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Strength for the Powerless

  • February 4, 2018
  • 08:00 AM

Sermon for February 4, 2018 (Epiphany 5, Year B – SuperBowl Sunday)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of S. Mary, Falmouth, ME

Texts:             Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-12, 21c; Mark 1:29-39

Title:               Strength For The Powerless

“But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like E-A-G-L-E-S, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Today, my friends, we are talking about … ENERGY!

That’s right – energy!

In this famous passage from the book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks words of hope and comfort – but mixed in with a fair amount of rebuke.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 40:28).

The prophet speaks after the fall of Jerusalem. These words are directed at those in Babylon, carried away in captivity, as well as to those still in Judah, living among the ruins of their society.

Do you remember what happened, how they had arrived at this point? Babylon was the empire. The dynasty. They were unstoppable. Each summer the armies of Babylon went forth and won battle after battle. They were led by a man who always seemed to find a way to win.

By contrast, the people of Israel and the people of Judah were hopeless underdogs. There was no way that they could win on the field of battle against the empire, that dynasty from the East.

(Does this storyline sound familiar to anyone? I hope so!) But seriously, truth be told  – they lost! They were demolished. The dynasty continued. The empire won!

And so a number of the Hebrews concluded that the gods of Babylon must have defeated Adonai, the God of Israel.

That’s how it worked in those days, right? Each army went to war with the blessing of their deity. If they lost, it was because their god was defeated by the other god. Or at least, this seems to be how the regular unsophisticated folk thought of things.

So to those who thought that the LORD had been defeated, to those who thought that their future was now over, the prophet speaks a word of rebuke!

“Has it not been told you from the beginning?” That is, did you not learn in Sunday School that the LORD created everything? Did you forget what God did to Pharaoh?

Do you not know that God created every single star you see in the night sky and knows them all by name? And so what is YOUR problem? What’s going on in your life that GOD cannot handle? ……

The prophet reminds them that God is God and we are not. That God has purposes and goals which we cannot imagine. That the One who created all things CANNOT be defeated be anything.

The prophet reminds them that we humans are but dust, carried off by the wind after just a few short years on this planet, BUT…

But those who are connected to this Creator God are plugged in to an unlimited power supply.

An unlimited supply of ENERGY. My friends, what is energy?

Do you remember the answer from Physics class, which perhaps you attended many years ago? The textbooks tell us that energy is the capacity to do work. And then the textbooks quickly explain that energy does not actually exist. There is no physical thing that you can point to and say, “there is energy.” You cannot discuss the properties of energy in the same way that you can discuss, say, the properties of a hydrogen atom or of a tree.

Energy is the capacity to move or to do something that exists within material objects and never outside of them. Energy is what makes life possible.

When we see Jesus in the Gospels – and especially in the Gospel of Mark – what we see is a person alive with enormous amounts of energy!

All of his work of teaching and preaching and healing the sick – all of this is a manifestation of incredible energy. Because energy is what makes life possible, and that’s what people saw at work in him. Energy that enabled life to grow and to flourish.

But today’s Gospel story shows another side as well. It seems that perhaps the Master ran out of energy after a long day in Capernaum.

At night, while the others were still sleeping, he crept quietly out of Peter’s house and found a secluded spot where he could be alone – to pray and to think.

We forget sometimes that Jesus was as fully human as we are. Here, in our day, in this place, in the Church, we worship him as God Incarnate, sharing life in the very Being of God.

But back then, at the time depicted by this story in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was fully human like us. And like us, he knew what it felt like to be worn out by crowds of people. And so he needed some quiet time to re-orient himself. To re-connect with his spiritual source. To re-energize.

This is not an isolated incident, either. In the Gospels, there are a number of times when the Master is shown as going off alone – or with his chosen three friends – in order to re-charge his batteries.

We’ll hear of this next week, when the Teacher takes Peter and James and John “apart by themselves” (Mark 9:2) up the Mount of Transfiguration with him.

His pattern and his practice are consistent. The Master was about the work of teaching and preaching and healing, always with the people. Speaking to them, talking with them, answering questions, healing whatever ailed them.

He loved the people. He loved being with the people. Today’s Gospel said that “the whole city was gathered around the door” (Mark 1:33).

Well, we know that this is a bit of hyberbole, because Capernaum was never much more than a simple fishing village – maybe a total of 2000 people living there at its heyday.

Nevertheless, they all gathered together, trying to get close to Jesus. And he wanted to be close to them.

But…but… the human body can only do so much before it crashes from exhaustion.

How does the prophet in Isaiah put it? “Even youths will faint and be weary; and the young will fall exhausted” (Isaiah 40:30). Every person needs a break to re-energize! To re-connect with our spiritual source.

Our Teacher was no different. He demonstrates the way. And each of us need to find time alone in prayer, in meditation, time alone with God. There is no substitute for this. Without it, our souls wither, and our strength fades. ***

Before he went out to pray alone, before sunset on that day, the Master went into the home of Simon Peter and found Peter’s mother-in-law ill and in bed.

This leads us to what I think is one of the most beautiful verses in the Gospels: “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up” (Mark 1:31).

THAT is the energy of God at work!

Imagine the scenario, and imagine that YOU are the one in bed, sick with a fever. And the Master comes and stands next to your bed. He looks at you and offers you his hand.

Can you see that? He offers you his hand. And you take it! You grab that hand and he lifts you up! And you are on your feet, ready to get back to work! Ready to serve.

And now you are revived with the energy of God!

Now, we all know the New Testament states that God is Love, but is it NOT also true that God is ENERGY?

Energy! All the energy of the stars has its source in God. All the energy that covers this planet with teeming life of immeasurable variety – all of this life energy comes from God. For God IS energy.

Energy that cannot be depleted. Energy that does not become “faint or grow weary” (Isaiah 40:28)

Energy that “gives power to the faint and strength to the powerless” (Isaiah 40:29).

So tell me now: is there anyone here this morning who feels sick, who feels rundown, like you want to go and lie in bed, like you’ve run out of energy?

Then take the hand of Jesus! He offers it you. Take it and he will lift you up!

When he was out alone, the disciples came looking for Jesus. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is searching for you.”

It may not be an exaggeration to say that everyone is still searching for the Master, because everyone you know is searching for energy! Energy to get up another day, to keep on going. Energy to make things happen!

Thanks be to God that we know where to look for this energy and how to find it! “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.”

May we all live in that strength, with energy to work in the kingdom of God, today and every day. Amen.

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