February 7th: The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for Sunday, February 7th, 2021 was based on the below manuscript. The gospel text for the day was Mark 1.29-39.

Between last week’s healing at the synagogue,
and the rest of the day into the morning,
we’ve gotten a 24 hour snapshot
of Jesus’ life.
These 24 hours are spent
teaching, healing, and preaching
He teaches at the synagogue,
and his authority of teaching
astounds those who hear him.
He heals a man with an unclean spirit,
and again the crowd celebrates
his new teaching.
Today he goes right from the synagogue
where he immediately heals Peters’ mother-in-law
not with prayers or waving of hands.
Just picking her up.
His authority,
like calling the disciples,
is enough to make her whole.
As she prepares dinner,
queen of her domain,
the men do nothing,
except vie for Jesus’ attention
and pull him to the doors
to heal the gathering crowds.

As our scholars at Bible study pointed out Thursday,
the next morning?
Jesus is a mom.
He tries to go off on his own
to pray and regroup.
But the disciples hunt for him
to find him.
Lamar Williamson notes,
“In Mark, Jesus prays alone and often,
revealing not only his Jewishness … [—]
private prayer in the morning [—]
but also his full humanity;
in times of stress, temptation, and decision
he turns to God for strength and guidance…
[This passage] exemplifies in his own life
the rhythm of work, rest, and prayer”[1]

Work, rest, and prayer.
I’m certain
that those points aren’t
an equilateral triangle for me.
I’m not sure they should be for most of us!
Even not all equal,
I don’t think that the ratios and proportions
are right or correct.
Writing about hitting a pandemic wall right now,
Julia Ries says,
“The winter has been bleak
and could potentially get bleaker.
And even though the vaccines
are bringing us some much-needed hope,
our feelings of exhaustion and hopelessness
are swallowing any positive emotions whole.
It makes sense.
We’ve been at this for a year now,
and our fight-or-flight system ?
the emotional reaction to stress
that has been otherwise energizing us
throughout the pandemic ?
is totally overloaded.
When that happens,
the constant flow of adrenaline starts to drain
and apathy settles in.”[2]

We’ve been at this a year.
I remember putting our
Building Closed signs up
on March 13.
It was my brother’s birthday.
Not only are we making it through the winter,
we’ve also made it through
last summer’s demonstrations and work
against racism;
the presidential race;
the aftermath of the presidential election
including an armed insurrection;
and the holiday COVID spike.
No wonder our emotional reactions to stress
that have been otherwise energizing us
throughout the pandemic ?
are totally overloaded.
No wonder apathy is setting in.

Even after his full day in Capernaum,
needing to get away from the crowds,
needing to get away from his disciples,
Jesus doesn’t let apathy set in.
While he could have stayed and curried favor
with the disciples and the people of Capernaum,
Jesus says it’s time to move on.
“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 has worked,
and he’s rested overnight,
and he’s prayed in the morning.
Jesus continues his work
proclaiming a gospel of repentance —
the changing of hearts —
and the good tidings
that the kingdom of God is at hand.
His healing of those who come
to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house
is evidence of God’s reign being at hand.
He bears witness to it
as it begins to be made manifest.
But Jesus primary task,
the task to which he must return
after work, rest, and prayer,
is proclaiming that
the Kingdom of God is at hand.

As we’ve lived through this pandemic —
spikes from holidays,
restrictions being modified, rescinded, reinstated,
fighting systems to get vaccine appointments for ourselves
or those we love,
and we’re tired.
We haven’t just done nothing through all of this.
We’ve met for pizza parties
and to keep the business of the church going.
We’ve met for antiracism book study
and are continuing that work.
We’re trying to follow Jesus
in proclaiming ourselves,
the Kingdom of God is at hand!
And we’re tired.
Beloved, we’re tired.
If you’re not,
I certainly am.

I know that part of it
is that I’m not resting enough.
Part of it too, friends,
is that I haven’t prayed enough.
There’s so much work to do!
How do I sit
and breathe deeply
to say Morning Prayer?
Isn’t at least a cursory saying of the psalms enough?
Turns out,
In her book Shameless Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us,
“Too much praying
and you forget to actually take action;
too little
and you forget
that there is a power
greater than yourself.”
Too little praying,
and we forget
that there is a power greater than ourselves.
The Kingdom of God is at hand!
Jesus’ primary mission in Mark
is to proclaim this near and far.

The Word Made Flesh
calls the disciples,
casts out demons,
heals Peter’s mother-in-law,
and profoundly teaches
with his authority.
The Word Made Flesh
does all of this
in a cycle of work, rest, and prayer.
As we follow Jesus as his disciples,
may we never lose sight
of the Kingdom of God at hand
and never forget to sit by God’s grace
in prayer
remembering that God is God.

The Kingdom of God is at hand.
May we work and pray
as it is so.

[1] Williamson Jr., Lamar. Mark: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (p. 56). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[2] Ries, Julia. “It’s Not Just You. A Lot Of Us Are Hitting A Pandemic Wall Right Now.” https://www.huffpost.com/entry/coronavirus-pandemic-wall-mental-health_l_601b3c9dc5b6c0af54d09ccb.

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