Lectionary blog for Feb. 8, 2015
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Text: Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11;
1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39
By Delmer Chilton
Years ago a youth group gave me a T-shirt I wore so much I wore it out. It read something like:
“To be is to do.” Socrates
“To do is to be.” Plato
Our Gospel lesson for today shows Jesus moving back and forth between doing and being – healing Simon’s mother-in-law and the others who were brought to him, getting up early and going off alone to pray, to just BE with God. In the midst of his prayer time, the disciples interrupt him with demands that he come and do what everyone wants him to do – more healing. Instead he insists on going to the next city to preach because, “that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38)
As with Jesus, so with us. For the church and as individual believers, it is sometimes difficult to find a balance in the doing and being departments. We can get so busy with our ministries and programs and in keeping the organization running and in meeting the needs out there that we take no time for either God or ourselves. And the usual end result of that is those who are doing too much get resentful of those whom they think are not doing enough.
On the other hand, there are those who are really good at “being with God” but have a hard time figuring out ways to be involved with and care for God’s people. I count myself in this group. I grew up on a farm. My Daddy once told a neighbor, “Delmer works hard, but you have to tell him what to do. If you ask him to figure it out himself, he’ll just sit there and look at the work and think it to death.” Some of us think our religion to death, contemplate the beauty of holiness or liturgy while ignoring the ugliness of sin and hunger and disease and homelessness and violence and, and, and … going on all around us.
Those of us who do too much need help in finding time for self and God; those of us who do too little need a push, a prod, a kick in the pants, to get moving and let our faith be ACTIVE in love. We can get some guidance from a few incidents in our text.
1) We must deal with what is put before us. When Jesus went to Simon’s house for dinner, he discovered his host’s mother-in-law was sick. In a simple act of compassion, Jesus healed her. Jesus touched her and she got up and served. People heard about it and began to bring to Jesus people who were sick or had demons. And Jesus dealt with what was put before him – he did healings and exorcisms into the night. You can’t always choose what it is you are to do; sometimes God chooses for you.
2) While we do need to carve out time and space for ourselves and that personal time does include spirituality and prayer, that’s only part of what’s going on with Jesus getting up early and going off to pray. This episode is a continuation of the temptation, the 40 days in the wilderness with Satan (Mark 1:12-13). Mathew and Luke (Chapter 4 in each) make clear that Jesus’ temptations were the urge to use his power and authority in ways that would attract fame, attention and popularity. Jesus is feeling that temptation one more time. People are astonished at his teaching; the whole city is coming to be healed or to see healing. His fame is growing. He goes to the mountain to search both with God and deep within himself. “Who am I, really? What does it mean to be the Son of God? What am I doing? What am I called to do?” When the disciples find him, Jesus is once again clear on the answers to those questions.
3) Just like Jesus, we have to learn to say no when the demands upon us get in the way of God’s purpose. The disciples came looking for Jesus because people had come to them looking for him. They were excited; the people were excited. Jesus of Nazareth was the “next new thing,” the latest in a long list of faith-healers and exorcists who had emerged in the multi-cultural Galilean region, which was a mix of Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and others. Everybody wanted to see Jesus do his stuff – the time was ripe; the iron was hot. And Jesus said no. Jesus said, “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.” Jesus “being” and “doing” had come together. He knew who he was and what he was to do.
I’ve always loved this bit from the writer Anne Lamott: “Again and again I tell God I need help, and God says, “Well isn’t that fabulous? Because, I need help too. So – you go get that old woman over there some water, and I’ll figure out what we’re going to do about your stuff.” (“Traveling Mercies,” p.120)
So it is with us; we turn to God for help and God sends us out to help others. Like Simon’s mother-in-law, we have received a touch from Jesus, and in response we get up and begin to serve others.
Sometimes the touch we receive is charismatic. Some people have been sick and were prayed over and got healed. Sometimes the touch is emotional, a crises in life or morals that lead one to give up and turn it all over to God, resulting in a conversion and a change of life. But most often the touch is less dramatic than that. Jesus touched us with water in our baptism. Jesus touched us with gentle persuasion in Sunday school, or caring relationships in youth group, or a hot meal and kind conversation in Campus Ministry, or week in and week out in our congregations Jesus touches us in the sacrament of the table, giving his body and blood for us and to us. However we have been touched by Jesus, the call is the same – the call to get up and serve.
Amen and amen.
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.