Source of Strength:
Immediately is a favourite word in Markâ€™s gospel and suits its pace. The accounts in the first chapter of Markâ€™s gospel are a frenzy of activity. Jesus bursts on the scene after the death of John the Baptist, calls disciples, and begins turning the whole sytem upside down, breaking through the categories used to keep God boxed in just for us and people like us.
Combined with last weekâ€™s story of the man healed in Capurnaum, todayâ€™s passage from Mark gives us a glimpse of a day in the life of Jesus. This is a Sabbath day, when Jesus, the observant Jew entered the synagogue. He taught with authority surprising those in attendance, then he healed a man of an unclean spirit, then continues to heal for the rest of the day. His actions confront the Sabbath rule of no work on the Sabbath and break the barriers of the purity laws to show Godâ€™s love to the lost, the last, and the least, Rather than distancing himself from women, or people who were ill and therefore unclean, Jesus touches and heals not only bodies and minds, but also the social condition of those who are ill. In his day, this was far more radical than us embracing gays and lesbians by becoming an affirming congregation.
By the way, notice that Peter, the founder of the church at Rome, is married and has a mother-in-law. I guess that means St. Peter was not celibate!
In the midst of all of this and in the heart of our story for today, Jesus needs to go into inner space – centering in God. He goes out to a deserted place to pray. In that brief time apart, Jesus found renewed energy in God, the source of his strength.. I wonder what his prayer was about? I wonder if he was saying something likeâ€ my God what have I unleashed? I canâ€™t be all they expect? Thereâ€™ll never be an end to the demands. What should I do?â€ What do you think?
It isnâ€™t much of a break from the action for Jesus. All we really know is that the disciples are pretty annoyed with him, sitting out there all by himself, communing when there was so much to DO â€œ Everyone is searching for youâ€, they say. But Jesus, compassionate, wise as he was, was not driven by that need nor their demand.
Drawing on the clarity he found in prayer and solitude, he decides not to go back to Capurnaum where everyone is clamouring for more healing, but to move on with the disciples to preach and cast out demons throughout Galilee. He says, â€œfor that is why I came out.â€ And that is what he did.
Jesus in that quiet time, connects with Godâ€™s strength and uses this strength to bring healing to others. Some questions this raises in my mindâ€¦Where are the quiet places we go to renew our strength? Where do we reconnect with the power and the clarity to move forward? Where do we allow ourselves to rest in the source of our strength and renew the wellsprings of our faith so that we can take on the hard work of living as God intends us to live.
Isaiah 40 also speaks to the idea of God as our source of strength. The prophet reminds us in verse 31 that we must wait for Godâ€™s strength to come at times. A challenge for many of us who want it â€œimmediatelyâ€Ã la Marc! At first glance, these words sound like a psalm of praise to the Creator God. But these words were not part of some celebration liturgy. They were spoken to the heart of a broken, displaced people who had been force-marched across a desert into exile in Babylon. These people felt a great big empty hole where God should be. Isaiah proclaimed the exact opposite of what the people were experiencing. The people felt lost. They were drowning in hopelessness and the powerlessness. We know what that is like. It sucks the life right out of you. They despaired that anything could change; â€˜We will never go home. We will always be strangers in this strange God forsaken land-and God does not even care! We are pawns of the powerful who rule. God has abandoned us, forgotten us; God is absent, or indifferent at best – against us at worst.â€ You can recognize some common themes for our time.
And they had good reason, for feeling this way on the basis of their remembered experience!
Against all evidence to the contrary, Isaiah preaches hope, and renewed strength. Jim Wallis of Sojourners says, â€œHope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.â€ Thatâ€™s what Isaiah did. And change it did. Cyrus the Great of Persia invaded Babylon and allowed the exiles to return home. This time become foundational to the founding of modern Judaism, to gathering scripture as we now have it, creating the synagogue movment. But that was later. Right now people could see no future, no hope.
Isaiah calls the people to move beyond the blindness caused by their own pain, to dare to see themselves in a new way; to capture a new vision of who they really are, and who God is. You are not just captured people in a foreign land. You are a people of God, in covenant with the cosmic Creator. Your ideas about God are too small. Isaiah holds up the mystery of creation; the wonder, the majesty, the cosmic nature of this Life Force they called Yahweh-the unnamable one. This Creator was not limited to the temple destroyed by the invasion of Jerusalem as they had believed. This Creator sits throned above the vault of the earth, stretching the heavens like a veil, spreading the heavens out like a dwelling tent-the most powerful imagery available in a time of three-tiered universe.
If Isaiah were speaking today he might recall us to the awesomeness of whole galaxies born every minute, the mystery, the vastness of the cosmos. He might remind us of the wonderment of this same cosmic dance happening in the smallest particle of matter, in every cell of our being, in the infinite vastness of inner space. Heâ€™d remind us Iâ€™m sure that God is bigger than our domesticated images of God. Maybe if Isaiah had a DVD he might show movies of the awesome mystery of creation.
Then Isaiah speaks directly about power-and their feelings of powerlessness in exile. â€œYou think God is blessing the powerful? God brings down powerful rulers to nothingnessâ€ says Isaiah, â€œmakes the rulers of the earth as nothing. They become like young plants just set out, barely rooted who when the wind comes dry up and witherâ€. A reminder that oppressors come and go, and are not eternal. Good news in times of oppression.
No wonder people living in oppressive regimes the world over find the bible a powerful force for liberation. It tells us, over and over again that God is on the side of the weak, the hurting, the violated. And that God will not be mocked.
Isaiah says â€œYou think God doesnâ€™t care about your injustice?â€ Oh no. This cosmic God is not indifferent or blind to what is happening. This cosmic God cares. One of my favourite quotes is from Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa â€œI want to remind you God cares; God cares about injustice, God cares about oppression. God caresâ€. Weâ€™ve certainly seen that in South Africa. â€œHope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.â€
Isaiah then goes on to address the exhaustion of a people who have lost heart. Isaiah notices that in exile, even those who are young who should be full of hope have grown weak. That happens when a whole culture is lost. The young lose heart, lose hope, lose a feeling of empowerment. Many are in exile in our own times too- out of strength, suffering the kind of pain that can break peopleâ€™s backs, the pain that threatens to embitter and make you give up on life, those at their wits ends trying to find their place in life, those at their wits end from unemployment or poverty, or fighting against injustice.. those suffering as they live through the death of relationships, those enduring the pain of seeing loved ones wasting away under the onslaught of incurable disease, those living with disease, those living the hell of abuse and those recovering. Lots of exile. And the young in our culture suffer perhaps most deeply -the pain of joblessness, of uncertainty, of having nothing to hang on to, of rootlessness, of poverty, of living in a culture whose value system is destructive to the soul. Exile is real in our time as it was in Isaiahâ€™s. There are many anti-life forces that keep us disempowered.
The God we encounter in Isaiah is one who cares about the inner and outer oppression of people-who cares for wounded souls and hearts, but who also cares about the political and economic oppression in which the people find themselves.
Hear Isaiah â€œGod is the eternal God, Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary, Godâ€™s understanding is unsearchable, God gives strength to the fainting, the weak renew their energy. They that hope in God will renew their strength, will rise up as on eaglesâ€™ wings. They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.â€
They will rise up on eaglesâ€™ wingsâ€¦
I once had the privilege of watching a mother eagle teaching her young to fly. The mother pushed the young one out of the nest, but went under it when it started to fall, bringing it back to safety, pushing it out again catching it when it faltered, keeping on doing this until it could learn to strengthen its wings and fly on its own.
Do we have the courage, as Isaiah did, to believe in a God who does not lose heart; a God who cares about injustice in spite of the evidence to the contrary? Do we dare to proclaim hope for our time, as Isaiah did for his; that no matter how tired and hopeless we feel, God will renew hope? Can we remind ourselves to wait on God, to connect with the source of our power in these trying times in our world?
Can we remind one another that God does not grow weary? God will raise us up; and will raise up and sustain those who have lost hope. and challenges us to do the same. â€œHope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.â€
Isaiah 40: 21-31
The words of Isaiah 40 sound like the psalms of praise to the Creator God. To grasp the power of these words, we need to realize that they were spoken, not in some celebratory liturgy, but to the heart of a defeated, displaced, despondent people who were in exile in Babylon. They are spoken directly into suffering, into a profound experience of hopelessness and abandonment
Combined with last weekâ€™s story of the man healed in Capurnaum, todayâ€™s passage from Mark gives us a glimpse of a day in the life of Jesus. This day is a Sabbath day, when Jesus enters the synagogue, taught with authority, healed the man, then continues to heal for the rest of the day. In doing this Mark is signalling that Jesus is breaking a lot of the rules of his day.