Friday, February 03, 2012

Revive Us Again -- A Lectionary Meditation





Revive Us Again

            The old revival hymn declares:

Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.

The hymn calls forth the reviving presence of God to rekindle the embers of our souls, so that we might be empowered to live our lives fully before God and in the world.  It is a fact that life, especially the life of faith can be thrilling, but also draining.  We cannot hope to be effective servants of God dependent upon our own strength.  When the embers are close to going out, we pray that God would rekindle them.  Indeed, we see in Jesus an example of one who gave his all, and found it necessary to turn to God in moments of quiet to receive again the empowering presence of the Spirit. 

As we tend to the scripture passages that the lectionary lays before us on this fifth Sunday after Epiphany, as we continue to contemplate the revelation of God in Jesus, we ask ourselves, how God’s presence revealed in us?  Where do we find strength, especially when we encounter moments of difficulty?  What do we hear from these passages of Scripture that will speak hope to our lives and the lives of those most vulnerable in our society as well?

When we turn to Isaiah 40 we hear the words of a prophet of the exile.  This prophet speaks to a people feeling abandoned and lost.  They have lost hope that their voices will be heard.  They also must bear with the voices of their conquerors, which laugh at them and deride them for their perceived weakness.    Where is God, they ask?  It’s not easy being in such dire straits. 

The prophet, however, brings a word from God that speaks directly to their experience of suffering.  He asks them:  Don’t you know?  Haven’t you heard?  Have you not understood?  From the very beginning God has inhabited this earth, the inhabitants of which can be numbered like the locusts.  Trust and see, because those who mock you and repress you, God will make them useless.  They will be like the plant that is scarcely rooted, so that when the breath of God breathes upon them, they will dry up and be blown away in the wind like straw.  No one, God says can be compared to me – so take strength in this message, in this good news.  When you feel as if God has forgotten you, when it seems as if God is neglecting you, don’t forget that God is everlasting and will not grow weary or tired.    

God isn’t limited by our understanding of things.  When we’re ready to give up and go home, God gives power to the tired and revives the exhausted.   Indeed, even though the young will tire and grow weary, those “who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired, they will walk and not be weary” (vs. 31).  The road that the exiles find themselves on is long and difficult, but if they hope in the Lord, they won’t be disappointed. 

Such a confidence, of course, requires an eschatalogically inclined vision of reality.  To borrow from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, we can envision the penultimate finding its completion in the ultimate.  This vision, however, isn’t mere “heavenly sunshine” that we’ll enjoy in the sweet bye and bye, it is a vision of the ultimate that is both hidden and makes its presence felt in the penultimate.   It isn’t a rejection of the present, but a vision of what can be as the world is transformed into the likeness of ultimate vision of God.  Patience, however, is required, because all of this takes time.  Still, we needn’t lose hope for there is strength to be found in the one who will cause us to fly as on the wings of eagles and run and not tire.

Paul has reason to be weary.  The Corinthian Church is anything but docile.  It’s a constant challenge, but Paul sees potential in this church.  He comes to them willing to challenge them and push them, because he comes not of choice but out of obligation.  If he doesn’t preach he’s in trouble with God.  But, because he is accountable to God, and preaching out of obligation – “here I stand, I can do no other” – he is free to speak the word of God to them without fear.  That is, he won’t take advantage of the financial benefits that he can, with good conscience, avail himself of.  But this decision frees him to speak as he must.  He has moral authority he wouldn’t otherwise have. 

Paul’s message is apt, because those of us who are employed by the church, and who have families to support, know that we must be careful about what we say.  Challenging those who hold power isn’t easy, and can be dangerous, but Paul is freed from such fear.  The same can be said for Jesus.   
    
While Paul may be free from economic constraints, he is constrained by his mission, which is to gain recruits for the gospel.  Thus, to Jews he is one under the Law.  He follows its guidelines, not because they are ultimate, but because they provide a foundation for a relationship.  As for Gentiles, who have not been under the Law, he’s not compelled to bring them under the Law.  The elite and the weak, the Jew and the Gentile, he will do what is necessary to recruit them, to bring them into the fold, so that they might experience wholeness in Christ.  He is all things to all people, so that at least some will be saved.  Whatever he does, he does for the sake of the gospel.  He is committed and compelled by God’s calling.  What do you feel compelled to be and do in response to God’s calling?  What kind of freedom do you feel, that will let you take the risk of proclaiming the gospel of healing and hope to the world?

Finally we come to Mark’s gospel.  Jesus has been to the synagogue in Capernaum, and while there “all hell broke loose.”  There was chaos as a result of his preaching and his encounter with the demoniac.  Now, probably exhausted by this encounter, he joins Simon and Andrew, together with James and John, in a visit to the house of Simon and Andrew.   When they arrive they discover that Simon’s mother-in-law is ill with a fever, so Jesus goes to her, raises her up by the hand, and the fever leaves.  Free of her sickness, she begins to serve them. 

Now, this little scene should raise questions in our minds.  Did Jesus heal her simply because the men were tired and hungry and wouldn’t get fed as long as the mother-in-law was sick?  It’s a rather odd account.  The whole scene seems a bit self-serving.  Jesus may not have made bread from stones in the wilderness to sate his hunger, but here he heals a woman so she can serve him.  We shouldn’t make too much of this, but notice needs to be taken.

Remember from the previous passage, where Mark reports that word had spread throughout Galilee that Jesus was an authoritative teacher and healer?  (Mk. 1:28).    Perhaps that message, spread without the help of Facebook or Twitter, is explanation for why at sunset the whole town was gathered at Simon’s door, bringing to Jesus the sick and demon-possessed amongst them.  We’re told that Jesus tirelessly, with the power of God sustaining him, heals the sick and throws out demons.  But this time he doesn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him, and he didn’t want them revealing his identity.  Is it a matter of the revelation or the one making the revelation that is at issue here?  It could be either one.  

Jesus is a healer and a teacher, but he is also a man of prayer.  He recognizes that he can’t go it alone, and so he goes to a deserted place to pray, early in the morning, before sunrise.  Clergy who believe they can work 24/7 need to heed this example.  Jesus works hard, and then he takes time away to be in prayer and to rest.  When the disciples track him down, and tell him hey, everyone’s looking for you, he doesn’t go back to Capernaum.  No, he goes in another direction.  He’s not a settled pastor.  He’s an itinerant preacher.  He’s not going to set up shop in Capernaum; he’s going to follow his calling and go from town to town, preaching the good news.  That is, he says, why he came.  Thus, he went from synagogue to synagogue, preaching and throwing out demons.  In this, he too finds freedom to speak, challenging the status quo.  How might we hear this calling in our own settings, especially we who are settled in for the long haul? 

Revive us again, O Lord, so that we might run and not grow tired, walk and not grow weary.  Revive us again, O Lord, so that we might serve in freedom.  Revive us again, fill each heart with the love of God, so that inflamed by the Spirit, the good news of God’s realm might be made known – in word and in deed.     

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