The only way people know of God’s love for the weak and faint and weary and lost and oppressed is through us: when we embody God’s love in the world. That’s the whole point of it all.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, year B
Texts: Isaiah 40:21-31; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?”
How should we hear Isaiah’s tone? Frustrated? (How do you not know this already?) Or excited, breathless? (Have you heard? Do you know?)
Isaiah asks if we’ve heard and known two huge, seemingly opposing, things about God. First, God is the unequalled creator of all, sitting above the heavens, to whom the stars are like a fabric God can spread wherever needed.
Following that, the second “have you not known?” is hard to grasp. Have you not heard, Isaiah says, that God cares for the most vulnerable? God gives power to the faint, strength to the powerless. Those who wait for God will lose their weariness, will run, be lifted up like eagles.
God is so great we’re tiny grasshoppers, Isaiah says. Yet God notices when we stumble, when we’re so exhausted we can’t move. This is the consistent witness of the Hebrew Scriptures: however great and mighty God is, God sees all pain and suffering and struggle of God’s people, and comes in love, giving life and hope and healing.
But what tone of voice should we use to hear Isaiah? Surprise, that people still don’t know this truth about God? Or maybe sadness: “Haven’t you heard? Don’t you know?”
Because, given how God’s people, people bearing Christ’s name, act in the world today, it’s fair to wonder how anyone would know Isaiah’s astonishing good news about God.
We despair almost daily at the witness we hear from Christians today.
People bearing Christ’s name vote enthusiastically for child molesters and defend sexual predators, claiming they and the people they vote for are godly people. People bearing Christ’s name work overtime to create laws that crush the poor, laws that destroy families in the name of safe borders, laws that benefit wealthy white men while depriving the neediest of essentials for living. We make the sign of the cross on ourselves, it hangs prominently in our worship, yet people still use this sign of God’s undying love as a sign of hatred and terror, still burn it on neighbors’ lawns, use it to frighten those of different faiths.
If you’re looking for Christians to help, this is a country where you’d better not be weak, or weary, or faint, or exhausted; it’s not a country where you’d want to be a stranger, or to be different from others.
How could anyone know? How could anyone hear? That’s the more sensible question. As people of faith, who bear Christ’s name, it’s deeply painful to see the kind of God that our fellow Christians controlling our current political climate trumpet across our country. If people who knew nothing about God listened only to the loudest Christians in our country, they’d run in the opposite direction.
But listen, my sisters and brothers: there is still great hope.
See our Gospel today: the Incarnate Son of God acts just as Isaiah says to expect. If Isaiah’s God came and took human flesh, it would look just like Jesus. Healing a mother-in-law of fever. Standing in the midst of a huge crowd after sundown, healing all who come.
In Jesus, God’s Christ, we see the truth about God’s love for the weak and weary and broken of this world.
And notice something else: Jesus doesn’t work alone.
Remember a couple weeks ago, a little earlier in chapter 1 of Mark, we heard Jesus promise to teach his followers to fish for people? Look what they’re doing. They’ve got it down.
The disciples know Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is suffering, so they tell God-with-us, who heals her. That’s not all. Sometimes crowds find Jesus, just show up where he is. Not here, not in Capernaum that day. Andrew and John, Simon and James, whoever else is following, they bring people to Jesus.
As soon as Sabbath was over, “they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons,” Mark says. It’s these followers who witness to the healing love of God in the world, who bring those who suffer to the God who cares, the God who heals.
This is the way God will bring healing, and the only way people can know, through us.
It’s the way of Christ, from the beginning. Paul today talks about how he puts himself in the shoes of whomever he’s reaching, whether they’re Jews or Greeks, strong in faith or weak, to better reach them. He might be a little over-confident that he can be all things to all people, but he’s doing the job we’re all called to be and do: bring people to God’s love and healing.
And these folks don’t just hand them off to Jesus. These first followers became God’s embodied love themselves as they traveled the land after Pentecost. They didn’t proclaim God’s good news in Christ to gain members of churches. They proclaimed God’s love because they wanted everyone to know, everyone to hear. They wanted everyone to be able to answer Isaiah’s questions with yes.
God lifts up with wings like eagles through our love and care. God strengthens the powerless through our vulnerable giving and loving. God raises up the exhausted, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, breaks the systems that oppress, through us. That’s how people hear and know.
This is why we are anointed as Christs ourselves. It’s the whole point.
What we despair seeing done in the name of Christ today has been done by Christians for a long time.
But there have also always, always, been Christs in the world living the love of Christ at the same time, through whom people heard and knew of God’s love. Christians invented the Holocaust and executed it, but there were also Christs throughout Europe embodying the sacrificial love of God who stood against such hate. We might not be at that level yet in our country, but we all still have this calling, this gift: you are Christ. We are Christ. We can make a difference.
And we already have. People have heard and known God’s truth already, through us. Through many others around the world. Through you others have learned God’s compassion, have experienced God’s healing, have found welcome, and rest, and nourishment, and hope.
So we’re not starting today. We’ve been at this awhile.
But today, like every time we worship, we are re-centered in Christ’s love, we’re lifted up and our weariness is taken away. We leave here refreshed and ready for another week of being the embodied love of God in our broken world.
There are always going to be plenty of people who take their own hate and fear and prejudice and try to bless it with the name of God.
Thanks be to God, there are also lots of us, here and across this world, who try to do the opposite. Who have learned the joy of self-giving love, of vulnerability, of sharing. Who have been so shaped by God’s forgiveness and grace that it flows out of our words and actions. We fail sometimes. We might not be as loud. We don’t make the headlines (but God never meant for that, anyway).
We just go out with the heart and eyes and hands and love of God, and start spreading the news in our bodies, voices, and lives that the God of all time and space actually cares about the least, the weak, the weary. And when we show up, as Christ, that’s when people will know. That’s how they’ll hear.
In the name of Jesus. Amen