Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B   Leave a comment

Above:  Clouds at Sunset

Image Source = Fir0002

The Call of God, With All Its Responsibilities

FEBRUARY 4, 2018

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Isaiah 40:21-31 (New Revised Standard Version):

Have 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?

It 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;

who brings princes to naught,

and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Scarcely 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.

To whom then will you compare me?

or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

Lift 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.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

and speak, O Israel,

My way is hidden from the LORD,

and my right is disregarded by my God?

Have 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.

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 upon 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 147:1-12, 21c (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Hallelujah!

How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2  The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3  He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4  He counts the number of the stars

and call s them all by their names.

5  Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6  The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7  Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8  He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares the rain for the earth;

9  He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10  He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11  He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12  But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

21c  Hallelujah!

1 Corinthians 9:16-23 (New Revised Standard Version):

If 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!  For if I do this on my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  When then is my reward?  Just this:  that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free if charge, as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became 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.  To 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.  To the weak I became weak, so I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Mark 1:29-39 (New Revised Standard Version):

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.  Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.  Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And 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.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.  And Simon and his companions hunted for him.  When they found him, they said to him,

Everyone is searching for you.

He 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.

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/fifth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

Isaiah 40:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/eleventh-day-of-advent/

Mark 1:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/week-of-1-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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In the Autumn of 1991, during my first quarter at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Tifton, Georgia, my father was the newly appointed pastor the Sumner United Methodist Church, Sumner, Georgia.  I did not know it yet, but I was on the cusp of converting to The Episcopal Church, which I did at St. Anne’s Church, Tifton, on December 22, 1991.  (https://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/12/20/reflections-upon-the-eighteenth-anniversary-of-my-confirmation/)  In the meantime, however, I was still a United Methodist.  One Sunday morning, while teaching adult Sunday School, I offended someone by accident.

You, O reader, might wonder what terrible thing I said, what utterly offensive comment I made.  I will tell you.  I was discussing grace, especially the prevenient variety, by which God brings us into the Christian fold.  God does beckon us, after all.  I offered a scenario:  God is beckoning a non-Christian man, who responds favorably and obediently to God’s prevenient grace yet dies before making a profession of faith.  Does the man go to Heaven or to Hell?  In other words, will God be faithful to this man, who had responded favorably to him?  Most people said that the man would go to Heaven.  But two visitors, a daughter and son-in-law of a member, said that he would go to Hell, for he had not made a profession of faith and been baptized yet.  I made clear in a polite and civilized way, in a pleasant and conversational tone, and free of any insult or hint thereof, that I disagreed.

That was my offense.  I disagreed.  I learned after the fact that the visitors had taken offense.  I was unapologetic then, as I remain, for another person’s thin theological skin is not my responsibility.

And I remain convinced that we human beings ought to admit that the only limits on grace and divine forgiveness are those God imposes on them, and that only God knows what those limits are.  Or, as David said in 2 Samuel 24:14,

…let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.  (Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

Grace is of the essence.  With that summary, let us work through the readings for this Sunday.

The lesson from Isaiah 40 predicts the liberation of Jews from the Babylonian Exile.  This is a chapter of comfort, as it begins with these words:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and cry to her

that her warfare is ended,

that her iniquity is pardoned,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

double for all her sins.

(Isaiah 40:1-2, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition)

The God of Isaiah 40 and Psalm 147 is the Creator, the judge who also shows mercy, looks favorably upon the faithful, and is infinitely wise.  The chapter, which begins with “…comfort my people,” ends with the promise that God will grant “power to the faint.”

That power enabled Paul the Apostle to persist faithfully through death threats, beatings, imprisonments, and a shipwreck, all the way until an employee of the Roman Empire cut his head off.  Grace moved Paul from the “right side of the law” and placed him in risky situations.  This was not cheap grace, that which demands nothing of one and is therefore useless.  No, it was costly grace–free in so far as Paul received it freely–but costly in terms of what it demanded of him.  The restrictions of Torah law no longer applied to him, but the law of the love of Christ demanded his all.

Jesus, of course, was perfect as well as fully human and fully divine.  Yet even he needed to get away, find quiet time, and pray.  A day full of healing will take a great deal out of a Messiah, I suppose.  He was grace incarnate.  It was Christ whom Paul preached and followed from his conversion to his execution.  It is Jesus whom we ought to follow, if we are not doing so already, and to whom God beckons people.

And if even Jesus needed to be quiet and to pray, how much more do we need to do these?  I live in a technology-soaked society, where many people are never really “away from it all” (except when sleeping) because somebody can contact them the rest of the time.  This is not healthy.  We need to nourish ourselves with peace, quiet, and God.  Otherwise, we will nothing constructive to offer anyone else.

Paul had a vocation as an evangelist and ultimately a martyr.  I have my vocation, and you, O reader, have yours.  The details of our vocations will vary according to various factors, but the principle is the same:  to glorify God, to be a light of God to others, to encourage our fellow Christians in their discipleship, to attract others to our Lord and Savior, to understand that there is no distinction between evangelism and positive social action.  As Shirwood Eliot Wirt, a close associate of Billy Graham wrote in the final chapter of The Social Conscience of the Evangelical (1968):

James was not wrong when he demanded that Christians show their faith by their works.  Jesus Christ was not wrong when he told his listeners in effect to stop sitting on their hands and to get to work doing God’s will.  He did not come to earth to split theological hairs, but to minister to a world in need and to save men out of it for eternity.  It is time the air is cleared.  To pit social action against evangelism is to raise a phony issue, one that Jesus would have spiked in a sentence.  He commanded his disciples to spread the Good News, and to let their social concern be made manifest through the changed lives of persons of ultimate worth.  (Page 154)

If I love my neighbor as I love myself, I cannot say honestly that I do not care about the injustice he or she endures, that he or she does not earn a living wage, that a flawed justice system convicted and sent him or her to prison unjustly, that he or she suffers under the weight of undue stigma, et cetera.  Grace demands me to care about all this and to act accordingly as well as whether my neighbor has a positive, growing relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are some of my responsibilities.  They are also yours.

God’s hands are my hands–and yours.  God’s voice is my voice–and yours.  May they be useful and eloquent, respectively.

KRT

Published originally at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on June 19, 2011

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