without such waiting we forget that God is involved in our world at all. In your world. Your worries. Your threats. Your insecurities. God knows the ‘princes’ and ‘rulers’ that threaten you.
The english word ‘involve’ comes from the latin ‘involvere’. It is a combination if two words ‘in’ and ‘to roll’. God has chosen to be ‘rolled in’ with all creation. This is not pantheism, that philosophy that God is everything. Rather this is panentheism. The theology that God is in everything. Our God, your God, is involved.
Hear the again action words of today’s psalm: God builds, heals, determines, lifts, covers, prepares, makes, gives, ‘takes pleasure’ in. Our God is involved. Can you see it? Can you hear it? Can you, with the psalmist,‘hope’ in the involvement of the LORD?
Our Gospel reading tells us the same thing. In this tightly packed account of Jesus’ visit to Capernaum, our perfect God-image-bearer, enters Simon’s home, heals the mother of the disciple’s wife, and welcomes and heals the sick and disabled to his friend’s door. God’s heart is to be involved.
Yet the next morning Jesus is found waiting on God. Yes, Jesus prayed. After the excitement and drama of the previous evening, Jesus focussed his sight on God. He tuned his ear. In those early hours, Jesus waited for God.
And even after the excitement of all those miracles, his spreading fame, and now the disciple’s claim: ‘Everyone is looking for you’, Jesus heard the call to leave. In the waiting Jesus heard God and took a course that made no human sense. Jesus heard and followed the involved God from one town to another.
And so does the Apostle Paul. The involved God also called him to be involved. In order to communicate the wonder of the good news of Jesus life, death, and resurrection – his involvement – Paul became involved with the people God’s world. Jesus won for Paul freedom from the law. Yet here Paul takes on the law again to share the gospel with those who still follow it. He becomes a Jew when communicating to Jews. Adopts the various cultures of the world in order to communicate with the nations. He is strong but becomes weak to connect with the weak. No wonder he can declare: ‘I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (1 Corinthians 9:22).
It is a memorable description of Paul’s missionary heart. The desire to communicate, and create an overlap between himself and other people in order to gain a hearing for the gospel.
Of course, this just makes sense. After all, Paul follows the God revealed in Jesus who was took on our life and death. This describes no clockmaker God who winds up the world and leaves for another task. It describes a God who sustains creation. It points to God as the foundational rumble of everything. To the God who is the horizon that gives us a much needed perspective.
The only question left is: Will you wait for the one who is involved – even when you find it so hard to see?