Sunday traditions

First Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31

21Have you not known? Have you not heard?
  Has it not been told you from the beginning?
  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
22It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
  and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
 who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
  and spreads them like a tent to live in;
23who brings princes to naught,
  and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
24Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
  scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
 when he blows upon them, and they wither,
  and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
25To whom then will you compare me,
  or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
26Lift up your eyes on high and see:
  Who created these?
 He who brings out their host and numbers them,
  calling them all by name; because he is great in strength,
  mighty in power, not one is missing.
27Why do you say, O Jacob,
  and speak, O Israel,
 “My way is hidden from the Lord,
  and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
 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.
29He gives power to the faint,
  and strengthens the powerless.
30Even youths will faint and be weary,
  and the young will fall exhausted;
31but 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.

Psalm: Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

1Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God!
  How pleasant it is to honor God with praise!
2The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem,
  and gathers the exiles of Israel.
3The Lord heals the brokenhearted
  and binds up their wounds.
4The Lord counts the number of the stars
  and calls them all by their names. 
5Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
  there is no limit to God’s wisdom.
6The Lord lifts up the lowly,
  but casts the wicked to the ground.
7Sing to the Lord| with thanksgiving;
  make music upon the harp to our God,
8who covers the heavens with clouds
  and prepares rain for the earth,

      making grass to grow upon the mountains. 
9God provides food for the cattle
  and for the young ravens when they cry.
10God is not impressed by the might of a horse,
  and has no pleasure in the speed of a runner,
11but finds pleasure in those who fear the Lord,
  in those who await God’s steadfast love. 20cHallelujah!

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

16If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
  19For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. 23I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel: Mark 1:29-39

29As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
  32That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
  35In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

CHILDREN’S SERMON        

         Many of you here will remember the movie, “Chariots of Fire” and its beautiful theme song that captivated our hearts.  The opening and closing scenes show the British track team running in the sand along the ocean beach in preparation for the 1924 Olympics.  Eric Liddel the Scottish runner for the British team is the son of a missionary, studying at Oxford, helping his sister run “the mission” and pondering his future.  He takes a break in his work to train for the Olympics.  On the ship going to France, he learns that his qualifying race will be run on Sunday.  This news throws him into a moral conflict.  He believes that the Sabbath should be observed in ways that did not include running an Olympic race.  Harold Abrams, the Jewish English runner on the team runs for Liddell and Liddell runs the 400 meter race, not the 100 meter.  One of the questions running through the movie is the question, “Where does the power come from to run the race?”

Prayer:  Lord as we ponder that question today, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my power source.

SERMON

Do you have Sunday traditions?  One Sunday morning my son asked me, “Mom, why don’t you cook any more?”  In Kenya, we would always had homemade coffee cake on Sunday morning.  I was not doing home baking in the same way.  “No TV till after lunch,” was a family rule.   Sunday evening the kids were required to put on a DVD with a Christian theme.  They quickly learned to find a redemptive theme in many of their favorite videos!  As a child I earned by weekly allowance of a nickel by being able to tell my parents what the sermon was about.  My parents went out to lunch with friends on Sundays.  Others use Sunday afternoon to visit grandma.  In all these situations, there is a worldview that understands Sundays to be a day of rest.  Possibly this traces back to God resting on the seventh day of creation or the third commandment that tells us to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.

         Today’s text shares three Sabbath day insights into Jesus’ Sabbath.  Last Sunday we saw him in the synagogue but he was not silent, observing but actively engaged, being the living Word as he read the written word.  He was engaged in the confrontation of evil, the unclean spirit crippling a man at the synagogue.  He did not claim, “a day off,” but silenced and expelled the evil spirit, restoring the man to life.  Surely by now Jesus can chat with his disciples about the lesson he taught or the good deed he performed!  Jesus heads to the home of Simon Peter, along with Simon’s brother Andrew and their friends James and John.  Probably others were involved but unnamed in the passage.

         As Jesus enters the house, he is told that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is sick in bed with a fever.  Possibly lunch is not ready and people are hungry.  Traditions of hospitality are upset.  I would guess there is tension in the air.  Again the predictable is interrupted by “evil” that is illness, or at least by inconvenience.  Why does our author, Mark, shares this incident?   It is the beginning of Mark’s gospel and he is showing us Jesus’ concern for even women, for an elderly woman, not at the synagogue, probably widowed and sick..

         “31He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”  “At once” Jesus cares for Simon    Peter’s mother-in-law when he hears she is sick. We do not see Jesus confronting evil as with the unclean spirit, by ordering silence and dismissal.   Instead we see a tender scene.  Jesus takes her hand.  No bull dozing into her space.  It says that then he lifts her up.  I can only imagine that it is an arm around her shoulder to support her in a kind of hug, respecting her weakness and lifting her up.  Then the fever leaves.  Sometimes Jesus does do miracles and confronts evil with miracles but sometimes he enters our lives, gently, quietly, extending a hand, putting his arm around our shoulder and gradually helping us stand and get our balance.  God is not sitting back on some heavenly couch on Sunday, watching us through his cosmic television or zooming into our station to see what the deal is for when he goes to work on Monday, when he is back on the job. Restoration and revival can happen any day of the week, in church or in the home.  Restoration happens in direct confrontation with evil in our lives and restoration also happens in a gentle, encouraging approach that reaches God’s hand to us, assisting us to stand, and returning us to service.  Jesus is the living Word, written and spoken, found in church and Jesus is the compassion that works in our relationships.

         Secondly, the people are awed by Jesus’ dealing with evil in the synagogue and his fame spreads.  By evening, people have gathered at Simon Peter’s home with the sick and demon possessed.  The Sabbath is not over and Jesus is still healing “many.”  Sick are healed and many demons are cast out BUT “he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”  Twice we have now heard Jesus tell evil to be silent.  Interesting! Mark is again challenging our concept of God.  God does not rest forgetting us on the Sabbath, withdrawing from his creation.  AND God does not want the testimony of evil to build his kingdom.  Why?

         Can you imagine the post scripts to the testimony of those spirits?  Jesus healed Jimmy, why not you?  Jesus healed Sam, and he was not as sick as you.  Jesus healed Eunice and she is not deserving like you.  Jesus healed Sarah so follow that healer.  Evil cannot be trusted for loyalty to God, cannot be trusted to understand God’s plan, and cannot be trusted to tell the truth. So Jesus again tells the evil spirits to be quiet.  We may not be the person with an unclean spirit like last week, we may not be the sick person healed today, and we may not be one of the townspeople that gathered that evening, but that does not mean that God is not dealing with evil in our lives and in our world.  In all those scenarios, Jesus is willing to work and restore to us life as he is true God with the power and true man with compassion for our situation.

         So where does that leave us?  The next morning, Jesus is missing when more people come for help.  The news of a healer has spread and many need healing.  Success is so intoxicating and the needs of humanity are never ending.  But Jesus, “while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” For a third time our concept of God is confronted.  What was that about?  When we think of God, we do not think of a being with questions, with doubts, with confusion but in the face of success and human need, Jesus, true man withdraws to a deserted place.  Jesus has been tempted in all the ways people are tempted and he understands our doubts and confusing time when we need to withdraw and collect ourselves, to reconnect with the eternal and “charge our batteries.”  It could be that Jesus as true man also needed these times alone to think.  When the disciples find Jesus, they hear that the goal is not to heal and cast out demons but to spread the good news that the kingdom is near.

         Jesus draws aside to refocuses himself and refocuses his disciples.  Jesus has not come to make our life happy and comfortable. In the end people must still die.  Death by the virus is not sadder than death of a child with cancer or a mother in a car accident or a husband killed on the job.  Death is never welcome.  The wages of sin is death and we are all sinners.  Jesus has come to deal with death and to offer us life, not just to heal a temporary problem.  Jesus, and the gospel writer Mark, refocuses us.  The focus is not the miracle but the miracle worker and the spreading the good news that the kingdom of God is near.

         This Sabbath we have gathered around the living word to refocus our hearts and minds.  Are we looking for a miracle today and the deliverance from evil that has a grip on us?  That would be nice!  Are we looking to be lifted up from that would which holds us down so that we can serve better?  That would be nice.   Are we looking for God who is present and restoring our lives every day?  He does not rest nor does he grow weary.  Let us close with the words of the prophet Isaiah.

28Have you not known? Have you not heard?
 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.
29He gives power to the faint,
  and strengthens the powerless.
30Even youths will faint and be weary,
  and the young will fall exhausted;
31but 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.”

And the people of God said, AMEN!

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